17, 2006 issue of Crains Cleveland Business Shannon
Twenty in their 20s
President and founder, Kids in Flight Inc.
At age 19, Maria Weybrecht fulfilled a lifelong dream of getting
her pilots license. But her dream to fly airplanes was
shattered a month later when she was diagnosed with thyroid
The college student made a tough decision and grounded herself,
choosing to follow federal rules that say people with cancer
are not allowed to pilot aircraft. It was a hard reality to
face when she also was fighting stage-four cancer that had spread
into her lymph nodes. But all the treatment and time spent in
hospitals gave her an idea, one she hopes will shape her life
after she obtains her MBA from Cleveland State University in
Ms. Weybrecht, now 23, started her own nonprofit group called
Kids in Flight Inc., which enables seriously ill children to
escape their daily routine of living with an illness by flying
in a plane with their families. The 4-year-old nonprofit operates
largely on in-kind donations, which have enabled Ms. Weybrecht
to hold a free summer event where children participate in various
fun activities and take flights with their families. Last year,
100 sick children got to fly.
Its sort of a day for them to be kids and not to
be Mary with cancer or Susie who just had open heart surgery,
Ms. Weybrecht said she started the nonprofit to use her love
of flying to help sick kids and to pass along the kindness she
saw when she was diagnosed with cancer.
Going through all of that, I encountered a lot of amazing
people who did a lot of things to make me smile, she said.
She now gives motivational speeches at community events and
various companies, as well as at Cleveland State. Though she
still battles cancer in her lungs, Ms. Weybrecht is training
with her dad to run a half-marathon in May and is developing
an educational curriculum that would provide sensitivity training
to young children who encounter a sick classmate.
Once she graduates, the Eastlake resident hopes to make Kids
in Flight her full-time job and to take it national. Her effort
already was recognized last year when Glamour magazine named
her one of the Top 10 College Women in America.
In the meantime, she leaves people with her motto: Your
attitude is your altitude.
20 Questions with Maria Weybrecht
Do you own, rent or live with your parents?
I live at home with my dad and my younger brother.
What city do you live in? Why?
Eastlake. My family has lived in the area my entire life.
When you spend a night on the town, where's your favorite place
In the summer, anywhere I can be outside. When its cold
out, Sushi Rock and DVine Wine Bar. I know its overdone,
but I dont get out much!
How many times per year do you visit a Cleveland museum or theater
As many times as I can!
What is the last book you read?
Clive Cusslers Trojan Odyssey
How often do you take public transportation?
What gadget can't you live without?
I dont know if you could call it a gadget, but I cant
live without my cell phone.
Where's the best cup of coffee in Northeast Ohio? Best martini?
Best coffee I dont know, Starbucks? Best martini
Oliver Twist in Willoughby
Where were you born?
Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights
How long do you plan to live in Northeast Ohio?
As long as it makes sense for me to do so. I plan to take my
nonprofit, Kids in Flight, national and would love to be able
to run it from Cleveland, but well see what happens! Also,
the majority of my extended family lives in the area and I absolutely
love having them around.
Who are the leaders of your generation?
It seems that the 20 young people recognized in this feature
are great leaders!
What could Northeast Ohio do better to attract and keep people
in their 20s?
Some of the problem is really just lack of awareness of all
the great things Cleveland has to offer, but I know that a lot
of people are working hard to promote the city and its offerings
for young people.
What's your favorite restaurant?
The Melting Pot
What differences exist between your generation and older people
in your work place?
I think the biggest one might be technology. People in my generation
have had a lot of training on computers and seem to have a natural
ability to use them. One of the most common complaints I have
heard from senior professionals in terms of group dynamics is
that they dont have the same skill sets as younger professionals.
On the other hand, the former have a wealth of experience and
knowledge that is indispensable to those in my generation. In
a few words, we have a lot to learn from each other!
What is Northeast Ohio's greatest asset?
The weather. I know, it sounds crazy but hear me out. Where
else can you live with the great change of seasons and no natural
disasters? Not that Im the first person to say that, but
I cant imagine having to worry about hurricanes or earthquakes.
All we have to worry about is a little bit of snow OK
a lot if you live on the East Side.
If you could change one thing about Cleveland what would it
The weather. I know I said its a great asset, but it would
be so nice if summer were about twice as long. Then at least
winter and summer would take up an even amount of the year!
What's the best concert you ever saw and why?
Not really a concert, but any air show because I love the sound
What will the legacy of today's 20-somethings be 50 years from
We are definitely a motivated and somewhat uninhibited generation,
having learned to express our beliefs and concerns no matter
what the consequences. We are also great leaders. I have heard
so many stories lately about the incredible things young people
especially young women have accomplished.
How often do you come to downtown Cleveland?
Every day its where I work and go to school.
What do you do on Saturday mornings?
Run. Im training for the Cleveland half marathon in May.
7, 2006 issue of The Lake County Tribune and The Lake County
Gazette Story and photos courtesy of Rose More, columnist,
Gazette Newspapers Inc.
Maria Weybrechts eyes, Attitude is altitude
"They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and
not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint."---Isaiah
These words from the prophet Isaiah were first heard by Maria
Weybrecht in a Bible Study. "I was inspired," she
says. "I knew the words were perfect; they captured the
spirit of what I intended for my Kids in Flight."
Now these words appear in her promotional materials and website
for Kids In Flight, Inc., a non-profit organization providing
sight-seeing flights and other aviation activities for chronically
and terminally ill children. Maria founded the program in 2003,
and it's been going strong.
"It allows the kids and families to soar with hope,"
she says. "It can instill a positive attitude and give
them something to smile or laugh about. It provides them with
distraction from their troubles, and the escape provides a unique
bonding for the families and gives a new perspective."
