Sometimes, in the darkest hours, you simply want to take in a view of the sunset from your favorite spot overlooking Lake Erie or catch a glimpse of the town you grew up in but haven’t been to in years. One local organization, the Flight to Remember Foundation, is bringing such views to hospice patients, individuals who may cherish them the most.
“Through the lens of our drones, we are transporting patients to places that they may have never seen again.”
So begins their powerful mission statement. The non-profit organization, started in 2016, creates videos for hospice patients so they can “revisit” a personally meaningful area one more time.
First, the foundation asks a volunteer pilot to send a drone to a specific area — perhaps it’s a favorite park, city, or neighborhood the patient grew up in — to capture real-time footage. That footage is then made into a 5-7 minute video for the patient and their families to watch, sharing the memories.
Like most good ideas, this one started organically, to fill a need. Ashley Davis, director of the Flight to Remember Foundation, takes us through the creation of the “Flight to Remember Experience” and how a Hyland Software employee decided to use his technology experience for good.
“[Chairman and founder Tom Davis] had been learning about and flying drones for a year or so and had just read about some technology that would allow you to live stream your drone video to YouTube,” Davis says. “After talking to a friend about a niece who was battling cancer, he offered to use this technology to help her virtually ‘visit’ a field trip with her friends.”
Although they didn’t move forward with that idea, she explains that “Tom realized that there may be a place for this service for those receiving end-of-life care. He approached Hospice of the Western Reserve, and they loved the idea (though they admitted they did not understand the technology). This was in 2015. We started a non-profit to support this service in 2016, called Flight To Remember.”
They found their service in high demand.
“We have had a much more powerful response than we were planning on!” says the director. “We originally thought it would be a fun distraction for patients and families dealing with the emotional weight of end-of-life decisions.”
”Instead,” she adds, “it has been incredibly therapeutic to revisit cherished memories while creating new memories, simply by visiting a favorite place in a different ‘mode of transportation.’”
Flight to Remember actively works with hospice organizations to bring this service to patients, though they have also had people seek them out online.
Drone footage can be a thing of beauty. People coming together and pitching in for a good cause? That’s a beautiful thing in itself. It takes a team to get Flight to Remember off the ground. The organization relies on volunteer drone pilots and volunteer filmmakers to create these stunning visual tributes.
“Our volunteer pilots are what make our program run!!” says Davis. “Many pilots have had experience with loved ones in hospice care and know how important this could be to a patient and their family.”
Other pilots simply enjoy flying the drones and capturing the views; for them, “flying is even better when they can do it while helping others!”
Patients are asked to choose a location that matters to them. The foundation then finds “our closest volunteer to get slow, smooth shots (enough raw footage to fill about five minutes of edited video).” Occasionally, someone asks for shots of more than one location: “Our volunteers are gracious enough to do what they can to fulfill that request!”
The patient receives a fully edited digital video file that is about 5-7 minutes long, along with tips on how to view the file and how to send it or make it into a DVD so that it can be shared with extended family and kept as a remembrance. For Suzanne Plescia and her husband Jim, Hospice of Western Reserve worked with the foundation to give the couple the chance to revisit a village in Sicily.
Suzanne Plescia recalls, “When Jim said he would really like to return to Sicily one more time and visit the village where his father was born, they made it happen! Through their relationship with the Flight to Remember Foundation, they arranged for the drone to fly over the streets of the village. We provided the addresses of Jim’s father and relatives. He flew the drone right over their homes! It was incredible. Just incredible!”
Love flying drones, editing video footage, and/or helping others? Volunteers are always needed! Donations are also welcome. Sign up or donate at Flight to Remember. Want to learn more? Join them at their happy hour fundraiser at Market Garden on Thursday, August 1, 5:30 to 7:30.