After being in and out of high school, failing the 11th grade and associating with a friend who would later receive the death sentence for killing a police officer, Scott Alexander accepted an invitation to an aviation club. There, he was mentored by people who helped him stay away from negative influences, take school seriously and graduate college with good grades. Then, at age 21, he became the only person in his class to immediately get a job as an airline pilot. Fourteen years later, he still flies for JetBlue.
“All it took was one guy saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you come out this weekend?’” Alexander says of the invitation.
Today he works with several volunteers at The Church at South Lake in Clermont, Florida, to provide similar opportunities for all kinds of kids to experience mentorship and learn to fly.
In 2013, Pastor Brian Hammond and three friends began discussing how they could use their passion for aviation to mentor troubled kids. After a year of planning, raising funds through a grant for a Cessna 152 airplane and recruiting volunteers—from instructors and mechanics to air traffic controllers and even a meteorologist—they kicked off the program with their first two students: Benjamin Bassett, 14, and Fernando Perez, 17.
The program lasts two years while each teen acquires his or her pilot’s license and receives mentoring that includes academics, job interview techniques and personal budgeting. The church hopes to take six students through the program this year and 20 more next year.
According to Hammond, the idea of finding one’s passion and using it for ministry isn’t limited to aviation but can apply to any talent, passion or skill.
“One of our goals is pairing neighbor with neighbor,” Hammond says. “If we can connect with the community and invest in them, that’s the Great Commandment.”