The parents and siblings are included, in recognition of their
own struggles in a loved one's illness. Maria shares a message
from a mom for whom Kids in Flight was one of her family's first
outings after an infant son's major surgeries. The woman said
she experienced the flight as an "incredible moment of
release... a day of transformation for my entire family (in
which) we soared above the worry, pain and fear... In that plane,
our family was together again."
Maria herself has pushed aside great obstacles, and she has
proved to many people the truth of her conviction that, "Attitude
As I visit with this 22-year-old Eastlake woman at Lost Nation
Airport in Willoughby, it is somehow not surprising to hear
her middle name is Faith. The name was given by her mother,
Marybeth Weybrecht, who told Maria she had "prayed and
prayed" for a child, and then she had Maria---and 15 months
later, Maria's brother Stephen. Marybeth always told her children
faith had helped to bring them to her.
Maria's own faith has been tested, and she has come away with
a personal perspective that allows her to respond to others
whose lives have been changed by serious illness; she has been
IN CHILDHOOD, she showed an interest in many things, including
theater. She smiles at the memory. "Oh, my mom loved that,"
she recalls. "I did some professional shows at the Cleveland
Play House, a few commercials and made-for-TV movies...
"But from the start, aviation was my passion. I have wanted
to fly since I was two years old; there was a picture of me
then, in diapers, with my arms spread out like wings... Whenever
I heard an airplane, I would holler 'airplane! airplane!' and
press my nose against the glass to see it... I was absolutely
fascinated by the thought of flying. And it didn't go away."
Her family was always supportive. Her father, David Weybrecht,
would take her to the airport to see the planes.
"When at 15 I started talking about flying lessons, I think
perhaps my family didn't take me seriously. But later on they
did," she grins, "when I started taking flying lessons
She enrolled at Ohio University in 2001 to major in flight and
aviation management, and in her freshman year earned her private
pilot's license. Her dream was to fly a four-engine Boeing 707,
and the pilot's license was an important step.
That year she also enlisted in the Ohio Air National Guard---partly,
she says, because she had an interest in the military, and partly
because she knew the Guard would pay tuition. She was sworn
in, but two weeks before basic training, life took a nose-dive
for Maria. Diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of
thyroid cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and lungs,
she had four surgeries in four months to remove 30 tumors, and
began radioactive iodine treatments.
"I knew the FAA would not allow a cancer patient to fly
an airplane, and it was devastating to know I couldn't be a
pilot," she admits. But then in treatment, she met a lriot
of "really nice kids," and those children and their
illness inspired Kids in Flight.
FOR MARIA, there was more to come. While she was undergoing
her first treatment, her mother died suddenly at 46 years old;
her father underwent serious spinal surgery the following October.
Maria was bolstered by an innately positive attitude and the
firm words of an aunt.
"When Mom died," she recalls, "My aunt Carole
told me, 'You can get bitter, or you can get better.' That brought
me out. I decided to follow the path of light, not of darkness.
Now the dark path is so far away, I can't see it anymore. When
I find a rock in my path, I crawl over it."
Kids in Flight became her life's work, a landmark on her avenue
away from darkness. "It has done good things for me as
well," she says. "It has helped me to express my love
for aviation and to grow and be a better person. But the most
important thing is how it helps the kids and their families.
It gives the kids a period in time when they can just be kids,
not 'Johnny with an illness... ' "
The program has been operating out of Lost Nation for the past
three years, with the help of the T&G Flying Club pilots,
who have donated their time and services.
"They've been great," Maria says. "Now we'll
be moving to Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, for its larger
size... Interest in the program has also been expressed by the
military, and that will allow some special opportunities for
"In addition to flights, our Wings of Wonder day each summer
features games, exhibits, fun activities and performances, and
military planes... allowing something special even for the children
who have not yet been cleared by their doctors to fly, due to
Aviation people and the community-at-large have been wonderful,
she says. Donations large and small have come from everywhere.
Recently, for instance, Kids in Flight received $500 from the
Concord-based Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 118,
from a bomber jacket they had raffled off.
IF MARIA'S PHOTO seems familiar, you may have seen her among
Cleveland Magazine's "Most Interesting People of 2005."
perhaps you saw her in her glamour shoot in Glamour Magazine,
as one of the "Top 10 College Women in the U.S." She
says she learned of the Glamour award by cell phone as she waited
to meet with her doctor, "and I wondered if it might have
been a mistake."
For her Kids in Flight, she received $2500 with L'Oreal's "Beauty
of Giving" award, and more recently won the distinguished
Chuck Yeager Foundation scholarship and award. (Winners can't
apply for the Yeager award, but instead are screened and selected
from a pool of scholarship applications everywhere. If none
are deemed worthy, the award is not given for that year).
In connection with that, Maria was presented with the very first
"Beyond All Odds" award, which included a donation
for Kids in Flight. This award was created especially for her.
Known to many people in different walks of life, Maria grew
up in Willoughby and attended Immaculate Conception Elementary
and Lake Catholic High, and graduated in 2001 from Willoughby
South High. A student at Ohio University and Lakeland Community
College, she graduated as valedictorian and summa cum laude
from Cleveland State University.
She has interned at the Cleveland Air Show and with the International
Women's Air and Space Museum in Cleveland, where officials say
their archives now contain a growing "Maria's File."
An enthusiastic public speaker as well, Maria describes her
talks as inspirational rather than motivational.
"My purpose," she explains, "is to inspire people
to appreciate life, and to live it in a positive way."
Maria Weybrecht, after all, has learned first-hand the inestimable
value of that.
(To learn more, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Columnist Rose
Moore can be reached at 440-350-9818).
