Reading is blessed with many residents who devote time to helping others, a number of them on a full- time basis. They can truly be described as “Heroes Among Us”. One such person is Larry Camerlin, founder of Angel Flight New England.
Angel Flight NE is a volunteer organization of professional pilots and plane owners dedicated to providing free air transportation to sick and needy people, especially in rural areas, in need of medical attention in the finest hospitals and doctors, mainly in the Greater Boston area.
There are several Angel Flight organizations throughout the country but not the northeast so the name “Angel Flight New England” (dba Angel Flight NE) was born and incorporated in March of 1996 with their first flight in May of 1996. They cover the six New England states plus New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They can serve patients nationwide based on their partnerships with other air charities and commercial airlines like JetBlue, Cape Air and PenAir.
They currently fly patients to 139 medical facilities throughout 39 states as well as coordinate international flights. Volunteer pilots fly into every type of airport. General aviation aircraft land at large airports like Logan, JFK and Dulles as well as small municipal airports like Bedford and Beverly, Norwood and Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Andover - where Angel Flight NE is headquartered.
Larry Camerlin is an avid pilot and retired business owner who has dedicated his professional career to the healthcare field. He wanted to find a way to give back to the community and support those in need of accessing life-saving medical care.
Prior to founding Angel Flight Northeast, Larry was the Founder, President and CEO of a Greater Boston ambulance service that grew from two ambulances and a staff of four to over 235 employees and a fleet of more than 70 ambulances and wheelchair vans. Larry built one of the most highly respected emergency medical service organizations in Massachusetts in establishing a unique ministry of caring for the sick and injured.
Larry began his ministry in 1965 as a Roman Catholic Franciscan Friar primarily within healthcare and hospital settings. After leaving the Franciscan Order to marry and have a family, he worked for nine years as a Massachusetts State Probation Officer. In 2010, Larry was ordained a priest in the Old Catholic Church, one of the rites of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, whose mission is rooted in the gospels, while providing an affirming, inclusive, evangelical and sacramental presence to all in their diversity.
Larry got the idea about founding Angel Flight NE when reading an article in a flying magazine about a 10-year old boy being flown for specialized cancer treatment by an Angel Flight out west. The article explained how an air traffic controller was asking pilots from two major airlines to say hello to the little boy in flight which was very exciting for him. The story was so compelling that Larry strongly felt he needed to do this.
After researching it, he found out that an Angel Flight had not been established in the Northeast. His motivation was driven by the desire to give back to the community while utilizing his healthcare and aviation experience. He wanted to be sure that no one was denied life-saving medical care because they couldn’t get to it.
Larry started Angel Flight NE on his own within a small office at Beverly Airport, reaching out to a network of his friends including Reading resident Gene Loubier who had recently retired as the CEO of Winchester Hospital. More help came from members of St. Athanasius Parish and local media outlets including The Reading Chronicle. Local news station, WCVB, did a special on their Chronicle program about Angel Flight NE’s free air transportation services while NECN published news stories covering some of their flights…all to spread the great word.
The biggest challenges Larry faced in getting started were pilot recruitment, Community/Hospital Outreach and Fund Development.
Regarding pilot recruitment, he needed to find pilots who were willing to donate their time, planes, and fuel to assist in completing each mission.
Community/Hospital Outreach required getting the word out to hospitals and social workers of their free air transportation services for many patients requiring it and living outside the hospitals’ geographic area.
The inevitable need for funds was the next challenge as it required $64,000 in 1996 to run their operations. Today with Air Flight NE’s free air services expanding regionally, nationally and even internationally, $750,000 to $1M are needed annually to cover operational expenses.
Angel Flight NE has a network of 1,000+ volunteer pilots who assist with the mission with some pilots flying multiple Angel Flights a week while others may fly once a month or maybe a few a year. They also have support from commercial aviation partners including Jet Blue, Cape Air and PenAir when weather precludes general aviation from flying.
Many pilots participate through word of mouth when one pilot tells another of what a wonderful experience he’s had. Word of mouth remains the most effective form of advertising even today. The internet (Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, etc.) simply expand word of mouth’s reach and frequency. More than 80% of Angel Flight NE’s requests are generated by word of mouth as patients, neighbors, medical teams and print media spread the word about their free air transportation services.
Mailings and aviation events at airports throughout the northeast are also used to meet individuals and pilots in the aviation field to spread the word, so distance is never an obstacle for patients to access medical care.
In addition, local organizations and companies like the Reading Co-Operative Bank have been very supportive. Most importantly, the community has been incredibly supportive of Angel Flight NE. Volunteers assist as “Earth Angels” supporting fund raising events by participating as guests or volunteers spreading the word about Angel Flight’s services to medical teams, social workers and civic organizations.
Angel Flight only requires that a patient be medically stable and able to climb in and out of a general aviation aircraft or board a commercial airline on their own, They’re not an air ambulance service but do have instances where patients require self-regulating care such as oxygen or small, collapsible wheelchairs. In addition, patients can bring companion(s) with them, even a nurse or caregiver if necessary.
“Earth Angels” provide the ground transportation which is arranged by the mission coordination team. These “Earth Angels” donate their vehicles, time and compassion to transport patients and their companions to and from airports to medical facilities. Oftentimes, Earth Angels are the first people that patients see after their appointments whether they’ve received good or bad news. They comfort the patients and ensure that they arrive at the aircraft safely.
Each flight has its own unique story. Larry reports that “the most recent memorable flight was when Angel Flight NE received a phone call from a medical facility in Vermont who needed to have a 6 month pregnant woman transported home to New Jersey after her water broke while visiting friends in Vermont. Knowing that she would be bedridden for the remainder of her pregnancy, she and her family wanted her to be in their regional area in New Jersey. Driving was not an option since it was too risky.
So along with Roger D’Entremont (also a Reading resident and 20+ year member of the Angel Flight NE team), Larry flew to Vermont and picked up the mother to be and her husband, flying them an hour and half flight back to New Jersey. Larry explained, “We had plenty of blankets and towels on board just in case.” She was immediately greeted by family who rushed her to a local medical facility where she remained bed ridden for the remainder of her pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy full-term baby boy.”
“We become an extended part of our patients’ families where we stay in touch and check in regularly to see how they are doing,” Larry said.
Larry extends a very special thanks to “our dedicated and hard-working staff, committed generous donors and corporate partners who share in our vision and mission, and our incredibly talented and giving pilots who are the true heroes of Angel Flight NE and make this all possible.”
Larry would also like to take this opportunity to say: “Never think that you may not need Angel Flight NE’s free air transportation services and never hesitate to call us. We are here to help you, your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – anyone! We feel very privileged and blessed to be providing our free air transportation coordination services for the last 20 years and look forward to another 20+ years. Whether an individual in need is a child or adult, we are here to help. All you need to do is ASK!”
Since its founding, Angel Flight NE has flown over 71,000 children and adults more than 14 million miles to access much needed medical care.
To learn more about Angel Flight NE, feel free to call them at (800) 549-9980 or follow them on Facebook-@angelflightnortheast or on Twitter-AngelFlightNE. Also, feel free to visit their website at www.angelflightne.org.
Angel Flight NE ~ 492 Sutton Street, North Andover, MA 01845