More than Safety:
Mules Offer Helping Hand for Once-in-a-Lifetime Flights
Julian Peterson (Epsilon Phi/Central Missouri 2024) has always been fascinated with aviation. Need proof? Check out his aviation-centered Instagram account here. That passion caused him to stumble upon Challenge Air for Kids and Friends, a non-profit based in Dallas, TX, that gives children with special needs the opportunity to fly in a small airplane with pilots who donate their time, planes, and resources.
“I believe the first time I heard about the organization was in 8th grade up at the airport,” recalls Peterson, mentioning the time he’d spend being driven around the Charles B. Wheeler Airport in Downtown Kansas City. “I was trying to get some pictures as usual, and when we stopped by Signature Flight Support, the fixed base operator, I noticed a flyer looking for volunteers for the event. It seemed like a no-brainer—I could give back while also being all around aircraft.”
Peterson decided to sign up to help as an 8th grader before he’d even be required to track volunteer hours in high school and college. Previously, he’d volunteered as a camp counselor, as he loved working with kids. That’s what made this opportunity so special for him.
Fast-forward to today and Peterson (the Chaplain, Social Chairman, PR Chairman, and Intramural Chairman for his chapter) organized a half-day of volunteering for Epsilon Phi, driving up to Wheeler Airport on September 10, 2022, with his brothers who were ready to offer An Assisting Hand during the Kansas City Fly-Day. Brothers would be responsible for escorting children from a secure hangar across the airport grounds—an active hazard zone—to their respective aircraft. There, the children would board an aircraft where their pilot would take them up for a cruise in the skies. Once landed, brothers would repeat the process in reverse, escorting the children back to their families and caregivers waiting patiently at the hangar
“This could really be a first flight for these children,” Peterson explains. “But almost always it’s the first flight for them in smaller planes. The kids could be very nervous or very excited—I mean the planes are very loud, so that’s a hurdle to overcome.” Peterson recounts the story of a child who was blind, a boy who was extremely nervous to fly.
“I know at first it was so hard for him,” he says. “He didn’t want to get in the plane and towards the last minute said ‘I don’t wanna do this!’ He calmed down a bit, and we closed the door so the plane could taxi to the runway. They took off, and when they landed, he was screaming ‘I want to do that again!’ That was one of the most special moments for me. He accomplished something he didn’t think he’d be able to, and I think going up there and having that experience gave him hope for the future and other challenges that come his way.”
Epsilon Phi Chapter partnered with the Alpha Sigma Alpha Sorority at Central Missouri for the half-day event. While both groups were slated to volunteer four hours, they noticed a lack of volunteer attendance outside of their respective organizations. The call was then made for both groups to stay the entire day, with each participant volunteering 8.5 hours, a total of 144.5 hours for Epsilon Phi with 17 brothers in attendance. Peterson and his brothers are grateful to 9 women who volunteered from Alpha Sigma Alpha.
“ASA’s help was tremendous,” said Peterson. “We had held events with other sororities from UCM, but we all realized we hadn’t really done anything with ASA before. This seemed like a great opportunity not only to meet the women of this group but also a chance to open the door to be more involved with events they may put on in the future.”
Each year, it’s Peterson’s hope to partner with Challenge Air and provide an ample pool of brothers ready to offer the Helping Hand by volunteering. “I made it known to Challenge Air that the Theta Chi Epsilon Phi Chapter would volunteer every year, so the organization never has to worry about volunteers again,” proclaimed Peterson. “And I hope every chapter within driving distance can volunteer at this event with us. So that the children will always be given a chance to fly high.”