'Kids In Flight' Founder Maria Weybrecht Receives Scholarship
At WAI Conference
Allows Seriously Ill Children To "Leave Their Problems
On The Ground"
By ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas
At the opening meeting of the Women in Aviation international
Conference on Thursday, Maria Weybrecht was presented with the
Chuck Yeager Foundation Scholarship. She hadn't applied for
the scholarship; in fact, you can't apply for this scholarship.
Instead, the winner is hand picked from all the scholarship
applications that come in to WAI, with committee members "nominating"
someone as they look through each of the other scholarships.
How the use of the scholarship best exemplifies WAI's goals
is also considered.
Weybrecht (above) won the scholarship for use in Kids in Flight,
a non-profit organization founded by Weybrecht in 2003. The
organization hosts a special day, called Wings of Wonder, for
seriously ill children and their families to enjoy the wonders
of aviation, including a free flight.
How did the lively, enthusiastic young lady decide to work with
these children? She's been there. To look at Weybrecht you would
not even guess that she's been battling thyroid cancer for over
three years. She was diagnosed at 19.
"I'm stubborn and it's stubborn," said Weybrecht.
The money is on Weybrecht to win the battle, and the war.
Weybrecht's diagnosis came only a month after earning her Private
ticket. "I didn't even get to enjoy it."
Her lifelong dream was shattered by cancer. Yet, while one door
closed, another opened. Weybrecht says, "I was always fascinated
by non-profits." She thought when she was "rich, old
and retired" she'd start a non-profit or volunteer for
one. The whole idea of "you may not have forever"
came to Weybrecht's mind while being treated.
Not one to dwell on the negative, Weybrecht said, "I can
do this, and with the help of really great people it happened."
Kids in Flight was born.
Family, friends and corporate America pitched in. Weybrecht
observed "anyone that flies, there's an unspoken bond."
She made phone calls to everyone she knew and then some. The
first Wings of Wonder event was put together in three weeks.
"People felt they couldn't do enough." Weybrecht notes.
The initial event was small. It was held at Lost Nation Airport
in Ohio in October 2003. They brought over children from a nearby
Ronald McDonald House. Weybrecht felt "a certain tie to
those kids... I was one of them 6 months ago." She stayed
at a Ronald McDonald House in New York during part of her treatments.
At this first event there were about 30 total participants,
plus the pilots and volunteers. There were two planes flying
the families. There was also food, games, educational exhibits
and giveaways. Each year the numbers have grown. Weybrecht sees
the day as a way for the families to bond, create memories and
leave behind some of the bad, for a while.
The hope for this year is 100 free flights, using ten aircraft.
Says Weybrecht "The pilots that volunteer are incredible
people. They don't mind doing that up and down, up and down,
up and down."
Burke Lakefront Airport in downtown Cleveland (OH) is the location
for this years Wings of Wonder. The event is scheduled for July
22, 2006. The bigger airport will allow for military static
displays in addition to the usual games, food and fun.
Weybrecht's vision is "to go national," but first
she wants to work out the kinks in Cleveland. Additionally,
she wants to develop an educational curriculum for sensitivity
training for use in the classroom.
Using an interactive character named "Winglet", Weybrecht
wants to introduce and explain the reasons why some kids may
be "different". She also hopes the program can help
parents have the answers. Business major, Weybrecht, is just
starting the marketing research for the project. She knows there's
a need, but of course, it's the funding to create and distribute
the program that will be the biggest hurdle.
Every penny donated is put towards the Kids in Flight/Wings
of Wonder. No one, including Weybrecht, takes any kind of salary.
This is why Weybrecht is living at home. She is a graduate student
at Cleveland State and spends about 30 hours a week on Kids
in Flight business. There's no room for a job.
Weybrecht's best friend, also named Maria, is Weybrecht's right
arm. Her family is there too, along with her other friends.
There's an advisory board of media people, FAA, lawyers who
donate their time for the project.
Eventually Weybrecht would like to make a living but her priority
lies with the kids and giving them a day of freedom and "leaving
their problems on the ground."
Flight Takes Off
Maria Weybrecht always knew she wanted to start her own non-profit
organization. She figured it was something she would do when
she was old and gray and had lived a full life. But fate had
something else in mind for Maria when she was diagnosed with
thyroid cancer at age 19.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Maria was always enthralled with
airplanes and the prospect of flying. Her dad would frequently
take her to the local airport to watch the planes take off.
When Maria went off to college at Ohio University, it seemed
like a natural progression for her to major in aviation flight
and management and join the Air National Guard. Life seemed
to be going according to plan as she obtained her private pilots
license and prepared to leave for basic training.
Just two weeks before leaving for basic training, Maria went
in to have her wisdom teeth taken out. The oral surgeon found
some suspicious lumps in her neck and sent her to see an ear
nose and throat specialist. Once the lumps were biopsied, the
physician confirmed that Maria had stage four thyroid cancer.
Her dream of flying a plane would have to be put on hold.
Maria was admitted to The Cleveland Clinic where they devised
an aggressive treatment plan. She endured a 12-hour surgery,
then one month later, a six-hour surgery where 30 tumors were
removed from her neck. Maria reflects, The tumors were
like lightening. I would have tumors removed on a Friday and
by Monday morning, there would be even more.
Marias treatment regimen also included frequent trips
to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York where
she was treated with radioactive iodine. She would return to
New York every six months for treatment and later, once a year.
To add to the stress of traveling to New York for treatment,
Maria learned that her boyfriend, a US Marine and one of her
greatest supporters, was called overseas. Shortly after a trip
to Cincinnati to say goodbye to her boyfriend, she learned that
her mother suddenly passed away. Maria didnt think things
could get worse.
