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Aug 14, 2017 10:57 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Pilots Volunteer To Help Kids In Need At East Hampton Airport

Participants in the Kids Need More Camp on Shelter Island. They were flown in to East Hampton Airport on Saturday, coming from various towns across the northeast, before taking a bus to the week-long camp. The flights were arranged by the nonproft Patient AirLift Services, which uses volunteer pilots to help families in need. COURTESY THE SHELTER ISLAND REPORTER
Aug 15, 2017 2:35 PM

When Teagan Klingenberg stepped off Jack Napoli’s Mooney M20 propeller plane under overcast skies at the East Hampton Airport on Saturday, she was visibly overwhelmed. The 12-year-old from Saratoga Springs, who has Down syndrome, clung to her 16-year-old brother, Tanner, repeatedly burying her face in his chest, a look of fear and trepidation on her face, as photographers snapped away and volunteers helped usher Teagan and her brother from the flood of aircraft noise and into the nearby lounge.

Before long, though, she had a smile on her face, chatting happily with reporters, clutching a doll in one hand and a red, white and blue Popsicle in another, talking about how she was excited to do arts and crafts with her brother at the camp they were headed to later that day.

Tanner and Teagan are two of 15 children who arrived in East Hampton on Saturday as part of a “fly-in” event hosted by the airport and organized by Patient AirLift Services, or PALS. The nonprofit organization was created in 2010 by several pilots—including East Hampton resident Harold Levy—who volunteer their time and their planes, free of charge, to people in need.

In seven years of existence, PALS has arranged more than 13,000 flights for children with cancer, transporting them to hospitals and other facilities so their families can avoid the logistical difficulties and financial burdens of long and frequent trips for treatment. PALS has done the same for injured military veterans.

On Saturday, PALS arranged six separate flights for 15 children from across the Northeast who were on their way to the Kids Need More camp, formerly known as Camp Adventure, on Shelter Island. The Kids Need More camp caters to children with cancer and their families, and most of the kids who flew in to East Hampton Airport on Saturday took along at least one sibling.

After time to relax and eat some pizza, they were then transported by bus to the week-long camp on Shelter Island, and are set to be flown home again this Saturday.

Marco Colon, 12, of Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, who was diagnosed with optic pathway glimoa, was the first to arrive, flying in on Joshua Benenson’s Cirrus SR20. Mike Sweeney, a pilot from New York, brought brothers Jacob and Jason Kaminski, 17 and 13, respectively, from Albany on his Piper Lance. Jacob was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Pilot Terry Flood of Huntington arrived after them on his Cirrus SR22 with James Stowell, 17, of Albany, whose twin brother died of cancer.

Mr. Napoli flew in next with the Klingenberg siblings, before a Sikorsky helicopter owned by Associated Aircraft Group touched down with five passengers from Toms River, New Jersey, all bound for the camp.

That group included Arielle DeGennaro, 22, who had attended Kids Need More previously and now returns to work as a counselor. Ms. DeGennaro, the oldest of five children, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when she was 4 years old and has been in remission for 10 years. She was accompanied by siblings Jason Venegas, Maggie Birmingham and Rebecca Birmingham.

Also on the helicopter were siblings Brandon and Vanessa Cuhna. Brandon, 17, was with his 14-year-old sister, who was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the connective tissue, in her leg.

Teagan was diagnosed with leukemia several years ago, and their family heard about the camp while she was in the hospital for treatment.

“It’s fun to just get away from everything,” Tanner said, sitting on a bench in the airport lounge with his younger sister, who had her arms wrapped firmly around him and repeatedly peppered him with kisses on the cheek. Tanner said he looks forward to seeing his friends from camp every year, while Teagan said she most looks forward to arts and crafts, and painting with her brother.

Saturday was the first time the siblings were flown to Long Island with the PALS program. When asked how she felt about the trip, Teagan said she was “scared,” but pointed out that her brother was at her side the entire time.

Mr. Napoli is a member of the East Hampton Aviation Association and his trip with Tanner and Teagan was one of many he’s done for PALS since he joined the organization several years ago, after learning about it from his friend Mr. Levy. Mr. Levy, who is 88, no longer flies for PALS but was on hand with a smile on his face on Saturday to be part of the fly-in event.

Mr. Napoli said he’s been happy to be part of the organization. “For people like myself who are fortunate enough to do this, it’s really a great way to give back for people who need it,” he said. “That’s really what it’s about.”

Overcast skies and unsettled weather forced Mr. Napoli to take a more roundabout route from upstate New York to East Hampton, and he said the flight plan changed several times throughout the course of the trip, but that both Tanner and Teagan seemed to enjoy the flight.

“[Teagan] was scared in the beginning, but her brother talked to her and then she was fine,” he said. “Once we got through the clouds and into the sunshine, it was fine.”

Mr. Napoli was a pharmacist working in institutional health care for much of his life before he transitioned into what he calls his “other life,” as a pilot and FAA flight instructor. Like many of the other pilots in attendance on Saturday, he said he had always had the flying “bug," adding that he has been a pilot for more than 50 years, learning to fly a plane before he even had a car.

Being part of a program like PALS, he said, only enhances his love of flying. “It does more than just help a sick child,” he said. “It really gives the family a break and a change of pace.”

That’s exactly what Tanner and Teagan seemed to be looking forward to on Saturday. As they put on a heartwarming display of sibling camaraderie, they were asked if they ever fight when they’re at home.

“We have pillow fights,” Teagan said. When asked who wins, they both responded: “Me!”

At one point, Teagan looked into her brother’s eyes and said, “I love you.”

“I love you too, T,” he said.

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East Hampton pilots are awesome! This is just one of the many, many ways local pilots and the East Hampton Airport benefit our community. Such a great charity and some really amazing kids!
By localEH (351), East Hampton on Aug 16, 17 5:01 PM
These is a example how our country should be working,
By knitter (1537), Southampton on Aug 17, 17 7:47 AM
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