As a member of the Adopt-A-Pilot program, I have the opportunity to go into fifth-grade classrooms and help shape impressionable minds each school year. Through this program, the Pilots who volunteer their time are tasked with teaching school children about not only aerodynamics, math, and geography, but the hard work it will take to reach their goals.
Each year, Adopt-A-Pilot hosts a Tie Design Contest, giving our students an opportunity to be creative and design the following year’s tie for Adopt-A-Pilot participants to wear. I never fail to be shocked by the incredible designs that are entered from students around the nation.
The winner for the 2012 Tie Design Contest was Geni Lopez. With help from PHX Adopt-A-Pilot Ambassador, Capt. Nancy Martin-Belitz, and Geni’s own Adopt-A-Pilot, Phoenix First Officer Kevin Reece, I was lucky enough to fly to Phoenix and surprise Geni with the best in class award. Before the ceremony, I saw Geni’s entire family walk in. Just seeing the smiles on their faces and the pride they felt for Geni was truly moving.
The entire event was a complete secret to Geni and the 200 other students in her grade. We all hid backstage, and we could feel the excitement from behind the curtains as the kids were ushered in and told to take their seats. The buzzing energy was palpable, and we realized that we were about to have a unique opportunity to influence these young lives.
I began the ceremony by sharing some Adopt-A-Pilot history and then introduced Capt. Nancy Martin-Belitz. After sharing her inspiring words, Nancy introduced First Officer Kevin Reece, Geni’s adopted Pilot. Kevin called Geni, her parents, and siblings up on stage, presenting her with a shadowbox containing her original drawing and the first tie created with her design. The auditorium erupted in applause and cheers, and Geni could hardly breathe. Her smile was worth a million bucks!
Here’s what Geni shared with me: “The day before the big event, I thought it was going to be an Arizona Instrument Measure Students (AIMS) assembly or presentation. When it was time for the assembly, I wasn't really excited about it, but then, the two Pilots came out and I recognized something that they were wearing—my tie! I was shaking and I was really excited because I knew this was going to be for me. When they called me up there I was nervous, and I was really surprised when all of my family joined me on the stage to be with me on that day. They even had a cake with my face on it and my tie. I felt very special! This was a very exciting day for me, and I definitely enjoyed it!”
Since its beginnings in 1997, the Adopt-A-Pilot program and its participants across the nation have had a profound effect on more than 412,000 kids. Students like Geni motivate each of us to continue our work with the program, and I look forward to reaching the half-million mark of students!