Instead of getting angry at her misfortune, Maria decided to
take action. She decided to combine her passion for flying and
love of children with her innate desire to create a non-profit
organization. This is when the idea for Kids in Flight was born.
Kids in Flight provides free sight seeing flights to seriously
ill children and their families. The planes are flown by an
experienced instructor and feature tours around the Cleveland
area. According to Maria, Providing experiences that make
me smile is the best kind of treatment. My goal was to provide
the flying experience for children to escape and persevere their
Maria furiously contacted everyone she knew in the aviation
industry and pulled off the first Kids in Flight event in only
two and a half weeks. The first annual event took place at a
local airport and was supported by several childrens charities
and hospitals, including the Ronald McDonald House. Of the 150
people in attendance, 99 people went up in planes. Since founding
the organization three years ago, attendance has doubled each
The fact that Maria is a cancer patient has not slowed her down
at all. She finished her bachelor degree at Cleveland State
University and graduated valedictorian. She recently started
graduate school and is working towards her MBA and graduate
certificate in non-profit management. Maria was also voted one
of Glamour Magazines Top 10 College Women of 2005
and one of Cleveland Magazines Most Interesting
People of 2006. Maria spends most of her free time dedicated
to Kids and Flight and looks forward to growing this incredible
For more information about Kids in Flight, visit the website
3, 2005 issue of On Campus - Barb Chudzik
WEYBRECHT NAMED AMONG NATION'S TOP 10
Calling Maria Weybrecht a glamour girl may not be politically
correct but she doesnt take offense. Weybrecht is featured
in the October issue of Glamour magazine as one of the top 10
college women in the country.
The Cleveland State student will graduate in December with a
bachelors degree in communication. She holds five scholarships
and has a 3.9 grade point average. In fact, she came across
the Glamour competition while researching scholarships on the
But she hardly deems herself worthy of being named to such an
elite group. I never thought I would hear from Glamour
when I entered, she says. I figured the women chosen
would be curing diseases or traveling the world. No way could
I measure up to them.
But the contest offered a $2,000 cash prize money that
Weybrecht could use for her education. Although reluctant to
enter, she did so after being encouraged by family and friends.
My Dad was especially supportive, she says. I
had nothing to lose so I applied.
Glamour selected Weybrecht from 556 entrants in its 2005 Top
10 College Women Competition. The contest is open to full-time
juniors at colleges and universities in the United States and
Canada. Entrants must submit an application form, a college
transcript, a 500- to 700-word essay, a photo, letters of recommendation,
and a list of school-related and other activities. A panel of
judges evaluated candidates based on leadership experience,
personal involvement in community and campus affairs, and academic
Weybrechts life, over the past few years, has hardly been
glamorous. In fact, its been filled with life-altering
challenges that shes met head-on.
In 2001, the Eastlake resident enrolled at Ohio University to
major in aviation flight and aviation management. During her
freshman year, she got her private pilots license and
enlisted in the Ohio Air National Guard.
Ive always had a passion for aviation and have wanted
to fly. My dream was to fly the KC 135. So getting my license
was the first step in making my dream come true, she says.
But just one month after getting her coveted license, and just
two weeks before starting National Guard basic training, the
19-year-old was diagnosed with stage four thyroid cancer that
had spread to her lymph nodes and lungs.
My whole world was ripped out from under me because the
FAA doesnt allow cancer patients to fly planes,
Weybrecht underwent four surgeries in four months to remove
30 tumors. Doctors called me a lightning case
because my cancer was unnaturally aggressive, she says.
She was treated at Hillcrest Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic,
and then went to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New
York for radioactive iodine treatments that still continue.
January will be three years that Im in treatment
and it could go on forever because Ive been told I may
never be cancer-free, she says. Im monitored
at the Cleveland Clinic with blood tests, CT scans and other
tests. Periodically I return to Sloan-Kettering to drink radioactive
iodine through a syringe.
But Im incredibly lucky other people go through
much worse. I havent needed chemotherapy and Im
still here, she says.
Four days after Weybrechts first round of treatments,
she suffered another blow when her mother unexpectedly passed
away at the age of 46. It was then, during those darkest of
days, that an aunt told her that she had a choice be
bitter or get better.
I chose to take everything that had happened and to learn
from it, grow, and become a better person, physically, mentally
and emotionally, she says.
During that time of physical and emotional recovery from devastating
illness and grief, Weybrecht fast-tracked a plan for establishing
a nonprofit organization called Kids in Flight.
It was something I thought I would do someday but suddenly
that time was now, she recalls. If nothing else,
my illness has taught me to take time to enjoy life and to live
life to the fullest.
Kids in Flight, incorporated in summer 2003, is Weybrechts
way of helping terminally and chronically ill children, saying
thanks to the many people who have been there for her, and living
her passion for aviation.
Thanks to Kids in Flight, each year sick children and their
parents enjoy 30- to 45-minute sightseeing flights over the
Cleveland area, departing from Lost Nation Airport and flying
in planes piloted by members of the T&G Flying Club of Willoughby
who volunteer their time and services.
Weve done three events and this year, we took 99
people on flights, she proudly notes. Its
fun to make people feel good and see the smiles on their faces.
Calling Kids in Flight her lifes work, Weybrecht
says the program empowers seriously ill children to soar
with their dreams. She points out that just like
houses and cars look small from the air, problems and illness
can also look small. Thats the idea I hope to instill
in these children.
Weybrecht, who calls herself the luckiest person in the
world, credits her faith and family for getting her through
the tough times. I would not be who I am today without
them, she says. And that includes being one of the top
10 college women the country.
Weybrecht learned she was a finalist during a phone interview
with a Glamour editor several months after entering the contest.
I was floored and still didnt think I had a chance
of being one of the winners, she recalls.
