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Youths take to the skies in Goodyear

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MIKE GLOVER of Rainbow Valley prepares for take off during the annual Sky Kids event April 18 at the Phoenix Goodyear Airport. Sky Kids is a nonprofit that seeks to help special needs children build self-esteem and confidence through flight.  To see all photos from this shoot, go to www.westvalleyview.com/pictures.
MIKE GLOVER of Rainbow Valley prepares for take off during the annual Sky Kids event April 18 at the Phoenix Goodyear Airport. Sky Kids is a nonprofit that seeks to help special needs children build self-esteem and confidence through flight. To see all photos from this shoot, go to www.westvalleyview.com/pictures.

Annual Sky Kids event gives 160 special needs youths opportunity to fly

It’s hard to imagine having any limitations while flying high over the Arizona desert with the open horizon in front of you.

An estimated 160 youths with special needs, disabilities or life-threatening medical conditions took to the sky with their families and volunteer pilots to experience the freedom of flight Saturday in Goodyear as part of the Sky Kid’s annual event.

Sky Kids is a nonprofit organization created to help bring confidence and self-esteem to youths with disabilities or medical conditions by taking them on a flight in a private airplane or helicopter. Some youths, depending on their abilities and comfort level, get to take on certain controls of the plane to get a taste for what flying is really like.

We try to make a fun, happy day for kids who don’t always have happy days,” said Bill Antonucci, founder and director of Sky Kids. “Most of these kids don’t have many happy days, so to see them have a big smile on their face while they’re here, whether they’re sitting around here doing activities or up in the air, it’s important.”

Cheers filled the air as smiling youths disembarked from their flights and made their way with their families through a red carpet where volunteers and others cheered them on.

Mike Glover, 14, of Rainbow Valley described his flight as “awesome.” He got to sit in the front seat and take control of some flying tasks.

It’s emotional. Some people don’t understand autism,” said Mike’s mother, Aimie. “Just to see them do things like this for [Mike], he was actually flying the plane. We worry about him being successful in life, and to see him do things like this … I was just really excited for him.”

Stephen Lauritano of Goodyear was one of the more than 20 pilots from around the Valley who volunteered his time and aircraft during the event. He had the opportunity to take Mike and his family on their ride.

Can you imagine being told ‘no’ all the time? These kids get to be able to do something [by flying] that a lot of their classmates and friends haven’t had the opportunity to do. It puts them in a league of their own. That’s huge for them,” he said.

This year’s event was the fourth Lauritano had volunteered for, and he plans to do it again next year, he said.

It’s a humbling experience. I’m fortunate enough to be able to [fly], but some people haven’t had that opportunity,” he said. “You bring a moment of self-awareness, a moment of happiness, these kids get to experience something different. It’s a thrill for them.”

In addition to the volunteer pilots, local firefighters and police officers offered their time with demonstrations of K9 units, SWAT vehicles and fire trucks. Beauty pageant winners and professional yo-yo masters also entertained the youths.

Sky Kid’s next event is scheduled for November in Scottsdale. Registration will open in August. Eligible youths must be between 6 and 18 years old.

Antonucci is currently organizing Sky Kid’s next Goodyear event, which is scheduled for April 2016. Registration should open sometime in January.

For information, visit www.skykidsaz.org.

Rachel Trott can be reached by email at rtrott@westvalleyview.com or on Twitter @byracheltrott.

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