Allows Seriously Ill Children To "Leave Their Problems On The
By ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas
At the opening meeting of the Women in Aviation international
Conference on Thursday, Maria Weybrecht was presented with the
Chuck Yeager Foundation Scholarship. She hadn't applied for the
scholarship; in fact, you can't apply for this
scholarship. Instead, the winner is hand picked from all the
scholarship applications that come in to WAI, with committee
members "nominating" someone as they look through each of the
other scholarships. How the use of the scholarship best exemplifies
WAI's goals is also considered.
Weybrecht (above) won the scholarship for use in Kids
in Flight, a non-profit organization founded by Weybrecht in 2003.
The organization hosts a special day, called Wings of Wonder, for
seriously ill children and their families to enjoy the wonders of
aviation, including a free flight.
How did the lively, enthusiastic young lady decide to work with
these children? She's been there. To look at Weybrecht you
would not even guess that she's been battling thyroid cancer for
over three years. She was diagnosed at 19.
"I'm stubborn and it's stubborn," said Weybrecht. The money is
on Weybrecht to win the battle, and the war.
Weybrecht's diagnosis came only a month after earning her
Private ticket. "I didn't even get to enjoy it."
Her lifelong dream was shattered by cancer. Yet, while one door
closed, another opened. Weybrecht says, "I was always fascinated by
non-profits." She thought when she was "rich, old and
retired" she'd start a non-profit or volunteer for one. The whole
idea of "you may not have forever" came to Weybrecht's mind while
Not one to dwell on the negative, Weybrecht said, "I can do
this, and with the help of really great people it happened."
Kids in Flight was born.
Family, friends and corporate America pitched in. Weybrecht
observed "anyone that flies, there's an unspoken bond." She
made phone calls to everyone she knew and then some. The first
Wings of Wonder event was put together in three weeks.
"People felt they couldn't do enough." Weybrecht notes.
The initial event was small. It was held at Lost Nation Airport
in Ohio in October 2003. They brought over children from a nearby
Ronald McDonald House. Weybrecht felt "a certain tie to those
kids... I was one of them 6 months ago." She stayed at a Ronald
McDonald House in New York during part of her treatments.
At this first event there were about 30 total participants, plus
the pilots and volunteers. There were two planes flying the
families. There was also food, games, educational exhibits and
giveaways. Each year the numbers have grown. Weybrecht sees the day
as a way for the families to bond, create memories and leave behind
some of the bad, for a while.
The hope for this year is 100 free flights, using ten aircraft.
Says Weybrecht "The pilots that volunteer are incredible people.
They don't mind doing that up and down, up and down, up and
Burke Lakefront Airport in downtown Cleveland (OH) is the
location for this years Wings of Wonder. The event is scheduled for
July 22, 2006. The bigger airport will allow for military static
displays in addition to the usual games, food and fun.
Weybrecht's vision is "to go national," but first she wants to
work out the kinks in Cleveland. Additionally, she wants to develop
an educational curriculum for sensitivity training for use in the
Using an interactive character named "Winglet", Weybrecht wants
to introduce and explain the reasons why some kids may be
"different". She also hopes the program can help parents have the
answers. Business major, Weybrecht, is just starting the marketing
research for the project. She knows there's a need, but of course,
it's the funding to create and distribute the program that will be
the biggest hurdle.
Every penny donated is put towards the Kids in Flight/Wings of
Wonder. No one, including Weybrecht, takes any kind of salary. This
is why Weybrecht is living at home. She is a graduate student at
Cleveland State and spends about 30 hours a week on Kids in Flight
business. There's no room for a job.
Weybrecht's best friend, also named Maria, is Weybrecht's right
arm. Her family is there too, along with her other friends. There's
an advisory board of media people, FAA, lawyers who donate their
time for the project.
Eventually Weybrecht would like to make a living but her
priority lies with the kids and giving them a day of freedom and
"leaving their problems on the ground."