Two more months passed without a word from the magazine. Then
in May, Weybrecht was waiting to meet with her doctor at Sloan-Kettering
when her cell phone rang with the good news.
Ill never forget that day my treatment had
gone well, I was going home, and I learned that I was one of
the women chosen, she says. I can still hardly believe
it and sometimes wonder if they made a mistake!
In June, the 10 outstanding women were flown to New York for
a glamorous photo shoot for Glamours October issue. In
September, they were again flown to the Big Apple for a four-day
weekend that included an awards banquet, Broadway show, sightseeing,
dining, and the opportunity to meet top female professionals
from throughout the country.
Weybrecht not only received a $2,000 prize from Glamour that
will go toward her education, she was selected from among the
10 winners for one additional prize a $2,500 Beauty
of Giving award from LOreal Paris that she will
use for Kids in Flight.
Weybrecht, who plans a career in public relations/ motivational
speaking, also plans to grow Kids in Flight and hopes that someday
the organization will be her full-time job. Securing corporate
sponsors, adding educational programs, and expanding to other
countries are all part of her flight plan for the nonprofit.
This picture of health, poise and beauty, whos training
for a half-marathon, also hopes to get a masters degree
someday and says shes sad to see her college days ending
I love school, especially Cleveland State, she says.
Weybrecht came to the University as a junior, after a year at
Ohio University and a year at Lakeland Community College following
her cancer diagnosis and initial treatment.
Cleveland State infuses an academic education and book
knowledge with real-world experience, she says. I
love being downtown because Im able to do internships
and get that real-world experience thats the key to success.
Shes currently at Landau Public Relations and has also
interned at the International Womens Air and Space Museum,
the Cleveland National Air Show and the Cleveland Free Times.
She adds that Cleveland States faculty are not only
helpful, they push us to go that extra mile for ourselves and
Weybrecht, whose middle name is Faith, hopes that her story
inspires others. And as she looks forward to graduation and
the rest of her life, she simply says, Its time
to get out there and make a difference.
Glamour magazine and everyone who meets this incredible woman
knows that Maria Weybrecht has already made a huge difference.
20, 2005 issue of The Cleveland Stater William Hall
Glamour Mag honors CSU student
Maria Weybrecht is a philanthropist, an honors student and a
licensed pilot. Now, the 22-year-old senior communication major
and cancer survivor can add national award winner to her resume.
Glamour Magazine has named her as one of its Top 10 College
Women, an annual competition that recognizes leadership, community
involvement, academic excellence, and inspirational goals.
Weybrecht was recognized for founding Kids In Flight, a non-profit
organization which holds an annual event at Lost Nation Airport
in Willoughby. Seriously ill children and their families are
given an opportunity to see Cleveland from above, riding in
planes piloted by members of T&G Flying Club of Willoughby.
Already a member of the Air National Guard, Weybrecht earned
her private pilots license in summer 2002 at age 19. Less
than two months later she was diagnosed with stage four thyroid
Tumors on her lymph nodes and in her lungs led her to have four
surgeries within three months.
The adversity continued when shortly after her first series
of radioactive iodine treatments, Weybrecht found out her boyfriend
John Tudela, a member of the Marine Corps Reserve, was being
sent to the Middle East. She traveled to Cincinnati to see him
off and was four days into the visit when her father called
with devastating news.
Her mother Marybeth was dead at the age of 46. The months after
her mothers death were dark and full of despair. But it
was during this time that Weybrecht formed the plan for Kids
In Flight. It would be a charity event that would be her way
of giving back to the people who had helped her and would ultimately
change her life and the lives of hundreds of children.
Kids In Flight has hosted three events since 2002, all while
Weybrecht has been receiving treatments for the cancer which
is still present in her.
Glamours executive managing editor, Susan Goodall said
the magazine received 556 entries for its 48th annual Top 10
Women competition but Weybrechts stood out.
I looked at entries from many incredible women,
Goodall said from New York in a phone interview.
Maria has a quiet, radiant strength. Despite all of the
adversity in her life she thinks beyond herself and does whatever
it takes to help others.
Glamour called CSU academic adviser Ben Rochester to ask him
I told them that Maria is the type of young lady I wish
my daughter had for an older sister, Rochester said from
his office last week.
Shes incredibly strong and has never backed down
from a fight. Shes not only a role model for students;
she is a role model for everyone.
Glamour announced Weybrechts selection on Sept. 6, and
held an awards luncheon in New York City on Sept. 9 to honor
all 10 women. It was there that Weybrecht was acknowledged once
again for her benevolence when LOreal Paris named her
the winner of the Beauty of Giving award.
Weybrecht was selected from among Glamours top 10 and
received a check for $2,500 to donate to her favorite charity
Kids In Flight.
For being named one of the top 10, Weybrecht received two trips
to New York (the 10 women were flown to New York in July for
a photo shoot), an opportunity to rub elbows with the top people
of their field of interest and a cash prize, which Weybrecht
said is going to help pay off her student loans.
Weybrecht shyly admits she has been overwhelmed by all the attention
and her recent good fortune.
She said the trips were fun and the prizes were great but her
favorite part of the experience was meeting the other winners,
both past and present.
I met so many amazing women, Weybrecht said on campus
Each of us has different interests and passions in life,
but our common bond is that we always strive to be our best
in everything we do.
July 24, 2005 issue of The Lake County News Herald Larece
Kids in Flight program soars in popularity
Kids in Flight had a blue sky and light breezes Saturday
for children to take a ride in aircraft piloted by volunteers
from T&G Flying Club.
The event, now in its third year, offers seriously ill children
and their families from the Northeast Ohio area a chance to soar
over the Cleveland skyline with experienced pilots.
