On Santa Flights and Community Service

It’s part of doing your part to make the world a better place.

This weekend, I flew Santa in my helicopter to two destinations.

The first, on Saturday, was to a private home in Leavenworth. It was a for-hire job; I picked up Santa in Cashmere, WA, killed some time with a short scenic flight in the area, and touch down right on time in the front yard of a beautiful log home on the Wenatchee River. There were a lot of people there to welcome us. It was a great flight on a great day. You can read more about it here.

N630ML at Pybus Market
My helicopter is parked inside Pybus Public Market this week.

The second was on Sunday. I did a repeat performance of last year’s flight to Pybus Public Market (which I apparently didn’t blog about last year). I took along my friend Kathy and her grandson Dominick. We picked up Santa at Wenatchee Airport and flew to Pybus, landing in front of an audience of at least 200 people. Afterwards, we pulled the helicopter indoors so folks could get a good look at it. The people who run Pybus do their best to have interesting things to see inside the building and I don’t think you can get much more interesting than a helicopter.

Although both Santa flights had a community service aspect to them, it’s the second one that I’m most proud of. You see, for the past two years I’ve offered to do this for Pybus without compensation. It’s my way of giving back to the community, of making things just a little special for others without expecting anything in return.

Sure, I have some company literature in front of the helicopter and yes, I’d be thrilled if someone picked up a rack card and called me to book a flight. But I did this last year, too, and it didn’t lead to any business. Based on that experience, if business was all I cared about, (1) I wouldn’t leave the helicopter parked inside Pybus for nearly a week and (2) I probably wouldn’t bother doing the Santa flight in the first place.

(In the interest of full disclosure, this year the folks at Pybus surprised me by giving me some money to help cover the helicopter’s operating costs for the flight. I think I appreciated that even more than they appreciated me bringing Santa in.)

I’ve done other community service flights with my helicopter. Although I did a completely unappreciated golf ball drop in Wickenburg a few years back, I also did several fly-in presentations at schools in Arizona: Congress, Salome, and Wickenburg. In each case, I arranged in advance to fly into the school grounds with students on hand to watch. Then I made a separate presentation to each grade group, telling them about the helicopter and pilot careers and how important math and science and geography were for pilots. And I answered questions. The way I see it, if even one kid on the brink of making a bad life decision makes the right decision instead because of something in my presentation, I’ve got a total win.

I’ve done community service without the helicopter, too. The most memorable was a presentation about being a writer that I did for an English class at Wickenburg High School. It was a very eye-opening experience. I learned two things (1) kids don’t seem to care much about education these days and (2) we don’t pay teachers enough money.

I’m trying hard to get into a construction job for Habitat for Humanity here in Wenatchee, but so far the only thing they’re interested in is having me work in their store. While I’m happy to give them a full day of work once a week, I want to work on a home so I can learn more about construction. It’s a give and take situation.

Why bother doing community service at all? Well, there certainly is a feel-good aspect to it. For two weeks leading up to my Pybus Market event, the Santa flight was widely advertised on all local radio stations, as well as in flyers and digital info boards around town. And it worked! As I mentioned earlier, there were at least 200 people of all ages waiting for our arrival. The kids gathered around Santa as he left the landing zone and, as soon as my blades stopped, folks gathered around the helicopter to look at it and take photos with their kids. Without me, none of that would have happened. How can I not feel good about playing such a major role in their day?

But community service goes beyond that. It’s a way to make your community stronger and more vibrant, without donating hard cash and wondering how it will be spent. It’s a way to meet your neighbors and make new friends. It’s a way to learn more about your community and help it achieve goals that you have the skills or know-how to help them achieve. It’s a way to make a positive impact on the lives of others — and your own.

Community service opportunities are all around you. It’s all about volunteering. Schools, non-profits, charities — they can all use help. Pick the one that means the most to you — or the one you think you could help the most — and ask them what you can do for them.

I promise — you won’t regret it.

Thank You to Donors for the New Dictionary Project

The fronts of the Thank You cards the kids made this week to thank donors for the dictionaries.
Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card

The New Dictionary fundraising project closes with some thank you notes from the dictionary recipients.

I asked my friend, the teacher at the school that received the dictionaries we raised money for to write something up to share with donors. She sent me the following:

Gratitude Attitude

Corny title, huh. That’s okay I’m feeling a bit sentimental towards the people that chose to become involved in my students’ education. Saying thank you because you made a difference sounds trite, but let me explain.

So often we are frustrated by the state of education and don’t know how to help. Funding alone will not make the difference, but getting involved does. When I felt defeated using dictionaries not adequate for my class and expressed this to my friend Maria Langer she chose to become involved. She set up the Indiegogo account and monitored its progress. Thanks, Maria!

