Helping kids fly to get medical treatment

By Todd Cohen

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — In the last 10 years, children who were seriously ill or injured but faced hurdles getting to medical facilities have received 1,500 free flights, thanks to Children’s Flight of Hope, a nonprofit in Morrisville.

“Travel to treatment is often an overlooked component of getting children the care they need,” says Staci Barfield, the group’s executive director. “Insurance doesn’t pay for   the travel of the children we serve. If we didn’t provide these flights, they’d forego or postpone treatment until their families could raise the money, which could be too late.”

Formed in 1991 by Al Wethington, a Durham pilot and businessman, Children’s Flight of Hope operates with a full-time staff of four people and an annual budget of $821,000, plus in-kind support valued at about $500,000, mainly in the form of flights that companies and American Airlines donate.

It also counts on 150 active volunteers who mainly work on three annual events that net a total of about $360,000. The group gets the rest of its funds from individuals and corporations, plus some grant support.

It pays for most of its flights. This year, through October, it spent $154,000 on commercial flights and $87,000 on private flights.

Through November 11, it had provided 408 flights for 127 families, and expects to have provided 500 flights by the end of the year.

Until this past April, flights had been limited to children living or needing to get to medical facilities east of the Mississippi River. The biggest share of the children are traveling to or from destinations in North Carolina.

And thanks to a one-year partnership it formed in April with American Airlines, American now is letting the nonprofit use for its own clients two million miles of flights donated to the airline. In return, Children’s Flight of Hope will handle eight million miles of charity flights American routes to Children’s Flight of Hope.

The nonprofit developed that partnership in the wake of $151,000 in seed money it received in 2015 from the CAPCommunity Foundation, the charitable arm of CAPTRUST Financial Advisers in Raleigh, to expand its geographic reach.

Now, Children’s Flight of Hope is considering the creation of hubs in 10 other markets throughout U.S., plus the Triad and Charlotte, Barfield says.

Developing the hubs will depend on interest in each market among local volunteers, funders and companies, she says.

The nonprofit also continues to focus on meeting the needs of North Carolina children. Seeing that children from the coastal area were not participating, the staff approached The Eshelman Foundation in Wilmington, which provided a $15,000 grant to meet the travel needs of children from the three counties the Foundation serves.

Since 2014, Children’s Flight of Hope also has raised about $400,000 through a campaign known as “Join Our Crew” that focuses on recruiting “recurring” donors who make a commitment to make an annual gift for a number of years.

Three donors each have made pledges to give $20,000 a year for five years.

The nonprofit mainly flies children to pediatric speciality centers for a broad range of illnesses, including rare “orphan” diseases for which research and treatment are not supported by institutional programs or organizations.

“The treatments we’re sending them to,” Barfield says, “are going to save, prolong or dramatically improve the quality of their lives.”