When Neal Lanning dropped his son Stephen off at Advent Home Learning Center in Calhoun, Tenn., on April 14, 2006, he said it was “quite like being in an accident and the only way out is to gnaw your arm off.” Although sending his son three states away to a Christian school for “at risk” boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder was one of the most difficult decisions he and his wife, Susan, had ever made, the Virginia couple knew that they had no choice once he began threatening them and their three other sons.
Lanning began to see a gradual difference in his son during regular family visits. He and his wife bonded with other parents who were at the learning center visiting their children. But all too often, Lanning would return for a visit to learn that some of the children had to leave the center early because their parents could not afford for them to complete the program.
Because of the difference Advent Home is making in his son’s life, Lanning founded the Advanced Helicopter for Youth Foundation, a nonprofit organization, in May with plans to help at-risk children by raising money and awareness for Advent Home, which can house 35 boys at a time, and Teen Challenge USA. Teen Challenge USA treats thousands of individuals of all ages with drug addictions. The program has nearly 200 centers nationwide. Some youth who have overcome their drug addictions through Teen Challenge have then gone to Advent Home for behavioral help.
The Advanced Helicopter for Youth Foundation hopes to raise $250,000 by the end of September to coincide with its main awareness event, Heli-Flights for Hope 2009, which is set to lift off on a five-day, six-state tour on Sept. 23, departing Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Md., and traveling through Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, before arriving at Advent Home in Tennessee. Funds raised in advance of the awareness event will be divided between Advent Home and Teen Challenge. Money going to Advent Home will go toward the “worthy student fund” to allow children to stay in the program even though their parents can’t afford it. Other money would go toward capital improvements at the facility.
So far, the foundation has raised $5,000, and 17 of the allotted 20 helicopter slots have been filled with pilots who are volunteering their time and helicopters (Robinson R22s and R44s, and a Bell 206 Jet Ranger) for the journey. A maintenance crew will be following along on the ground. Four of the aircraft are owned by Lanning’s company, Advanced Helicopter Concepts, based at Frederick Municipal Airport.
Two of the pilots taking part in the flight can identify with the youth they are trying to help. Kristen Bloodsworth and James Wyatt were both considered “at risk” youth. Bloodsworth, a native of Michigan, had multiple problems with the law and enlisted in the Marines in an effort to turn her life around. It was during her time with the Marines that she developed an interest in aviation. Wyatt, who grew up in Baltimore, was repeatedly suspended from school and ultimately dropped out of high school, continuing to have run-ins with the law. Wyatt also turned to the Marines and began working on helicopters. Later he earned his pilot certificate, and he now works for Air Logistics.
“Throughout life I have had more struggles than I care to disclose, but through it all, aviation has been the driving force of determination, motivation, and passion in my life… My dream is to reach out to troubled teens and children who have not had the luxury of direction in their lives. If I can help even one person have that kind of guidance, it will be worth every effort,” Wyatt said in a testimonial on the foundation’s Web site.
“People don’t think that they have any potential, but they really do,” Niall Booth, director of Heli-Flights for Hope 2009, said of at-risk youth. Aviation provides a good path for youth because it demands discipline but also offers a career path, Booth explained. Lanning pointed out that often the children don’t recognize their own potential.
To help raise the planned $250,000, the foundation is selling vinyl decals for aircraft sponsorships on the Advanced Helicopter Concepts’s R22s and is planning a Hangar Dance at Frederick Municipal Airport in on Sept. 19, complete with a live band, catered food, and silent and live auctions. Other plans include a golf-ball drop. The group also is working on corporate donations for the social events as well as for food, lodging, and fuel discounts along their route of flight so that all of the money raised can be donated to Advent Home and Teen Challenge. Those volunteering in the flight will incur the costs not covered by corporate donations.
“A lot of people are stepping up—really without being asked,” Booth said of the volunteer support the foundation has received in just a few short months since its inception.