Flight1 is an Indianapolis-based non-profit organization that serves kids and families with serious health challenges or those who have lost an immediate family member. Through their Courageous Fliers program, Flight1 restores a child’s sense of self-confidence through the joy of flight. Indy’s Child talked with founder Marcus Strawhorn about his inspiration for creating Flight1 and the good work they do in our community.

You founded Flight1. Can you tell us a bit about why you started it?

I was the youngest kid in my class and I was small for my age, so I was picked on a lot. When other kids got their driver’s license I couldn’t drive, but I had my pilot’s license. Even though it didn’t change how people treated me, it changed how I saw myself. I had a sense of confidence that stuck with me.

When I was in my mid-30’s I went to the doctor for what I thought was a food allergy and the doctor told me that he believed I had an abdominal cancer. The prognosis was unclear. After six months of testing the doctors came back and said that I was fine. But during that six-month period my best friend from high school’s daughter had been diagnosed with leukemia. I could only imagine what she was going through, going from one doctor’s appointment to the next and one treatment to the next and not having any sense of control. I wanted to do something for her. And that was when I started to connect the dots that she might be able to benefit from going out to the airport and having the chance to take control of the plane.

How does your program work?

We use aviation as a tool to build confidence, but the program isn’t about flying or the technical aspect. It’s more about the magical side of being able to do something that most people can’t and giving the kids a sense of the control.

For a typical progression through the program, it starts out with the families going out to the international airport. There’s a facility that has a flight simulator. We invite the kids out; they get a tour of the building.

Once they play the simulator they go over to a full motion simulator. The kids continue to be successful at that. We have a flight instructor that sits with them and walks them through the process of what to do. A few weeks later we schedule a time for them to go to the airport. They inspect the plane. The flight instructor works with them. We reinforce that they’re the ones in charge. Then they fly the plane. They fly during the day and they fly locally. If their house is close, and depending on their age, they fly to their house and come back.

In the second year they fly at nighttime. There is a bit of hesitation there, but they quickly realize that it’s easier flying at night. The visibility is better, the air is more stable and it’s more enjoyable flying at night.

In the third year they do a cross-country flight. After the third year they can help out as a mentor.

How many children does your organization serve?

There are about 80 kids active in the program right now.

How can the community get involved in Flight1?

We can use adult volunteers to help with the mentor program. Also, funding. There is a big cost associated with the program, but it’s free for all members of the family.

Learn more about Flight1 on their website at www.flight1.org.

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