Ryan Paton, one of the co-founders of Honor Flight South Florida, cannot stop raving about Barrington McFarlane and Jessica Ladanowski, high school students and residents of Coral Springs.
McFarlane and Ladanowski are in the forefront of a county-wide effort in schools to raise money that Honor Flight South Florida, a local nonprofit group, uses to fly local World War II veterans to the war memorial in Washington, D.C. “They raised $92,000 in a year, and that is more than all the south Florida businesses combined,” Paton said. “They expect to do even more during the next school year.”
Honor Flight South Florida charters planes, four times per year, to get qualifying veterans to Washington, D.C. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without the efforts of these two wonderful kids,” Paton said. “We have a lot of big businesses in South Florida; to be able to donate more than all the business combined is hugely impressive.”
McFarlane and Ladanowski are not the only Coral Springs residents who have made a difference in the lives of World War II veterans. Nicole Sanchez, who lives in the city and works at Coral Glades High School, and Cindy Goldstein, an attorney who grew up and lives in Coral Springs, have been major contributors, as well.
“Nikki personally raised over 4,000 handwritten letters to our veterans,” Paton said. “We do what is called ‘mail call’ on the light home where we give these guys mail packages. You cannot not cry when you watch these guys read the letters that Nikki gets from all over the country. It is one of the best parts of the flight. A lot of the veterans have outlived their spouses and even children; they don’t have anybody.”
Goldstein, who attended Ramblewood Middle School and J.P. Taravella High School, reached out to Paton after she heard about Honor Flight South Florida. “She asked me if her firm could ‘sponsor’ local veterans from Coral Springs,” he said. “She wanted to not just pay for their trip to D.C., but also to build a relationship with them. We are grateful that we have the support of such wonderful people.”
McFarlane, Ladanowski and Sanchez were recognized by the Coral Springs City Commission at a recent meeting. “Honor Flight is one of the most amazing organizations out there,” Ladanowski said. “You are putting a smile on the faces of these deserving people. They deserve it. Just coming out to a homecoming puts the biggest smile on their faces. It is something you truly never forget.”
The Veterans Coalition of Coral Springs has been involved with the efforts of Honor Flight South Florida for quite a while, said Commissioner Lou Cimaglia. “Every time they comes back from one of the flights, they have trouble talking to us and telling us what happened. It is touching.”
The Honor Flight idea was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain. The first flight took off in May 2005 from Springfield, Ohio. Honor Flight hubs have since opened in different parts of the country, including nine in Florida.
According to Paton, about 25,000 World War II veterans live in South Florida. Honor Flight South Florida, which serves veterans in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, has already flown more than 300 veterans to Washington, D.C. The organization also has plans to honor veterans of the Korean War, as well as the Vietnam War.
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