Charity flight gives hope to sick Canadians

On Jan. 2, 2018, three pilots will begin a journey that will be the catalyst for many more.

Three men stand in a row, in front of a bookcase.The pilots behind Give Hope Wings are Harold Fast, left, Dave McElroy and Russ Airey. The men take off on an epic flight in support of Hope Air on Jan 2, 2018. Lisa Gordon Photo

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That’s the day that Dave McElroy, Russ Airey and Harold Fast will depart from the airport in Kelowna, B.C., to embark on a 20,000-mile epic flight through Central and South America. McElroy will be piloting his Van’s RV-6 aircraft, while Airey and Fast will be flying in Airey’s Vans RV-9A.

Billed as the “Give Hope Wings” tour, the flight has so far raised an impressive $437,000 for Hope Air, a Canadian charity that arranges free flights for critically ill patients who live far away from specialized medical care.

With the days numbered before departure, Hope Air organized a bon voyage luncheon for the three pilots on Dec. 12 at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in downtown Toronto. Thirty-six supporters, including family, friends and sponsors, gathered to hear more about the incredible fundraising effort that has the potential to finance over 2,000 flights for sick Canadians who are in financial need.

McElroy stands with his Van's RV-6. Stephen Caissie PhotoMcElroy stands with the Van’s RV-6 aircraft he will fly on the journey. Stephen Caissie Photo

“Give Hope Wings is an idea born by the passions of these three gentlemen–passions for generosity, flying and the camaraderie that goes with that,” said Jim Burton, Hope Air’s chair of the board, at the luncheon. “The Give Hope Wings crew set themselves a goal of raising $500,000, all for Hope Air, to raise awareness about the distances families must travel to reach health care.

“I know they look forward to fulfilling those goals and most likely will exceed them. Today, we celebrate the generosity of Dave, Russ and Harold. They are the heroes for taking on this very ambitious venture.”

The idea behind Give Hope Wings was born in the fall of 2016, when McElroy–a resident of B.C.’s Okanagan Valley who had already completed an around-the-world fundraising flight in 2014–proposed the idea of a 60-day flight that traced the coastline of Central and South America to Airey, who signed on immediately.

“I started looking for a charity to benefit from the flight,” McElroy told the audience. He heard about Hope Air, conducted some research, and realized it was a good fit.

Airey stands with his Van's RV-9A. Stephen Caissie PhotoAirey stands with his Van’s RV-9A he will fly with Fast as his co-pilot. Stephen Caissie Photo

“I can’t highlight how much Hope Air is obviously the aviation charity of choice. The mission they do, and how cost effective and efficient they are really impressed me.”

Eighty-eight cents of every donated dollar goes to fulfilling Hope Air’s mission, with only 12 cents going towards operating and administrative costs.

By January 2017, the Give Hope Wings website was formally launched and the fundraising effort was underway, with an initial goal of $400,000. That target was raised in June to $500,000.

Now, less than three weeks before taking off on their great adventure, the trio of pilots is just $63,000 short of their goal, and donations are still coming in.

McElroy said that having former astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar come on board as the flight’s honorary patron, as well as the signing of title sponsor First Choice Haircutters, were two milestones that really gave the fundraising effort a boost.

Globe with lines showing route.The pilots have divide the 20,000-mile journey into eight legs which were subsequently offered to donors who want to experience the flight of a lifetime. Give Hope Wings Image

McElroy, whose co-pilot had to back out of the flight, used the opportunity to divide the 20,000-mile journey into eight legs which were subsequently offered to donors who want to experience the flight of a lifetime.

Meanwhile, Airey and Fast have been busily fundraising from their home bases of Windsor, Ont., and Spiritwood, Sask., respectively. Airey has also been in charge of flight planning, which has involved a great deal of paperwork, research and even Spanish lessons.

Imagine, plan, execute

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After 12 months of fundraising, the group will fly for two months and then spend a further four months conducting outreach to as many young people as possible, encouraging them to chase their dreams.

“We have this very fundamental belief that the biggest problem most people have is their inability to imagine a bigger life for themselves,” said McElroy.

The pilots want to reach as many young people as they can, to tell them about how three ordinary Canadians first imagined this trip–and then planned and executed it–to achieve their dreams.

Pilot Russ Airey, left, stands with his co-pilot Harold Fast and fellow pilot Dave McElroy at an airfield in Ontario. The three will fly more than 32,000 kilometres through 20 countries on the journey, beginning Jan. 2, 2018. Stephen Caissie PhotoAirey, left, stands with Fast and McElroy at an airfield in Ontario. The three have raised an impressive $437,000 for the charity so far. Stephen Caissie Photo

Thus, the trip will have a ripple effect extending far beyond the already worthy accomplishment of financing more than 2,000 healthcare-related flights.

“Everyone who has so generously supported Give Hope Wings can be assured we’re making an enormous impact and we’re doing it to the maximum,” said Doug Keller-Hobson, Hope Air CEO. “We knew this had enormous potential and could really make a difference.”

Hope Air was founded in 1986. During that year, the charity arranged 56 flights. Thirty-one years later, the organization is on track to log some 12,500 travel arrangements in 2017.

For more information or to make a holiday donation, visit the Give Hope Wings website.


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