The person behind Kids in Flight is a young woman who has faced
her own serious illness. Maria Weybrecht had enrolled at Ohio
University in 2002 to pursue her love of aviation, she was on
her way to becoming a career pilot, her Plan A, when she was diagnosed
with thyroid cancer.
She was 19 years old.
The diagnosis altered her plans but not her spirit.
Weybrecht decided on Plan B, and she began sharing her love of
aviation with other children facing illnesses and their families.
Weybrecht knows how much a helping hand and a friendly face can
ease worries when you are facing a tough road.
She was treated in New York City at Sloan Kettering hospital.
While undergoing treatment in New York City, she stayed at Ronald
McDonald House and had the help of Angel Flight to get to and
from the treatments.
The Kids in Flight slogan is Teaching children to soar with
I contacted several different organizations, we expect children
from as far away as Kentucky, Weybrecht said.
This year, participants came from the Congenital Heart Information
Network (CHIN), The Gathering Place, Ronald McDonald House of
Cleveland, Rainbow Babies and Childrens Hospital, the Cleveland
Clinic, and the Up Side of Downs.
Scott and Laurie Hays of Wadsworth attended for the second year.
Their three children Kaitlyn, 10, Alexander, 3, and Nathaniel,
2, were anxious to go for a ride.
We had a lot of fun last year and the kids really enjoyed
it, Laurie said.
Alexander has always like airplanes.
The Hayes family was invited through the Congenital Heart Information
Ryan Colegrove, 10, of Twinsburg let the pilot of hos flight know
that he would need a little help with the flying. Ryan has flown
before and was happy to go up again.
Ryans younger brother, Nate, and parents Dave and Mary Ann
Colegrove, were invited to the event by The Gathering Place.
I really liked it, Nate said with a grin.
We are here because of the Gathering Place and we feel honored
to do it, Mary Ann said.
Food was donated by local merchants, a photographer donated time
and talent to the event, and volunteers were on hand to help get
the kids fed, photographed and in the airplanes.
Myla Toth, 3, wanted to go for a ride so she could find her brothers
balloon that went up in the air and never came back.
Myla was in attendance with her parents John and Renee and younger
brother, Johnny, 8 months old.
I found out about it from the Akron Chapter of the Up Side
of Downs, Renee said. The Toths are from Akron.
One fo the first to climb into an airplane was 16-year-old Samuel
Tate of Woodmere.
It was real good, real nice, Samuel said.
Samuel and his father, Anderson Tate, found out about the event
through the Cleveland Clinic.
Display aircraft included a PT-17, SNJ-4 Texan and a T-51 Mustang.
The event began at 10 a.m. and continued until everyone who was
there for a ride got one.
For more information on Kids in Flight, contact Maria Weybrecht
June 9, 2005 issue of The Cleveland Stater - William Hall
Balancing life on two wings
Maria Weybrecht couldnt have been any happier the day she
went to an oral surgeon to have her wisdom teeth removed. It was
August 2002, she was 19-years-old; a college student with good
grades and a full scholarship; a licensed pilot; a member of the
U.S. Air National Guard; and well on her way to achieving her
dream of flying the KC-135--a huge air refueling plane--for the
Air National Guard.
As the surgeon examined Maria before the procedure, he noticed
lumps in her neck. He immediately contacted a specialist and scheduled
an appointment for her for the next day.
It was cancer. Stage four thyroid cancer. Tests revealed tumors
on her lymph nodes and in her lungs. Marias bright, well-planned
future suddenly turned uncertain. When, if ever, would she be
able to fly again? Would she survive?
Maria was 5-years-old when she fell in love with airplanes. Her
father took her on car trips to Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland
where she could see planes take off and land. Watching the bright
white planes with the blue water of Lake Erie as background made
her eyes big and her heart race.
Maria was 14 when she told her parents she wanted flying lessons
for her birthday. Her parents laughed it off. Why would their
smart, pretty, petite little girl want to fly?
No one took the high school cheerleader and dance-team member
seriously until she enrolled at Ohio University in the fall of
2001 with a declared major of aviation and aviation management.
In the spring of 2002, Maria began to crisscross the skies of
southern Ohio as a student-pilot. In April, she enlisted in the
Ohio Air National Guard and in July, one month before her life-changing
visit to the dentist, she received her private pilots license
certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. She was well
on her way to fulfilling her dream.
In the three months after the trip to the oral surgeon, Maria
underwent countless tests and three major surgeries. Surgeons
removed more than 30 malignant growths from her body. Doctors
at The Cleveland Clinic referred her to Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center in New York City for treatment.
In January 2003, with tumors still present in her lungs, Maria
went to New York to begin three weeks of radioactive iodine therapy.
Marias road trip for treatment should have been the first
step back to normalcy but instead was an avenue for more bad news.
The night before her first treatment, her boyfriend of four years,
John, a member of the Marine Corps Reserve, told her he was being
sent to Iraq.
In February, Maria went to Cincinnati, where John was stationed,
to spend time with him before he left for the Middle East. Four
days into the visit, Maria got a devastating phone call from her
father. Her mother Marybeth, was dead at the age of 46.
The months after her mothers death were filled with anguish
and despair. But it was during this time that Maria began to shape
the ideas and plans that would not only change her life but the
lives of hundreds of cancer-stricken children.
In August 2003, Maria enrolled for classes at Lakeland Community
College in Kirtland and took a job as an office assistant at the
T&G Flying Club Inc. at Lost Nation Airport in Willoughby.
