The sky truly is the limit for the children and families assisted by Children’s Flight of Hope.
CFOH is a nonprofit organization in Cary that provides free air transportation to and from medical facilities for critically ill or injured children ages 18 years and younger.
With a pilot’s license and a passion for helping others, Al Wethington started this organization, first in Durham, that would go on to benefit children for years to come.
“He heard a story about someone in his church who had gotten into a car accident and needed to fly from Florida back to North Carolina,” said Staci Barfield, executive director for CFOH. “He was a pilot with a plane and figured he could do this.
“For a long time it was just, ‘Who’s got a plane?’ ‘Who’s a volunteer pilot that will do this?’” said Barfield. “They organized a few fundraisers, and it escalated. It started gaining ground in the mid- to late ‘90s when they expanded the board, brought in more businesspeople from the area, and it’s just grown since.”
Behind the scenes of the organization, which includes the crew and means of transportation, things are done a little differently nowadays.
“Originally, we had a few volunteer planes and about a handful of volunteer pilots,” said Barfield. CFOH later owned its plane and flew clients privately.
However, by 2012 leaders realized that maintaining the plane was becoming expensive.
“In 2012 our plane was down for maintenance at one point, so we started flying some of the children commercially,” said Barfield. It worked.
“We changed our charter to say that we don’t just provide free private air transportation, but that we look for the best option for the situation,” she said.
On average, the cost of a private flight is $5,000 and the cost of a commercial flight is $500.
“That’s a huge difference and we want to steward our donors’ money well,” said Barfield. “For the kids who need to fly privately, we still have a private option, but we sold our plane at the beginning of this year and now work with a charter service.”
Another important aspect of what CFOH does is preparing and supporting families throughout the flying experience.
“A lot of families have never flown, so we teach them how to go through security; we work with the Transportation Security Administration and the airports,” said Barfield.
The service area for CFOH is a radius of 600 miles from Raleigh-Durham for commercial flights. For private flights, the preferred radius is 200 miles from Sanford.
For families to receive a flight, their situation must meet medical, logistical and financial criteria.
“We commit to the child, which means that a lot of times these kids are going for chemotherapy, participating in clinical trials, or they’re going for surgery, which requires pre-ops and post-ops,” said Barfield. “We commit for the whole duration, and on average each child flies four missions with us.
“All of this is also the result of a doctor’s decision,” she added. ”Ultimately it is his or her call whether the child will fly commercially, privately, or even be able to fly at all.”
Last year CFOH flew 197 missions for 54 children.
There are opportunities for anyone to volunteer and support CFOH, including its own fundraisers, a golf and tennis tournament and a wine and food tasting event.
For more information, see childrensflightofhope.org.