Many years of my life were spent living in a very small town, surrounded by extended family members. I loved the years of my youth spent there and wouldn?t trade them for anything. My children will never know the real meaning of complete boredom because they?ve always lived within minutes of everything!

Small communities offer many benefits. It was comforting, safe and familiar. However, the opportunities are limited in smaller towns. In my particular case, there weren?t any aviation programs available for kids or young adults, at least of which I was aware. In the city of Cincinnati, children and young adults can be exposed and experience aviation through programs such as the Young Eagles?(through the EAA), the Civil Air Patrol, Girls in Aviation, the Boy Scouts and various camps and/or clubs offered year round by a myriad of other organizations. My recent encounter at Oshkosh with a group called the Aviation Explorers, had me really envious of the opportunities available today. For maybe the first time ever, I wanted to be a kid again (well, there was also that time when the electric bill, cable bill, credit card bill and student loan bill all arrived on the same day).

Why Are Airplanes Following Teenagers Around?
The Aviation Exploration Base at Oshkosh housed over 100 teenaged volunteers from across the country, nearly half of them were female! These volunteers provided over 6,300 hours of service this year. Because they have invested time learning about aviation, they get the opportunity to volunteer and camp at the largest air show in the country every year. Which means they have VIP access to everything Oshkosh offers. Being a volunteer allows them to wear fluorescent shaded vests and allows them to direct airplanes during the week (which is really cool and official looking).

Let me educate you. The Aviation Exploring program was started in 1935. This is a hands-on program open to males and females from 6th grade to age 20. The program allows learning about aviation and the careers offered within aviation. They are also given networking opportunities with many professionals involved in various careers. There are over 6,000 members across the country currently.

Photo by: Peach Norman Owen

Camp Life
The Aviation Exploration Base Camp at Oshkosh was filled with happy teenagers who seemed busy during their downtime socializing. Although knowing teenagers (especially boys who seem to despise showers), I?m not sure how clean most of them were given the limited showers and hot July sun! Cleanliness is so overrated?They had a designated area assigned to them that was filled with colorful tents. My tour of the camp was given by a spirited aviation female, Megan Ryan. Megan has been nominated several times to be a flyGIRL and she is well-deserving. Her love of aviation shines through in her conversations. She was impressive in her knowledge, well-mannered and is very passionate about the Explorers program.

There seems to be a commonality among children interested in aviation. They all seem to be articulate, personable and mature enough to hold a conversation with an adult!! Maybe aviation brings out the best qualities of a person? I left their site feeling extremely happy for these kids because they had this amazing opportunity to spend time with friends at a lively campsite and contribute to the country?s largest air show. I was also a little jealous that this opportunity was unknown to me as a kid.

Check It Out!
If you have children or know of someone with children who has interest in aviation and might enjoy a week away from their parents (or maybe the parents would enjoy a week without their teenagers ?), have them check out this program. There are many amazing opportunities for kids to help out during the best week of the year in Oshkosh. Encouraging them to participate is of benefit to everyone!