THE Story! What is the "Fly For Tots"?
(Larry Lewis, Oct 2007)
The "Fly For Tots" was originally started in 1991, as a drive to collect toys for under privileged kids in local foster homes. We worked through the Franklin County Dept of Social Services, where we were provided different cases and their needs. We always held our event a few weeks prior to Christmas, so that they had enough time to disperse the toys we collected. In the beginning, our entry fee for the event was one new, unwrapped toy, or a $5.00 donation. We only asked flyers that the toy be a $5.00 value or more. The event was always a success, with 20 or more participants, and we always managed to donate a large number of toys, as well as a generous check in the neighborhood of $500. This was done with the sale of concessions, and raffle ticket sales for various items our local hobby shop, Hobby Masters, would donate to us. Our efforts were always appreciated by DSS, and they simply amazed us with their abilities to bring so much joy and help, to so many families with what we gave. Needless to say, this provided the motivation for several of us to keep things going each year. Although the toys were much needed, it was clear to us after the first few years, that our charity could better meet the specific needs of families and children with the cash that we donated. So it was decided then, we would request all pilots to make a $10.00 donation vs a toy. As you would expect, none of our fellow flyers hesitated to make this change, and our annual dollar amount started to increase a little each year. Each year we would raise a little more than the year before and we always looked forward to the day that we would deliver our donation to DSS. This is when the event really stated to grow!
In 2003, Larry Lewis and a couple of other members of the club made a change, and we moved over to a sister club, Raleigh Durham Radio Control. This was due mainly to our interest in giant scale planes, and RDRC had a large number of GS enthusiast already. But what looked even more appealing to us, was the enthusiasm that these guys showed toward holding events, and their willingness to offer up their hands to get things done. After being in the club for one year, and lying low so to speak, I made a request at our January 2004 meeting that the annual fall fly in be changed to the "Fly for Tots" I had CD'ed several years at my previous club. Without hesitation, all hands in the room went up in favor of this motion, and again, the "Fly for Tots" was being planned out. As done in years past, we approached our local hobby shop for raffle items. We also formed a concession committee and decided who our receiving charity would be. The one thing we did different this year from past years, was to make a bigger effort on getting event flyers passed out to local hobby shops,and modelers we met each weekend at fly-ins across the state. Our efforts payed off. In the very first year RDRC held this event, we had over 40 registered pilots, and raised $1,500.00 !
This far exceeded all years past, and we were thrilled that we could take a hobby we love so much, and use it to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Not only that, but with the wide distribution of event flyers we passed out, we had a good number of spectators from the general public show up to enjoy the show. Everyone had a blast, and we were seeing a bright future for this event. Better yet, all the modelers who attended went back home with good comments to pass on to their local club members. Anyone in the retail business can tell you, the best advertisement you can get, is word of mouth. We had added a couple of simple things to our event, like low volume music over the speakers through out the event, as well as a noon time demo flight from one of our local talented pilots. This was a real crowd pleaser with the public, as well as the pilots. So what could we do to make it bigger now?
At the January 2005 meeting, we were already making plans, and asking each other how we could grow this event. We knew we needed the event flyers to be passed out in large numbers, and the raffle sales always brought in the largest amount of money. It was at this point one of our fellow club members, said he would approach one of the major hobby distributors for their help. Within weeks, we had a commitment from not one, but two big names in the industry. They were very gracious, and donated very nice raffle items to us. Before moving on here, I need to stop and tell anyone thinking of asking any company for donations of any sort, that they get their request in as early in the year as possible. Many of these companies, be it model distributors, or any other type business, have an operating budget set aside for each year for just this type of thing. The sooner you give them notice you would like their help, the better your chances are. As the 2005 event approached, we were getting a realization that it was going to be bigger than the year before, and we began to set goals.
While being a past military member and serving in the Navy Sea Bees, our motto was "Can Do". That motto very much applies to the RDRC group. The attitude in our club meeting that night was, "we can do that". And with that, we set our goal to double the amount the 2004 event took in. $3000.00 seemed a little high, but I don't think anyone in our club ever doubted it. We made the decision to have raffle tickets printed up, listing the larger prizes. This allowed us to do advanced ticket sales at flying events, or places of work, etc. This proved to be a great idea. We also added a couple more noon time demos, and decided to set the event up like a public air show. Along with these changes, we decided to make it a two day event. This would be a great opportunity to give our hobby exposure to the general public, and also increase our chances of reaching our $3000.00 goal. Before we knew it, September was upon us, and we had ourselves an air show! The public showed up in big numbers, and we counted as many as 100 cars in the parking area on a couple of occasions. Not only that, but we had well over 60 registered pilots! When the dust settled on Sunday afternoon, we had not only reached our goal, but exceeded it. We raised $5,000.00!
This was truly wonderful, and some might think, it doesn't get any better than this. But not the RDRC flying club! At this point, we're now thinking, what can we do next year? And thats one key factor to growing an event. Start planning early. As soon as the 2006 flying season started, so did we. We knew the modelers would spread the word to each other, and those numbers would increase, but we also knew we needed to reach the public in a bigger way. What better way than a mall show? One of our club members was able to convince the areas largest mall to allow us to hold a static model display just two weeks before our event. Our club members soon began promoting our event in their work places, churches, and possible event sponsors. Another very helpful tool in our efforts was the use of the Internet. It's hard not to hear fellow modelers talking about what they've read in discussion forums somewhere on the net, especially on web sites like RC Universe or Flying Giants. Better yet, these sites offer flying event schedule forums free of charge. We used these services to invite modelers from other states, as well as our own state. This attracted the attention of model distributors, and other hobby shops. Soon, the ball was rolling, and it was clear we had ourselves a big event on the horizon. To make things even better, Horizon Hobby, Hobbico, and Hobby Lobby were sending word they would be sending demo pilots and great prizes. This coupled with all the local and state sponsorship we were getting commitments on could only mean one thing. Lets double our goal again!