Incredibly, people I’ve never met cared enough to donate to a fund to purchase 32 new dictionaries for over half of our school’s 6th grade class. Wow! Not only did you make this possible, but you have inspired me as a teacher with your involvement. Thank you for trusting me with your donation and your support.

Our first day back from winter break brought excitement as we unpacked our dictionary shipment. We explored our new books and students discovered word origins, geographical names and locations as well as all the usual components of a dictionary.
We practiced learning new words by me, the teacher, asking questions such as, “What would you do with a plover?” and offering the following multiple choice responses: “Till the dirt on your farm?”, “Observe it in the sky?”, or “Drive it? ” Then students would hurriedly flip through the pages to be the first to define it. New text to discover!

Excitement in learning made possible because of your contributions. Thank you for caring enough to share and changing my attitude of some resignation into one of gratitude and renewed energy.

My friend’s class also created Thank You cards, which will be shipped out today to one of two donors who contributed $100 to the project. (The other donor elected not to get a bonus.) I’ve scanned the fronts of the cards to show them off here. The insides are full of personal notes and student signatures. Kid art rocks!

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to this project. It really made a difference to this sixth grade class.

Update on the New Dictionary Project

Disappointing results, but not for the kids.

Back in November 2011, I blogged about my friend’s sixth grade class, which was using dictionaries so old that they didn’t include the word “Internet.” I was appalled by this situation and launched a fund-raising project on Indiegogo to buy enough dictionaries and thesauruses for both sixth grade classes in this severely underfunded rural school.

The goal was to raise $1,500, which would cover the cost of 100 books (50 each of the dictionary and thesaurus) and the fees Indiegogo charges to help raise the money.

Unfortunately, we only got $431 from 13 contributors, two of whom were extremely generous. After paying Indigogo’s fees, that left us with $379.28 for the books.

DictionaryRight before New Year’s Day, I ordered 32 copies of the Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary from Amazon.com and had them shipped directly to my teacher friend at her school. (Because I’m an Amazon Prime member, shipping was free.) This was in addition to the copy of the Dictionary and Thesaurus I had bought back in early November to make sure they met with my friend’s approval for her class.

On January 7, when the kids got back to school, they were thrilled to have the new books. My friend told me briefly about the few games she played with the kids using the books. (I’m hoping she’ll have something in her own words to add here.)

My friend kept 25 books for her class and gave the remaining books to the other sixth grade teacher for her class.

Although I’d love to reopen the fundraising campaign to get the rest of the funds for the remaining books, I don’t think it’s worth the effort. Times are tough. Most people believe that a school district should get funds from local sources. I agree — to a certain extent. But this district is so poor that funds just won’t come. What we’ve managed to give them is a lot more than they ever expected. I think I need to be satisfied knowing that.

In the meantime, I want to thank all of the contributors for their generosity. I still believe that we made a difference in the lives of at least a few of these kids — and the kids going through the sixth grade in this school in the years to come.

Thanks!

“Internet” is Not in this Class’s Dictionary

Help me fix this problem.

Note: I’ve been purposely vague about my friend’s identity and details about her school. In all honesty, she’s a tiny bit concerned about her job and would prefer to remain anonymous.

A good friend of mine is a teacher in a local elementary school. The school has several hundred students and is located in a low-income, rural area just outside Phoenix. My friend has a class of about 23 students and is constantly struggling to keep their interest and teach them with the tools she is provided by the school district. More than a few times, she’s dipped into her own pockets to buy things her students need that aren’t provided by the school.

My friend doesn’t make much money. Although she loves to teach, she finds her job frustrating. She wants to help the kids learn, she wants to help them break the cycle of poverty and make better lives for themselves. But there isn’t enough money in the school district to buy the tools the kids need to learn. She’s considered leaving her job, but doesn’t want to let the kids down — their class has already lost two teachers mid-term in previous years. She thinks it’s important for them to have continuity throughout the year.

Meanwhile, the school district superintendent, who only has two schools to manage, is reportedly pulling in a six-digit salary and gets a $750 per month clothing/car allowance. His bonus last year was more than my friend earns as a salary.

Internet Not in the Dictionary?

Internet is not in this dictionaryThe other day, she and I were talking about how kids have access to things we didn’t have at their age. Referring to her class, she said, “When I tell my kids that we didn’t have the Internet when I was a kid, they don’t believe me. So I had them look it up in the dictionary. Our dictionaries are so old, they don’t include the word ‘Internet.'”

I was floored. Her class was using dictionaries that were that old? The word Internet came into general usage in the 1990s — her dictionaries was older than that?

Old DictionaryWe talked more about it and I discovered that not only were the dictionaries old, but there was a mix of them and not enough for all the kids. And although she was required to teach the kids about synonyms, they didn’t have any thesauruses.