It was then that she finalized the idea for Kids in Flight Inc.,
a charity event to honor those who had helped her over the last
year and to just give some sick kids a good, old-fashioned fun
Children and young adults from the Ronald McDonald House in Cleveland
would get a chance to see the city from above, riding in planes
piloted by members of T&G. Two months later, the inaugural
Kids in Flight was held. Because of her treatments Maria couldnt
pilot a plane herself, FAA regulations forbid anyone with cancer
to fly a plane, but she rode along as the children experienced
the same joy of flying she had always felt.
Already planning the next Kids in Flight, she returned to Sloan-Kettering
in December for more treatment. The second Kids in Flight took
place in September 2004, just as Maria began attending classes
at Cleveland State.
The next month, a group including Maria and fellow students Maria
Di Franco, Amber Zemek and Jessica Martinez began to shape a new
campus organization, the Student Association for Professional
Communication (SAPC). The four women soon wrote a constitution
and began accepting members in January 2005.
Maria had to leave CSU two weeks early this past spring for more
treatments at Sloan-Kettering, but has returned to Cleveland and
is attending classes this summer with plans to graduate in December.
Its been almost three years since Maria was diagnosed with
cancer and in that time, through her positive attitude, permanent
smile and faith, she has had an impact on hundreds of lives.
On her first trip to New York in January 2003, Maria met a woman
named Barbara Zobian. A volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House
there, Zobian has dedicated her life to trying to bring some happiness
to sick children and she noticed something special in Maria right
away, the same desire to help kids that she has.
Maria always has a smile on her face and is a very positive,
determined young woman, Zobian said in a phone interview.
Maria said she wanted to help children, so thats what
she did. Zobian said she believes Maria would make a great
spokesperson for childhood cancer.
I cant tell kids what its like to have cancer.
I can only empathize. Maria is living with cancer, Zobian
said. She can say I know what youre going through.
Look at me. I have cancer. You can do anything you want.
Thats a big difference.
Maria Di Franco, president of SAPC and a close friend of Maria
Weybrecht, said that her associate is one of the most hardworking
and dedicated people she knows. Despite all that is going
on in her life, Maria puts 100 percent into everything she does,
Di Franco said. She is always striving for perfection and
attains it more often than not.
Di Franco can also be counted as someone Maria has affected.
She has taught me many things, but most importantly, to
have faith in all you do, said Di Franco. When Maria Weybrecht
is asked if she thinks shell ever be as happy as she was
that day in August almost three years ago, she sighs, slowly blinks
her eyes and smiles.
All these months, and especially the time after my mother
died, have been more difficult than I could describe, Weybrecht
said. They were also more rewarding and inspiring than any
experience I would ever hope to have in a lifetime.
In a personal narrative she wrote for a class assignment, Maria
wrote that her appreciation for life along with her ability to
see things with a positive perspective couldnt have been
done from a life filled only with success and happiness.
Marias prognosis is good, and as she says, Im
not going anywhere anytime soon. Note: This years
Kids in Flight event is scheduled for Saturday, July 23, at Lost
Nation Airport in Willoughby. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.
October 14, 2004 issue of The Lake County News Herald Larece
Flying away from all their worries
Cancer survivor helps ill kids enjoy day around planes
Maria Weybrecht has shared her dream again.
Weybrecht, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 19, spent
time at Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York where she resided
at the Ronald McDonald House.
After four surgeries and treatment, the Eastlake resident, now
21, has a strong, positive attitude.
Last year, she decided to organize a day out for children and
their families at Clevelands Ronald McDonald House.
She contacted the agency and hosted the first Kids in Flight day.
And this year, Weybrecht put together another Kids in Flight day
at Willoughby Lost Nation Airport.
Children from Congenital Heart Information Network(CHIN) were
recipients of food, activities and airplane rides.
About 40 people, including 20 children, were on hand to take advantage
of sunny skies and the chance to fly.
The CHIN Web site states the international organization
provides reliable information, support services and resources
to families of children with congenital heart defects and acquired
heart disease, adults with congenital heart defects and the professionals
who work with them.
Weybrecht herself worked to acquire donations for food and beverages
and then with local pilots to provide flying time.
Three pilots donated their time and aircraft to the event.
We had a lot of cash donations this year, Weybrecht
Among those donating were Donatos Pizza, Jersey Mikes
Subs, and Cookies by Design.
Decorations and signs were from Signs PDQ in Richmond Heights.
Legends Photography in Willoughby will be donating photos
of the kids for the event, Weybrecht said.
With plans to make it an annual event, Weybrecht has been accepting
donations at Kids in Flight, 33967 Willowick Dr., Eastlake, OH
44095. For information on the program, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lake County News Herald, October 14, 2004.
October, 2003 issue of The Lake County News Herald Larece
Preparing for take-off
Young cancer survivor works to bring some fun to those still fighting
Maria Weybrecht always wanted to be a pilot.
While growing up in Willoughby her father would take her to Cleveland
Hopkins International Airport to watch the airplanes.
I would always ask for my pilots license for my birthday,
said Weybrecht, now 20 years old and iving in Eastlake.
Her love of flying led her to Ohio University where she decided
to major in aviation and enlist in the Air National Guard.
But then, only two weeks before leaving for basic training, Weybrecht
received some startling news.
At the age of 19 she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
I was very lucky, Im being treated with radioactive
iodine, Weybrecht said.
In the past year, the young woman has undergone four surgeries
at the Sooan Kettering Hospital in New York City.
Before each treatment I am on a diet of no iodine and while
Im there Im in isolation, she said.
Weybrecht is familiar with the Ronald McDonald House and has had
the help of Angel Flight to get to New York. Both agencies help
families gain access to out of town medical care.
I stayed at Ronald McDonald House in New York, Weybrecht
said. I know what its like to stay there you
are sick and in a foreign place.
Weybrecht maintains contact with a woman she met at Ronald McDonald
House who took her shopping to Bloomingdales and showed
her around the city.
