Victor Squad: From Hospital to Hope

Flight1, an Indianapolis-based non-profit, works to provide confidence-building experiences for children whose families struggle with the loss of confidence and emotional toll associated with facing a serious health challenge or the loss of an immediate family member to illness. Since 2011, the organization has focused on programming that has a measurable, positive impact on the well-being of the children it serves.

At the core of this mission is the Courageous Fliers program, a multi-year program built to deliver year-round services ranging from experimenting with a flight simulator game to flying an actual airplane. Fliers learn about flight from Certified Flight Instructors and a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, taking part in everything from the weather briefing and aircraft inspection to manning the controls during flight.

“Our traditional programming, the Courageous Fliers, has been great for kids whose families have been impacted by a health challenge, but sometimes the kids end up sitting out a year or two for treatment or illnesses,” said Caroline Hoy, Executive Director for Flight1. “Most of them are able to finish the Courageous Flier program after recovering, but it got us thinking about the kids who may not get the opportunity to participate in Courageous Fliers. We wanted those children to have the chance to experience a sense of adventure, too.”

Together with the Flight1 team and with help from Jet Linx Indianapolis, this year Hoy will launch a new program, this time dedicated to kids who are unable to fly themselves due to illness – the Victor Squad.

“Through the Victor Squad, we hope to lift the spirits of kids who can’t participate in our programming due to health conditions,” she said.

Through the Victor Squad program, one of three stuffed pals (a puppy, golden retriever or bear) decked out in a pilot’s jacket and Jet Linx scarf, will take to the skies with a Jet Linx crew – hopping across the country (or the world!) – hitting a minimum of five unique destinations. At each stop, photos will document the animal’s location and unique scenery. To conclude the Victor Squad journey, the animal will then be presented to a child impacted by illness, accompanied by a photo book documenting the adventures along the way.

Jet Linx Indianapolis Director of Jet Card Sales Hunter Musselman and Base President Casey Blake both serve on the Board of Directors for Flight1, and were excited to partner with the organization to bring the Victor Squad to life.

Members of the Jet Linx Indianapolis Client Services Team Kaitlyn Smith, Cara Ratay and Abby Pearson introduce the Victor Squad to one of the Jet Linx Indy fleet.

Hoy is confident that the nature of flight itself will connect with children confined to the hospital. “Something about airplanes and flying conjures feelings of freedom. Soaring above the clouds. No pain. No cords or tubes holding you down,” she said. “My hope is that having a little buddy who has flown all over the country will give that child a feeling of hope and adventure. A child’s imagination is so powerful, I think a photo album of their bear traveling to Las Vegas or New York City or the beach can give them a real sense of escape and fun.”

Bears will be available for sponsorship – raising money that will help build and grow the Victor Squad program and also Flight1’s Courageous Flier program. Hoy hopes to not only extend the hope and healing of the Victor Program to more kids, but also for Flight1 to purchase its own full-motion Redbird flight simulator, allowing the organization to continue to increase our participant number and host community events.

“We currently have about 70 participant families in Courageous Fliers, but would like to be well over 100 by next year,” Hoy commented. “By sponsoring a bear, two life-changing effects occur. First, a child who is living with a significant illness in a hospital will receive the gift of a bear and photo album, showing him or her a world of possibility and excitement. Secondly, they will be supporting Flight1 to provide actual flight experiences to more children in the Courageous Fliers program.”

Locally in Indianapolis, Jet Linx has supported Flight1 in various ways over the past five years – including event sponsorships and the individual Board contributions of Base President Casey Blake and Director of Jet Card Sales Hunter Musselman. This year, Jet Linx made a donation to help Flight1 get the Victor Squad program off the ground. “It was this year while sitting down with Jamie Walker, the President and CEO of Jet Linx, we decided collectively to make a larger impact,” said Blake. Blake sees huge potential in the Victor Squad program, starting with his Base in Indianapolis, and moving to other Jet Linx cities nationwide. “The possibility of touching thousands of lives, all across the country is exhilarating, and this is just a small step in that direction. We hope the Victor Squad flying on Jet Linx operated aircraft will even inspire the next generation of aviation personnel, soaring beyond our hopes and dreams.”

MEET CAROLINE HOY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FLIGHT1

The power of flight is not lost on Caroline Hoy. She attended Purdue University (with Jet Linx Indianapolis Base President Casey Blake) from 1998-2002, where in addition to earning her diploma, she also earned her private pilot license – and a love for and knowledge of aviation that has come in handy in her time as Executive Director of Flight1.

During her time as a business owner for a social media consulting firm, Hoy was provided an introduction to an exciting opportunity by an old friend – Casey Blake. Blake passed along the job listing for the Executive Director position at Flight1. “I decided to apply for the position, and here we are!” Hoy exclaimed.

The mission of Flight1 is one close to Caroline Hoy’s heart. “Before Casey and I reconnected, I had two daughters, and in 2013, my oldest daughter Audrey died suddenly from a common virus at the age of 4 1/2,” she said. “Watching her sister, Lila, cope gave me a special connection to Flight1’s mission of building confidence in kids whose families have been impacted by a health challenge, especially our emphasis on including siblings and all child relatives affected.” Hoy has since had another daughter, Stella.

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