I whipped out my iPad to see what an appropriate dictionary would cost. A decent paperback was available for only $5.99. It would cost less than $150 to buy 25 of them for her class. Or about $300 to buy enough for both classes in that grade. A fraction of the school superintendent’s monthly clothing/car allowance. Yet the superintendent got his check every month while the kids went without decent reference materials.

Can you imagine how much that annoyed me — a writer?

What Can I — or We — Do to Help?

It also got me thinking…what could I do to help?

Yes, I’m willing to spend $150 to buy 25 dictionaries for my friend’s class. But I could do better. With the help of my blog readers and social networking friends, maybe I could raise enough money to get all the kids in that grade a better, more durable hardcover dictionary and a thesaurus.

DictionaryI did more research on Amazon.com and found Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Thesaurus. The books were recently published, so they were up-to-date. They were designed for the right grade level. I could get both books for $24.77 with free shipping from Amazon prime. 50 copies would cost about $1,238.50.

I thought about The Oatmeal raising a ton of money for the Tesla Museum. I know that $1,238.50 is a lot less than the $1.37 million the Oatmeal raised. Yes, I have a lot less influence. But even if I got 100 people to donate $13 each, I’d have enough. And if I came up a little short, I could make up the difference.

No, I’m Not Nuts

At this point, you’re probably thinking I’m nuts. After all, what do I care about these kids? I’ve never met them and I’m never likely to meet them. And will having a decent dictionary really make a difference in their lives?

I’ll admit that for the vast majority of the kids, it probably won’t make a difference at all. But imagine it making a difference in just one kid’s life. Maybe he or she develops an interest in reading or writing or just using words to communicate better. Maybe browsing through the pictures in the book leads him or her to a word that sparks an interest in science or geology or history. Maybe just having a good reference book to learn from might help him or her score better on an exam down the road. Any of these things could change his or her future. It could break the cycle and open doors to a better life. Isn’t that enough to make it worth helping?

And these books would be around for years. Imagine making a difference on one kid’s life every year for the next 20 years. Isn’t that enough to make it worth helping?

I know it would make my friend’s job easier and a tiny bit less frustrating.

And yes, it’s a damned shame that tax dollars are funneled to superintendent compensation before educational materials for students — or even teacher pay. But I’ve tried fighting in the political arena before and got nowhere. I’d rather spend a few dollars to solve the problem from the outside than years of my life trying to fix it from the inside.

Will You Help?

With all this in mind, I set up a campaign on Indiegogo to raise $1,500 to cover the cost of the books, the rewards for big donors, and the campaign fees. I’m hoping you’ll click over there now and donate a few dollars to help me reach this goal.

If we come up short, I’ll try to make up the difference.

If we go over, I’d like to buy the younger kids copies of the Merriam-Webster Elementary Dictionary, which is designed for grades 3-5. I’d get as many copies as I could — hopefully enough to outfit at least one classroom. Those books are $11.66 each with free shipping.

And maybe you can also spread the word about this campaign? Tweet or share this blog post or the link to the campaign.

Thanks.

Burning the Bridge Back to Fat-Town

Why keep oversized clothes I never want to get back into again?

I did laundry today for the first time in two weeks. I’d just about run out of clothes. Clothes that fit me, that is.

I’m down 37 pounds from where I was about three months ago. Back then, my jeans were uncomfortably tight and I preferred loose-fitting “chef pants” and cargo shorts. As the weight fell off, my clothes started fitting better. And then they started getting loose. It all came to a head about two weeks ago when I realized that I didn’t have any nice jeans that fit. As discussed in the postscript to this post from August 29, I went shopping and discovered that I wasn’t one size smaller — I was two sizes smaller.

I’m actually now wearing the same size Levi’s I wore when I was in high school.

Too Big NowSo today, after doing laundry and having my entire Mobile Mansion wardrobe clean and folded, I decided to start weeding out the clothes that were simply too big to look right on me. Actually, I started weeding in the laundromat, pulling all the XL sized tank tops and gym shorts. Tonight I tried on every pair of pants and shorts. And what I discovered is that every pair of pants and shorts I left Arizona with in May are now too big.

As I gained weight throughout my 40s, I packed away the jeans that became too tight to wear. I had a crazy idea that someday I’d lose weight and be able to wear them again. I can picture them now, in bags on the floor of my closet at home. In October, when I get home, I’ll tear those bags open and go through them. I bet I’ll find plenty in there to fit.

But what of the pants that are now too big? Do I save them, too? Just in case I get fat again?

I don’t think so. I think I’d rather burn the bridge back to Fat-Town. I’ll drop them all off at Goodwill tomorrow.