‘Flight to Remember’ brings holiday cheer to foster kids

By Richard Yager….

Santa is aided by student Edward Millan at Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport on Dec. 8.

A veteran flier and Santa Claus have a common friend.

“I thought it might be a good idea for youngsters of all ages to catch the excitement of flying while students learn the value of community service,” explained Tim Schmelzer, a Miami-Dade College aviation instructor based in Homestead.

“What better time to do it than Christmas, when an old bearded guy makes his annual airborne flight?”

His “good idea” has become an annual “Holiday Flight to Remember” when Santa makes an early stop at Kendall- Tamiami Executive Airport to delight a group of foster care children.

Student volunteers, including many from Kendall campus where Schmelzer also teaches, helped stage the event on Dec. 8, which brought million-dollar smiles along with armloads of gaily wrapped packages for a dozen youngsters.

Earlier, Schmelzer coordinated a fundraising effort that brought in over $6,000 in contributions from area residents and businesses (including strong support from the Miccosukee Tribe) to see that foster care youngsters enjoy Christmas to remember.

The holiday kitty underwrote a super- Christmas party and a pile of gifts for each attending youngster, carefully recommended by Miami-Dade care agencies. In addition, both Miami Children’s Hospital and St. Jude’s Hospital will receive substantial contributions while any leftover funds will buy Publix gift cards for families in need.

More than 100 youngsters have enjoyed “Holiday Flights” during the past seven years estimates Schmelzer who credits a course he once took in air personnel customer service for giving him the idea. With volunteerism a strategic component of his teaching style, he believes student participation helps create a strong work ethic and provides his volunteers with “hands on” experience, especially for those who deal with the public in aviation positions.

Contributions over the years have totaled around $100,000 for the parties at Kendall- Tamiami Executive Airport where Schmelzer serves on the board of directors for the Wings Over Miami Air Museum.

“It was an amazing experience for me, as well as the kids,” said Drew Walker, a firstyear air traffic control student from Kendall. “We helped market the program, buy gifts and produce the event. It’s a journey I’ll always remember, too.”

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