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.

What do you think?