The Villages Daily Sun

Mentors Share Passions with Next Generation

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Posted: Saturday, December 23, 2017 8:00 am

Jason Fitzwater was in high school when he made his first flight with the Young Eagles.

He is still in college, but it was the first step on his journey to becoming a Navy aviator.

“There’s nothing like it,” he said of being up in the air. “There is no way you can get this experience on the ground.”

Passion for learning like

Fitzwater’s is what compels volunteer pilots to give the Young Eagles program its wings. And it’s why hundreds more area residents donate their time to pass on their knowledge.

Members of the Camerata String Ensemble of Central Florida teach Wildwood Middle High School students to play the cello, viola and violin.

Members of local law enforcement share information about their jobs and experiences with students at the school’s criminal justice academy.

More volunteers step in to be role models and mentors through the Dads for a Day program.

All of these programs allow residents to open their lives and hearts to young people in Lake and Sumter counties as they pass on their skills to the next generation.

Young Eagles Fitzwater credits the Young Eagles volunteers for fueling his love of flying.Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 534 volunteers give up one Saturday morning each month to show youth ages 8 to 17 the possibilities in aviation.

“There is a definite shortage of pilots, and the shortage will grow in the next 10 to 15 years as today’s pilots retire,” said Ted Luebbers, with the EAA Chapter 534.

During the Saturday meetings at the Leesburg International Airport, four pilots provide 30-minute flights while other members serve as ground crew, sign in students and provide extra sets of hands.

In addition to the flight, participants take part in pre-flight checks with the pilot and they also take control of the plane for a few minutes. Once the flight is completed, they receive a certificate and a log book for future flights.

Several of the participants in the Dec. 16 session were part of a youth group led by youth minister Kayla McIntosh at New Covenant United Methodist Church.

A number of teens in the group had flown once or twice, but there were a few new to the experience.

London Campbell, 14, was nervous and a little hesitant as she made her way to the small four-seater plane piloted by Leesburg resident Joel Hargis.

When the plane landed, McIntosh and the other teens wondered aloud how London had handled the flight.

Once she was away from the plane, London laughed and ran to greet her friends.

“That was awesome, especially when (Hargis) turned the plane and I could see everything,” London said. “We flew over The Villages, and Leesburg and Lady Lake. It was great.”

This type of excitement is what fuels the Young Eagles program, said Steve Tilford, of the Village of Virginia Trace.

“I just finished building my first plane and having it certified,” Tilford said. “Soon, I’ll be able to fly with the kids.”

He has wanted to fly since he watched “Sky King” as a 7 year old.

Tilford remembers watching planes take off and land at a local airport. He stood there with his face pressed against the fence, dreaming about flying.

He spent his career in the aviation business, but not in the cockpit.

“I was lucky though — with persistence I could get to the other side of the fence,” Tilford said. “But today’s kids have it a lot harder. They can’t get near the fence because of safety regulations.”

Young Eagles gives them the chance to experience flight, not just dream about it, he said.

The Gift of Strings

Members of the Camerata String Ensemble performed for students during the Wildwood Middle High School’s summer enrichment program.

The positive reaction to that performance led members to  create a program to teach sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to play stringed instruments.

Ensemble member Barbara Bruce said the group asked the school’s music director, Sean Wallace, if he would be interested in having them teach the students, and he said yes.

In August, several members of the group, including Bruce, of the Village of Bridgeport at Miona Shores, began teaching during the after-school program offered for middle school students.

“It has been amazing,” Bruce said. “It was difficult at first to find instruments for all the students, but with donations we did.”

The students named their group the Wildwood Wildcat Whiskers String Orchestra, Bruce said.

Mizzette Fuenzalida is conductor of the school orchestra and a professional musician and teacher.

“I see this program as one more opportunity to pass on my love of music,” Fuenzalida said. “We are able to touch lives and give kids a chance to do something different with music.”

Wallace said the volunteers bring an extra dimension to the music program at the school.

“Our program is primarily woodwind, brass and percussion, so there is little opportunity for kids to experience playing the cello or violin,” Wallace said.

Now he has middle school students showing an interest in band and chorus.

“These volunteers are giving kids an opportunity to experience music,” Wallace said.

In March, the Whiskers String Orchestra will play with the Camerata String Ensemble in a benefit concert for Young Performing Artists Inc., a local organization dedicated to teaching and encouraging young artists.

“We want to give these young people a chance to experience performing, and expand their lives through music,” Fuenzalida said.

A Different View Of Law Enforcement

Volunteers who share their experiences in Tedra Johnson’s Criminal Justice Academy at Wildwood Middle High School give students a personal look at law enforcement.

Johnson, a WMHS alumna, is the first instructor of the four-year academy.

The program covers the different career tracks students can take in law enforcement.

All of the volunteers make a direct connection with the students through their experiences and build lasting relationships, Johnson said.

“One of my students told me that before I invited law enforcement to visit, they were very afraid of anyone in uniform because of an incident that happened during their childhood,” Johnson said. “The student told me they were more at ease since (law enforcement) started visiting the classroom.”

So far Johnson has invited a number of guests to share their experiences in her classroom, including members of the Wildwood Police Department, Sumter County Sheriff’s Office and Teen Court.

Wildwood Police Chief Paul Valentino has been a big supporter of the program since day one and is always willing to come in and talk with the students, Johnson said.

Erin Munz, coordinator of the county’s Teen Court, hosted a mock trial featuring “Humpty Dumpty.”

“The middle school students were assigned key roles and were taught the individual roles of each courtroom official and their importance to the courts,” Johnson said. “They had a blast learning about the legal system.”

Dads for a Day

Some volunteers make a difference by sharing their careers, but others give young people personal insights into being successful adults.

The men who participate in the Dads for a Day program mentor boys and provide examples of what it means to be a man, program president Curtis Ostrander said.

“To do this they spend quality time with the boys, sharing their experiences and allowing the boys to express their opinions,” Ostrander said.

Al Kraus, of the Village of Virginia Trace, brought his charge Stefane Tasse to the airport Saturday to fly with the Young Eagles.

“We do things like this, but we also go fishing, and go to the library to learn about fishing,” Kraus said. “The important thing is to teach boys how to grow into young men.”

The faith-based program is coordinated by Ostrander, and the motto is “building a better world one boy at a time.”

Volunteers spend time each week with the boys serving as positive role models as they share their life experiences.

Ken Matarese, of the Village of Lake Deaton, mentors Trevor Peavy, while Dean Nicholson, of the Village of Buttonwood, works with Trevor’s brother, Tyler.

Their mother, Jaime Peavy, is thrilled her sons can participate in the program.

“I’m a single mom, and as the boys grew into teenagers I knew they would benefit from a mentor,” Peavy said. “It’s turned out better than I could have imagined. They have an adult other than their mom they can talk to.”

Patricia Steele is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5387, or patricia.steele@thevillagesmedia.com.