Weybrecht is now attending Lakeland Community College while working
on her plan B pursuing a Busines Management Degree and
her CPA. She also works for Larry Rohl at T&G Flying School
to keep her in the aviation spin.
I got advice from managers and other pilots basically
have a plan B that is just as good as plan A, Weybrecht
Because of the treatments she is receiving, Weybrecht is not flying
now. That has been difficult for her.
The thing that makes me the happiest is flying, she
Weybrecht had an idea, so she put together a proposal and presented
it to Rohl at the flying school. Rohl agreed it was a great idea
and told her to go ahead.
I thought it would be nice to take the kids from Ronald
McDonald House up for rides, Weybrecht said.
She contacted area pilots, who are all volunteers, to take the
children and their parents up for a flight. Other people will
bring in their aircraft and open them up for the kids to look
at up close. Donations from local businesses will give the children
food to eat.
When Weybrecht contacted Ronald McDonald House in Cleveland, she
had no idea who to talk to or exactly what to say.
I just told the lady that answered the phone I had a gift
and didnt know how to give it, she said.
Tonight she will be teaching a mini ground school at Clevelands
Ronald McDonald House. Weybrecht will give the children some basic
flight information before the flights on Saturday.
There are 25 families staying there. Im hoping to
get at least 15 to attend, Weybrecht said.
The event is set for Sunday at Lost Nation.
The T&G flight instructors have volunteered their time, businesses
have donated food and Weybrecht wants this to be a great time
for the children of Ronald McDonald House.
There are so many good and positive people in the world,
Weybrecht said. When I was sick people just came out of
the woodwork. My family was wonderful.
She will be returning to New York later this year for another
treatment. She will be using Angel Flight to get there and also
will stay at Ronald McDonald House.
I have a positive attitude the whole point is the
childrens smiles and the parents seeing the smiles,
Angel Flight America is an all-volunteer organization that gets
children and their families to medical facilities that are not
in their immediate area. The organizations motto is Giving
To donate to Angel Flight America, mail to 4620 Haygood Road,
Suite 1, Virginia Beach, VA 23455 or for further information,
go to their Web site at www.angelflight.org.
Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland, Inc. was founded to be a home
away from home for out-of-town families whose children are receiving
medical help at an area hospital. Donations to Ronald McDonald
House of Cleveland, Inc. can be mailed to 10415 Euclid Ave. Cleveland,
Lake County News Herald, October 2003
October, 2003 issue of The Cleveland Plain Dealer Michael
Scott and Angel Townsend
Feel-good flying after fighting cancer
Eastlake woman, flight club host a soaring party as a thank-you
for help she got
Willoughby-Maria Weybrecht yesterday wrapped warm and winsome
wings around a few frail friends, lifting them briefly from the
gravity of their own plight.
Weybrecht, 20, of Eastlake, a cancer survivor for the last year,
hosted an unusual and poignant party at Lost Nation Airport
featuring plane rides for children and young adults from Ronald
McDonald House in Cleveland.
It was a vicarious thank-you to others who helped her in the last
year during stays at Ronald McDonald House in New York City.
I know how good I feel flying, so I just thought it might
be nice for other people who might be down, she said.
Because of her ongoing treatment, Weybrecht couldnt take
to the controls herself. But she did ride shotgun as pilots from
the T&G Flying Club Inc., for which she works at the airport
as a receptionist, volunteered as flying chauffeurs.
Patients and their families were greeted with festive balloons
decorating the hangar.
For a few hours they ate free food, listened to music and had
family photographs taken.
Awesome! It was awesome! exclaimed Kaitlin Thompson,
17, of Evansville, Ind., moments after she was helped out of a
During her 30-minutes ride, Kaitlin caught views of Cleveland
Browns Stadium and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
While waiting on the runway for her son Nate to return from his
second ride, Theresa Williams talked about the impact of the event.
This is just unbelievable, to have people show so much caring,
said Williams, of Brazil, Ind. This kind of stuff makes
them feel special.
Weybrecht, who has a co-pilots license, single-handedly
planned the event. T&G owner Larry Rohl of Willoughby said
she was doing it with the same grit and grin that won her a job
with him this summer.
I wish there were more people like Maria people who
go out and do it instead of waiting for it to come to them,
She started flying in much the same way.
I used to drag my dad to the airport all the time just to
watch the planes, but we could never afford the
license, Weybrecht said. So I went to school to study
aviation, figuring If I major in it, I guess Ill have
She ended up at Lakeland Community College, got the flying time
and worked her way toward a pilots license.
But Weybrechts pluck and persistence were challenged later
last year when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The news
came in August, about two weeks before she was to leave for boot
camp in the Air National Guard.
Then, one life-changing ordeal was compounded by another when
her ailing mother died suddenly in February this year after Weybrecht
returned from a treatment in New York.
It was around that time that a volunteer at the New York hospital
whom she knew only as Barbara held Weybrecht together.
This womans lifes work is really to help mothers
and teen girls make it throught things like this, Weybrecht
Back home, students at her old grade school, Immaculate Conception
in Willoughby, also reached out, praying regularly for her. The
fifth-grade class went further, sending her $350 from a bake sale.
They told Weybrecht to spend the money on anything that would
maker her happy, so she did: She bought glasses for her younger
brother because the family no longer had insurance to cover eye
Looking ahead to an uncertain future, Weybrecht, now a third-year
sophomore at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, plans on
flying more. But shes also planning a double major in aviation
Shell go back to New York in December for more treatment.
Theres even hope that the cancerous cells could someday
be gone for good.
Either way, I feel like Ive been give a gift of appreciating
life more now because of what happened to me, she said.
So maybe Ill cry later. Right now I just want to see
those kids smile.