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Up, Up, and Away

Four years ago, in September of 2018 we took two of our East St. Louis students to work and study in Costa Rica. They had been studying Spanish and Entrepreneurship. The young man, Markeithion, had already traveled with us to Nicaragua the year before to help organize a multi-national jiu jitsu tournament. This time we would work with a homeless shelter in San Jose, a church in Liberia, a school in Tamarindo, and go deep sea fishing while learning about business from one of our organization's primary international partners, Jimmy Downing, a native Costa Rican who has worked with us in seven countries on two continents over ten years.

The other student on this trip was Monteesha. It was her first time ever boarding a plane. She was sitting next to me and one of the other chaperones. As the plane accelerated along the tarmac, the plane lifted from the ground, and the engines began to boom, she was terrified to the point of tears. I have taken many kids on dozens of flights, but her reaction on a first flight was the strongest to this day. By the second leg of the trip after a brief layover, she had already adjusted, and she would travel with another group the next year to work and study in Panama.

I reflect on the day of her first flight this weekend as I juxtapose it to pictures and videos of her flying a plane this weekend after completing the SOAR into STEM program with Wings of Hope, one of our local and international partners. We had four kids participate in this session with two of them braving the cold and snow to take to the skies on Saturday. With one student making her first flight last year, we have had three girls from East St. Louis fly planes now, and one of the young men who participated will begin paid apprenticeships to become an airplane mechanic after participating in the program. We will also be sending six more kids to the SOAR into STEM program in April next year while three of our students will work with their international office in Ecuador in March, and we are coordinating a mission of Nicaraguan doctors to work with their site in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua in 2023 as well. All of this starts with our kids here in East St. Louis boldly overcoming their fears and learning to embrace the incredible opportunities and hidden talents they have. When talking to Monteesha afterwards, she kept going on and on about how the co-pilot working with them called her a "natural". Who knows, she or any of the others might be calling in over the intercom for one of your flights someday. Seeing the journeys on land, sea, and air of the people we serve, the fruit they bear, is the greatest reward. They will often go places that neither you nor they might ever dream. We thank everyone who supports us in big and small ways who make these things possible. If you're not supporting, one our kids could be waiting on you to let their dreams take flight.

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