Let’s Go Up to the 21st Century

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Fort Washington, Md. 
(301) 292-4925

Objective: To expose at-risk youth to aviation-related career fields at an early age.

In a Nutshell: 21st Century holds two camps each year. The first, lasting three days, introduces youth to aviation while tackling life skills issues, such as discipline and self-respect. The second, lasting one week, features hands-on workshops with pilots, air traffic controllers, mechanics and computer specialists. Youths can return each year, and 21st Century helps find financial support for those who want to obtain pilot’s licenses or internships in other aviation careers.

Where It Happens: YMCA Camp Letts in Edgewater, Md., and the University of the District of Columbia.

Who Runs It: Richard Jones, an air traffic controller for the U.S. Air Force from 1962 to 1966 and a retired 28-year-veteran of the Federal Aviation Administration. He founded the program in 1994. Jones is assisted by his wife, Linda, and volunteer staff members.

Early Obstacles: Securing an affordable site for the camp, finding volunteers to make a commitment to the program and convincing organizations to contribute in-kind support. A $10,000 grant from the Ronald McDonald House in 1997 helped to pay for camp locations.

Cost: Just over $112,000 a year. The program survives mostly on in-kind services and donations from partners. Supporters include the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, the National Black Coalition of FAA Employees, The Tuskegee Airmen East Coast Chapter, AmDyne AeroServices and the Giant and Safeway supermarket chains.

Youth Served: The camp has served 1,102 youths ranging in age from 8 to 17. The vast majority have been male (70 percent), African-American (95 percent) and from the greater Washington area (90 percent). About 100 came from homeless shelters.

Youth Turn-On: Flying with flight instructors in helicopters and airplanes, and learning to design and make model rockets with volunteers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Youth Turn-Off: “The fact that they have to be disciplined, team-oriented and respectful to the counselors and each other at all times is not easy for them to accept,” Jones says. Also challenging are the math and science skills that are essential to the program.

Research Shows: No formal research has been done. Jones knows of 26 former campers who have completed their “grounds school” test, and 15 who have gone on to fly solo. One recently qualified as a private pilot, one is flying for the Air Force, and another was recently hired as an air traffic controller after receiving a degree in aviation science.