There are special moments when the work we do as social entrepreneurs is completely validated in tangible, wonderful ways. This week, I had such a moment because a dear friend, Melanie Wild, connected the dots and helped me make the most of a “homecoming-like” visit to Fairchild Air Force base west of Spokane, Washington. This is the airbase where I was stationed for over seven years of my nine years of active duty service.
The night before the event, I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning signing the 300 books we would gift to the Kindergarten through third grade students the next day at Michael Anderson Elementary School. Around midnight, I asked myself why I had decided to sign the books – I could’ve just as easily gifted them without my signature, but I’m not one to take shortcuts. I’d rather do it right, make this extra special for the children and get less sleep. It’s just how I roll. It’s how I’ve already rolled.
A quick bit about Melanie Wild: she’s a dear, dear friend who I’ve known for over two decades. We met when she was a teenager attending the annual “Expanding Your Horizons” conference for girls in Spokane. I was on the all-volunteer committee who helped to organize the conference each year, bringing women aviators in flight suits and many other women from Fairchild to the event to conduct workshops for the girls. I was present at both her high school graduation and her wedding. We’ve remained friends ever since.
After I scheduled the visit with the school’s learning specialist, I called Melanie. I asked her if she knew any company who might want to become my event sponsor and make it possible to give books to the children at the base. She suggested her own employer, Qualfon and started sharing the idea internally. It turned out that the Director of HR, Lindy Bryant, is a former AF officer too. The company had recently opened up many new positions in their Spokane Valley location and is actively recruiting to fill those new jobs. Lindy, as an Air Force veteran, was interested in informing the military community, including veterans and active duty military spouses, about the new jobs available to them. Sometimes it’s all about the synergy and we had great synergy.
The week before the event, Melanie, Lindy, Jody (marketing lead for Qualfon in Colorado) and I collaborated closely to craft a news release, now posted on both the Qualfon site blog and the Gracefully Global Group blog. All the logistical pieces for this special visit were falling into place and 300 books were making their way from our printer in Nashville, Tennessee to the Qualfon offices in Liberty Lake. I flew up to Spokane on the Sunday before the visit and spent time with my friend and her son.
Melanie and I thoroughly enjoyed our morning together. It began with quickly sorting 300 books into piles with teacher’s names on them, as suggested by the school’s learning specialist, my host, Ms. Melanie Kilgore. Then, to start the assembly, I was lovingly introduced by my dear friend.
Since all 500 children I served that day during the author visit are children of Air Force service members, it was an especially cool audience with whom to share the first book in the Captain Mama series. These kids have grown up seeing KC-135 refueling tankers fly overhead. A couple dozen of the kids raised their hands when I asked who has lived in another country.
Yet, even these students were unfamiliar with the AFROTC scholarship that is such an important part of my story…the scholarship that made it possible for me to be the first in my family to go to college. Granted, these children were elementary school students, but still…I had to plant that seed for them about this excellent way to pursue higher education then enter the Air Force as an officer.
Here’s the link to learn about AFROTC scholarship options. I really want more students to know the eligibility requirements and timelines way ahead of when it’s time to apply.
I presented first for 30 minutes to the younger children, the K-2 students. I read Good Night Captain Mama and projected the illustrations from the book to bring them along with me in the story. I showed pictures of my childhood curiosity about contrails. I asked who had been on an airplane ride. About one third of the hands went up. I told them I had never taken a flight in an airplane as a child and that they were very lucky kids. My first- ever flight was in an Air Force T-37 training jet, affectionately called a “Tweet” over the Arizona desert with a lady instructor pilot, when I was 20. They couldn’t believe it. Message: learn all the math and science you can so that when amazing opportunities you never imagined as a child pop up, you’re ready to grab them and make them yours.
The children’s questions were truly delightful and insightful, creative even.
• How does the little plane give gas to the big plane? (it doesn’t flow uphill from the receiver to the tanker, but I like the way you think.)
• How exactly does the fuel get from inside the KC-135 to the other plane? (10 fuel tanks, in the fuselage and wings, pumps, the boom, etc)
• What’s the longest flight you’ve ever taken? (16.9 hours direct from Greece to Fairchild AFB w/o refueling.)
I answered many questions and then surprised the group with a sneak peek of the artwork for the second book in the series currently under development, titled “Captain Mama’s Surprise/La Sorpresa de Capitán Mamá.” Then I said, “Speaking of surprises…” and announced that due to the generosity of a certain friend and company in Spokane, they would all be taking home a copy of Good Night Captain Mama. There were excited sounds of “Yay!” and “Awesome!” As the children filed out, many stopped to ask me even more questions, as the teachers each grabbed their book stack. I think I answered at least another dozen questions in those few minutes. Loved it!
And finally, at the end of the second assembly I was asked: “Did you ever find out what was on the other side of those mountains?”
This question came from a particularly observant fourth-grade girl who had heard me earlier in the presentation talk about my curiosity about contrails as a kid in Colorado. The passenger jet contrails showed up from the east to the west over the Rocky Mountains, as passengers flew coast to coast. My family with five kids never took vacations that involved airline tickets; we only drove south to Texas and Mexico to visit family each summer. I had no idea where those people in those planes were going. I constantly wondered what was on the other side of those mountains.
I thanked the observant girl for the delightful question and answered, “Yes, I did find out. On the other side of those Rocky Mountains, was California and the University of California at Berkeley that I was blessed to attend as an Air Force cadet. Going there with the Air Force ROTC scholarship and graduating, ultimately led to the rest of my life.”
With that answer to her terrific question, I thanked the students and teachers for their great participation and wonderful questions.
From the bottom of my heart, I now thank my fellow Air Force veteran, Ms. Lindy Bryant, the Director of Human Resources for Qualfon’s Liberty Lake office, who heard Melanie’s idea, saw the value of sponsoring this special visit and acted quickly to make it happen. We’ve introduced the Qualfon brand to the Workforce office on base so that the community can know they are wanted by this global company with local presence that just celebrated their twentieth year in business. I’m grateful to have helped make the connections that will serve them well going forward.