Earth Angels

People often speak of guardian angels and protectors, but what many may not realize is that there are earth angels among us, and they take flight in service missions across the country every day.  Whether people notice them or not, they are flying overhead bringing hope and healing to those who need it most.  
These earth angels are trained pilots and they volunteer their time and personal planes to serve those in need through Angel Flight Central, an organization dedicated to helping those in personal and community crisis.  Whether it be flying a child to expensive out-of-state medical treatments or delivering supplies for disaster relief, Angel Flight Central has people waiting to help.  
“We really are matchmakers,” says Brendan Sneegas, Angel Flight Central outreach director. “We match folks who call with compassionate pilots who can take them where they need to go; we simply listen to both sides and put them together.”
Overland Park businessman and pilot Jim Stevens started the non-profit organization after he personally flew his ailing neighbor to Ohio for surgery.  He realized that there were many others in similar situations, and he knew he could fulfill a large need in his community.  With four pilots, Stevens’ modest goal was to fly 24 patients the first year. They reached well beyond their goal, flying a total of 77 missions.  Now in its 16th year, Angel Flight Central has more than 600 pilots and completes more than 3,000 missions a year.  
“We will fly anyone with a need, whether it’s for medical treatments or procedures, disaster relief or even reuniting military families,” says CEO and Director Don Sumple.        
Perhaps some of the most notable disaster relief missions in recent years were delivering aid and supplies to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina victims.  
“Angel Flight Central was second only to the U.S. Government in the number of flights in and out of Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina,” says Sneegas. “We helped with supplies, as well as transporting people out of danger.  On Sept. 12, 2001, AFC planes were the only ones allowed in restricted air space after the attacks of Sept. 11.  We delivered everything from Red Cross volunteers to booties for the cadaver dogs.”
Although Angel Flight Central may not be top of mind for many people, they pride themselves on helping others from all spectrums of life with a variety of needs.  With the mission statement, “Serving people in need by arranging charitable flights for access to health care and for other humanitarian purposes,” the Angel Flight Central team is making a difference one mission at a time.  
“The compassion of our pilots and the job they do is phenomenal,” says Sumple.  “Their desire to help people is second-to-none, and their great hearts make this organization what it is today.”
To learn more, visit

words by Katy O’Donovan
photos by Rachel Swetnam