Maria Knausz joined the Office Practicum team as an Instruction Designer in September 2014, after working as the Director of Marketing for Workflow.com since January 2008. She’s collaborated on the new OP15 Training Curriculum, and she’s assisted with several projects across multiple departments. Maria has helped train regional sales managers on the new web-based OP15 platform, she’s played an integral part in re-certifying OP15 for the EHR Incentive Program, and she’s been involved in the roll out the new Medfusion Patient Portal.
Maria’s love of flying, and her compassion for helping others has also kept her quite busy outside of Office Practicum. She is the founder of Kids in Flight, a non-profit organization that gives critically ill children and their families an opportunity to experience the joy of aviation.
“Kids in Flight is all about empowering kids to soar above their illness or disability, and see for perhaps the first time that they are bigger than whatever they left on the ground.”
Kids in Flight: From Tragedy to Triumph
2003 was a challenging and difficult year for Maria. In September 2002 at the age of 19, she was diagnosed with cancer, then she lost her mother in February 2003. These heartbreaking and life changing events forced her to to give up her dream of becoming an Air Force pilot. Maria was hurting, and she was in a very sad place, but she knew nothing could bring back her mom. One afternoon in August of 2003, it occurred to her that she could still find a way to be involved in aviation and share her passion with kids who were going through a true crisis. And that is when Kids in Flight became a reality.
Kids in Flight started out with a small group of volunteer pilots, a few donated pizzas, and a bus load of awesome kids and their families from the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland. Children had the opportunity to soar above the clouds and forget about their illnesses for a little as the volunteer pilots took turns giving sightseeing flights. The inaugural day was so well received by the kids and the volunteers, Maria decided to do it again the next year with the support of the Northeast Ohio community. After the 2004 event, it became clear that Maria had come up with something special. There was an outpouring of support from the amazing people in the Cleveland community who helped guide her and make Kids in Flight a stable, non-profit organization. Many of those people are still on the Board of Directors today, and Maria says she wouldn’t have been able to build the organization without them. In December 2012, Maria stepped down as the head of day-to-day operations, and now serves in an advisory role with the group. Her Aunt Barb has taken over as President of the Board, and Maria knows the organization is in great hands.
“There was a young boy who was in treatment for leukemia. He had to wear a facemask due to low immunity and my heart broke for him as I watched him walk up for his flight. When he came back down, he jumped out of the plane with just as much energy as any other kid, pulled his mask down to show his huge smile, gave a thumbs up, and yelled “that was awesome”! That is exactly what this is all about – letting these kids be kids…”
It’s All About the Kids
One of the most popular events that Kids in Flight hosts is their annual “Wings of Wonder” event. Many of the participants are children with cancer, but they also welcome children with other serious illnesses and disabilities, along with their families. This special day allows the entire family to come together and have fun without having to worry about all the stresses of their everyday lives– and they get to do something pretty cool too! Everyone gets to take a 20-30 minute sightseeing flight over the Cleveland skyline with beautiful views of their hometown and Lake Erie. Maria says, “Everyone knows that from the air, objects below appear smaller. For children fighting serious illnesses, the escape and excitement of flying can make their problems seem smaller as well, giving them a new perspective on their struggles. It is because of this that there is a sense of hope, determination, and perseverance that is the essence of Kids in Flight, and all who are involved.”
More than 100 volunteers come out to help with the “Wings of Wonder” event, that serves more than 400 participants each year. There are typically 10-15 volunteer pilots who donate their time, services, and the use of their aircraft. Throughout the day, pilots complete roughly 70 flights to accommodate the families. The local Air Traffic Control tower has been a great supporter of the event and has helped ensure the safety of everyone, along with off-duty “rampers” from Cleveland Hopkins Airport, who direct all the ground traffic. There are also historical and military aircraft on display, as well as food, games, music, local celebrities, and entertainers for the children to enjoy. It’s truly a day to remember for everyone who participates!
Maria will be the first to tell you that when you are starting something new, “it is so challenging, with more work than you could ever imagine, BUT, the amazing people you will meet and the stories you will hear will be the best payment you could ever receive! When you’re doing something for other people and it is 100% selfless, you will be amazed by the truly generous people who come out of the woodwork to help you be successful. Even if you just want to volunteer for a few hours to assist with a charity whose mission touches your heart – know that your time and energy are appreciated beyond what can be put into words by the people you are helping.” No truer words have been spoken!
Kids in Flight’s 12th annual “Wings of Wonder” event will be held later this year at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio. To get involved or learn more about the organization, visit their website or Facebook page.