And so we did. Our members were working hard on tickets sales, site planning, and food services. They also hit the streets looking for anyone willing to donate merchandise, food, or their time. It was amazing in the final weeks to see this event expand to include more that 28 sponsors, most of which were in the modeling industry, and receive countless e-mails from modelers and public wanting more info. We were also fortunate to have our new land owner lend the use of a large field next to our site, so we would have enough parking area needed to handle the crowds. Two days before the event, we had campers rolling in from several states away, and it was clear we had ourselves a hit. When Saturday morning arrived, we had tents 3 deep, reaching from one end of the pits ,to the other. And all for two reasons. To give their support in raising money for a great charity, and having fun while doing it. To say it was overwhelming to us would be an understatement. We actually ran out of parking on two occasions in the public parking area. The weather was perfect, everyone was having fun, and the public was treated to great food, and some of the most impressive flying the modeling community has to offer. It was so inspiring to have modelers and public alike coming up to offer their gratitude to our club members for all their efforts, and tell them what a great time they were having. And to tell us they appreciated what we were doing. Not only the public and modelers were in attendance, but our charity recipient "Smiles for Little Faces" was there to enjoy the event as well.
Smile for Little Faces is a Christian North Carolina based charity, that helps sick and special needs children and their families through a variety of services. You can find out more about them at www.smilesforlittlefaces.org
In the weeks following our 2006 event, we have received several e-mails and phone calls from modelers, the general public, and sponsors telling us what a great time they had, and how they look forward to participating in next years event. This was truly a moving moment for many of us in RDRC, and we highly recommend any club considering doing such an event to move forward with it. The most important tool your club will need, is the willingness,and cooperation of fellow club members to make it happen. It doesn't take an army of men and women to make it happen, but dedication from the ones who offer help to stick with it. As for motivation and inspiration,when you hand that check over to your selected charity, and see the appreciation in their eyes, then hear later how your clubs efforts made the difference is a child or families life, you'll be inspired for life. We set our goal higher in 2006 and met it at a whopping $10,000! We were astonished and overhwelmed at what ourselves and everyone involved had accomplished!
As 2007 rolled in, we were primed and ready to plan our record breaking 2007 Fly For Tots. Fellow modeler and club member, Robert Vess, had learned of the "Victory Junction Gang" through his aerodynamics work with NASCAR's Petty Enterprises. The "Victory Junction Gang" was founded by Kyle and Pattie Petty in honor of their Son, Adam Petty. This charity group does wonderful things for children everywhere and we decided to make this orginization our recipient for the 2007 Fly For Tots. Through the hard work and commitment of many RDRC members we were able to put on another great Mall Show, to build on public interest in our airshow, as well as obtaining sponsors Horizon Hobby, Great Planes, Team JR, Futaba, Hobbico, K/C Hobby, King R/C, Hayes Hobby House, East R/C, RCGroups.com, FlyingGiants.com, Higher Plane Productions, Foley Manufacturing, Vess Aero, 3-D Hobby Shop, Extreme Flight R/C, Dalton Aviation, Carden Aircraft, Desert Aircraft, Duralite, Glenns Hobby Corner, Hang-It R/C, Hobby Masters, Innovative Concept Group, JTEC/Radiowave, QuiQue's Aircraft Company, Radio Active Airshows, RB3 Graphics, Right On Signs, Scootworks, Sew Busy, Smart Fly, Toy Town, Helicopter Consulting Services and Northern Tool! We had many Sponsored Pilots join in a provide their talents for our noon time demos, including the reigning world Champion, QuiQue Somenzini, Chris Hinson, Robert Vess, Jeff Holsinger, Joe Rafalowski, Justin Smith, Dan Wensell, Matt Richards, Josh Tapp, Elton Fairless, Jeff Foley, David Hayes, RJ Gritter, Alex Porter, the Radio Active Show team and Team Outlaw! We had coverage in national publications and hugely popular websites like RCGroups.com and FlyingGiants.com. At this point we were being recognized as the largest event in the United States where radio control modelers could fly anything at any time, without restriction. A pilot could fly an electric powered glider while standing beside QuiQue Somenzini flying his Giant Scale Pitts Python, which is unheard of in the modeling community. Our advertising efforts brought out several thousand spectators and we had over 200 registered pilots. At no time was there ever an empty sky. Our announcer, Robert Vess, was keeping the crowd well informed as to what they were seeing at all times, and for the interesting flying objects he would fill us in on what made it tick. The Radio Active Airshows Team had a huge Flight Simulator on site and was one of the busiest areas of the event. This gave the public an oppurtunity to find out what flying model airplanes was all about and they took advantage of it. There were even some full scale airplanes present. We were visited by A Piper J-3 Cub, Piper Cherokee, Jeff Foley's very popular Stearman Bi-Plane, were treated to an aerobatic routine with an RV-4 and several high speed passes by a nostalgic WWII P-51 Mustang! This went over HUGE with the public and the pilots! We set our goal higher again, at $15,000 and guess what? We went beyond that and landed at $17,000. WOW! Like the previous year, we were over joyed by our end result and were thrilled to be able to write the Victory Junction Gang a check for this amount of money.
Now 2008 is upon us and we are steady in the making of another record breaking year and can't wait to open the gates on September 20th for this years RDRC Fly For Tots!
On behalf of Raleigh Durham Radio Control, we would like to thank all those who helped us reach and surpass our goal for the 2007 "Fly for Tots" fly in. We look forward to seeing all of you again this year.
The Entire RDRC Membership