It’s a special feeling getting to come to a job knowing that the people you work with share your same passion and care just as deeply about helping others. In a world that can sometimes feel overwhelming, disappointing, and sometimes downright unfair, I’ve found it so important to pay less attention to the bad and more to the good. How lucky I am to see so much good on a daily basis! While this job can be difficult seeing the challenges life can bring to those we serve, the good always outweighs the bad. The lengths our volunteers go to helping complete strangers are astonishing, and no matter how frequent, how big, or how small their contributions may be, every single one is noticed, appreciated, and has a meaningful, concrete impact.
Did you know some pilots have flown to a passenger’s hometown the night before the flight just so they can be ready for an early start to ensure their passengers get to their appointment on time? Did you also know that some volunteers who have hung up their wings continue to support our passengers by donating on a regular basis? I can think of one person in particular who calls in every month to make his donation. I love seeing his name on caller ID, not because I want his money, but because he is so kind, and it’s always a pleasure to speak with him. While our conversations are always brief, I am left with the biggest grin on my face. Some people just have a way; usually, it has nothing to do with the dollar amount or frequency of their donations, what their job is, or what kind of plane they fly. It’s their kind and generous souls.
Did you know that some of our pilots are also Earth Angels and regularly volunteer to drive passengers, too? Did you also know that some of our Earth Angels have driven their passengers hundreds of times, saving them the worry of getting from the airport to their appointment? Sometimes, access to ground transportation to and from the airport can mean whether that passenger can travel or not. It’s a big deal, and is often a forgotten piece of the overall picture of meeting all of our passengers’ needs. I’d like to introduce you to three of such Earth Angels:
Margot Bernal is one of our Santa Monica, California-based Earth Angels who has been volunteering mostly on a weekly basis since 2013. She has driven 611 missions, totaling more than 11,000 miles on the road. Margot often becomes close friends with her passengers; she has a natural way of creating meaningful relationships with just about everyone she encounters no matter who they are or where they come from. We regularly get to see this firsthand when she and her passengers come into the AFW office. Margot says, “The courage shown by my passengers never ceases to amaze me, and they have honored me by sharing some of their thoughts and feelings. I feel that my experience with Angel Fight West and my passengers have helped me understand so much, and, selfishly, it does my heart good to know that I was able to contribute.”
Karen Ardin has been volunteering as an Earth Angel since 2016. One of our most frequent-driving Earth Angels in the Salt Lake City, UT area, Karen seems to always be there when you need her. I remember when the commercial side of the SLC airport was under construction, and dropping off and picking up passengers was particularly challenging. However, Karen still picked up those passengers who we flew commercially. She cares deeply about her passengers and is committed to helping whenever she can even if it means going outside her comfort zone. Karen shares, “Volunteering for AFW means so many things to me. Maybe the best way to sum it up is the people, getting to know them and their stories – both the patients and the pilots. Being a part of this awesome organization is an honor. We are helping people who are ill and need medical attention. AFW provides a means for that to happen and I’m a part of it in a small way!” Karen has continued volunteering during the pandemic, offering constant support whenever needed. “Karen has been an essential volunteer in coordinating the airlift of family care and PPE supplies to the reservation communities. Not only has she driven several ground missions delivering these supplies to volunteer pilots slated to fly, but also she’s taken on the responsibility to reach out to other Earth Angels to successfully engage them in the ground aspect of these airlifts,” says Mission Operations Coordinator Anne Paik. Karen has driven 151 missions and over 8,000 miles.
Dennis Phelan is both a Command Pilot and Earth Angel based in Goodyear, AZ. Dennis has flown 710 missions since he started volunteering in 2009. Over the past year, Dennis has been volunteering as an Earth Angel for many ground legs as well, and has driven 64 missions and over 1,400 miles so far. He often picks up the ground legs for missions he flies into or out of Goodyear, saving his passengers the worry and extra expense of arranging their own ground transportation. Sometimes, he will pick up the ground legs for passengers even when he isn’t the one flying them. “AFW has given me the opportunity to make (and lose) multiple, wonderful friends. I’ve shared the joy of favorable test results and I’ve endured the long plane ride home with those who have reached the end of their treatments. Through it all, my experiences have made me more compassionate, less judgmental and wanting to do more for others.” Dennis also supports the outreach efforts in the Arizona wing, helping us connect with important medical teams at major hospitals throughout the state, which allows us to reach more people who need us. Dennis never wants any praise for all he does – he is understated and quiet about his efforts.
I also want to mention and thank our dedicated Earth Angel power couple Sue and Jim Jaggers of the Lions Clubs of Oregon for providing ground transportation to our Portland-bound passengers for over a decade. Due to health challenges, the pair will be taking a break from volunteering for now, but we are forever grateful for all they have done.
It’s true that everyone involved with AFW – staff members, volunteers, and passengers – benefit from the good that comes from what we do. I’ve heard passengers tell me how our flights have saved their lives, how they have enabled them to have more normal personal and professional lives because of the time and financial resources saved, and how the connections some of them have formed with our volunteers have boosted their morale during what is often the worst time in their lives. Our community is a magical place, and none of it would be possible if it wasn’t for our volunteers.