How it all began…Villages Honor Flight, Inc. became an entity because of two key people: Allison Metcalf and Mark Erdrich.
After encountering some issues with the existing Honor Flight (HF) hub located in Ocala, Fl, (2007), Allison Metcalf, the marketing manager at Mission Oaks Assisted Living facility wondered if the greater Villages area could support its own HF hub. Talking with people involved with Ocala HF who lived in/around The Villages as well as others who might be interested in the idea of a new hub, Allison was convinced that The Villages could support its own hub. Allison Metcalf applied for a charter from the National Honor Flight organization and by July 2011, Villages Honor Flight was a real entity with an area of responsibility including Lake, Sumter and Southern Marion county areas.
Villages Honor Flight (VHF) started with a list of around 20 vets provided by the Ocala HF. Hal Urban became VHF’s Vet#1. The original flight model was one or two large charter flights per year. During 2011, VHF volunteers worked on raising money, listing vets and building capability with the goal of a first flight in April 2012. By the end of 2012, it was clear that the original goal of a first flight in April of 2012 would not be met. That plus the declining health of the hub director forced a reassessment in early 2012. The result was a revised organization with a different flight model and somewhat different goals.
The new organization revised its flight model to several small flights each year rather than one or two large charters. It decided on 4 flights for 2012 (May, Jun, Sep and Oct), drove a stake in the ground to have a first flight before the end of May and commenced to build the necessary knowledge and capability to accomplish that goal.
Seeing an article in the news about Allison Metcalf trying to start an HF hub in The Villages, Debbie Winters volunteered immediately — her Disney club raised over $25,000 toward the organization and so the VHF took flight! Volunteers met at Mission Oaks planning for the first VHF to D.C. in April 2012 with 150 vets! The Villages WW2 History Club became the official sponsoring club for VHF.
Over the next several months, the organization was tweaked several times as we learned what worked and what did not and evolved our unique mission model. VHF successfully met its inaugural flight goal. When Ocala Honor Flight ceased operation, VHF expanded its scope to include all of Marion County. VHF has further expanded its official scope to include Hernando and Citrus counties.
Mark Erdrich first heard about HF in 2008 and applied to the Rochester, NY hub to be a guardian. He never heard anything back and just about forgot about it until he encountered some Rochester Honor Flight members at a promotional kiosk at a local fair. He inquired again and was struck by the arrogance of the Rochester Honor Flight people suggesting that he had not heard from them because he was not good enough to be a guardian. Sounds silly, but that was his impression. In 2011, Bruce Greenberger, a member of the WW2 History Club, mentioned that an HF hub was starting up in The Villages, Fl. Mark immediately volunteered to develop the website and provide a little project management support to Allison. As the organization grew, Mark continued to create a foundation of team-ship. Ideas about how to improve the organization so that the Veterans had the best experience were always at the forefront of his mind. He was the founding member of VHF, president and mission director.
VHF was incorporated in May 2012 to begin the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) charity and to provide a little more structure to the organization. The organization looks pretty similar to any small corporation: there is a formal organizational structure and two teams that define high level policy and manage operational issues.
In 2014 Mark had a brilliant idea to create a flightless program so Vet’s who were too ill to fly to D.C. could still experience the same camaraderie as an actual mission. It was a huge success! The flightless model imagined by Mark Erdrich and developed by Chris Lipp, VHF videographer, received national recognition and was presented at the 2016 Summit in Baltimore, MD and adopted by National Honor Flight, LLC.
Chronological timeline…Villages Honor Flight officially began on 01-Jul-2011; starting out with about 25 vets who had been waiting to fly with other hubs. The number of applications rose at the rate of several per week as Villages Honor Flight figured out how to mount missions.
2012: The First flight was in May of 2012. The 2012 goal was 4 mission flying 100 vets. The Oct 2012 flight was cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy.
2013: The 2013 goal was more ambitious: 7 missions flying 175 vets. We successfully completed all 7 missions
2014: The 2014 goal was more ambitious (again); we planned four missions of 50 vets each for a total of 200 vets. We also planned for our first flightless mission. The 50 vet missions proved to be a strain of the organization and trying two, we cut back to 25 vet missions for the two in the fall. But our first flightless mission, involving 15 vets, was a huge success
2015: The 2015 goal was four missions of 35 vets and two flightless missions of 15 vets each. All were successfully completed plus we successfully mounted an additional flightless mission for the vets at the Sumter County Correctional Facility
2016: The 2016 goal was four missions of 35 vets and two flightless missions of 15 vets each. We will also explore another flightless mission at a different Florida State Correctional Facility and a special flightless mission at a local senior living facility.
2017: THE 2017 goal was four missions of 40 vets and two flightless missions. VHF flew a charter for the first time in late 2017, taking 70 vets and their guardians to Washington, D.C. VHF flew its 1,000th vet on that charter.
2018: THE 2018 goal was four missions of 40 vets on two missions, 60 vets on two missions, and two flightless missions of 25+ vets.
2019: The 2019 goal was four missions of 40 vets and two flightless missions.
2020: The 2020 goal is two missions of 40 vets, two missions of 60 vets and two flightless missions.
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