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From April 17, 2006 issue of Crain’s Cleveland Business – Shannon Mortland
Twenty in their 20s

Maria Weybrecht
President and founder, Kids in Flight Inc.

At age 19, Maria Weybrecht fulfilled a lifelong dream of getting her pilot’s license. But her dream to fly airplanes was shattered a month later when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
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 August 2007.
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.
“It’s sort of a day for them to be kids and not to be Mary with cancer or Susie who just had open heart surgery,” she said.
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 to go?
In the summer, anywhere I can be outside. When it’s cold out, Sushi Rock and D’Vine Wine Bar. I know it’s overdone, but I don’t get out much!
How many times per year do you visit a Cleveland museum or theater event?
As many times as I can!
What is the last book you read?
Clive Cussler’s “Trojan Odyssey”
How often do you take public transportation?
Almost never
What gadget can't you live without?
I don’t know if you could call it a gadget, but I can’t live without my cell phone.
Where's the best cup of coffee in Northeast Ohio? Best martini?
Best coffee — I don’t 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 we’ll 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 don’t 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 I’m the first person to say that, but I can’t 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 be?
The weather. I know I said it’s 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 of airplanes!
What will the legacy of today's 20-somethings be 50 years from now?
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 — it’s where I work and go to school.
What do you do on Saturday mornings?
Run. I’m training for the Cleveland half marathon in May.

 


From April 7, 2006 issue of The Lake County Tribune and The Lake County Gazette – Story and photos courtesy of Rose More, columnist, Gazette Newspapers Inc.


In Maria Weybrecht’s 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 40:31
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 is altitude."
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 there.
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 in college."
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 the kids...
"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 medical status."
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."
Or 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: info@kidsinflight.org. Columnist Rose Moore can be reached at 440-350-9818).


Mon, Mar 27, 2006
'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."


Kids in 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.
Diagnosis
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 pilot’s 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.
Treatment
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.”
Maria’s 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.
Turning Point
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 didn’t 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 problems.”
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 children’s 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 year.
Present Day
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 Magazine’s “Top 10 College Women of 2005” and one of Cleveland Magazine’s “Most Interesting People of 2006.” Maria spends most of her free time dedicated to Kids and Flight and looks forward to growing this incredible organization.
For more information about Kids in Flight, visit the website at www.kidsinflight.org.



 




From October 3, 2005 issue of On Campus - Barb Chudzik
GLAMOUR GIRL
WEYBRECHT NAMED AMONG NATION'S TOP 10

Maria Weybrecht
Calling Maria Weybrecht a glamour girl may not be politically correct but she doesn’t 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 bachelor’s 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 Internet.
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 excellence.
Weybrecht’s life, over the past few years, has hardly been glamorous. In fact, it’s been filled with life-altering challenges that she’s 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 pilot’s license and enlisted in the Ohio Air National Guard.
“I’ve 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 doesn’t allow cancer patients to fly planes,” she says.
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 I’m in treatment and it could go on forever because I’ve been told I may never be cancer-free,” she says. “I’m 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 I’m incredibly lucky — other people go through much worse. I haven’t needed chemotherapy and I’m still here,” she says.
Four days after Weybrecht’s 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 Weybrecht’s 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.
“We’ve done three events and this year, we took 99 people on flights,” she proudly notes. “It’s fun to make people feel good and see the smiles on their faces.”
Calling Kids in Flight her “life’s 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. That’s 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 didn’t 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.
“I’ll 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 Glamour’s 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 L’Oreal 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, who’s training for a half-marathon, also hopes to get a master’s degree someday and says she’s sad to see her college days ending in December.
“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 I’m able to do internships and get that real-world experience that’s the key to success.” She’s currently at Landau Public Relations and has also interned at the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, the Cleveland National Air Show and the Cleveland Free Times. She adds that “Cleveland State’s faculty are not only helpful, they push us to go that extra mile for ourselves and the community.”
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, “It’s 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.


From September 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 pilot’s license in summer 2002 at age 19. Less than two months later she was diagnosed with stage four thyroid cancer.
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 mother’s 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.
Glamour’s executive managing editor, Susan Goodall said the magazine received 556 entries for its 48th annual Top 10 Women competition but Weybrecht’s 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 about Weybrecht.
“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.
“She’s incredibly strong and has never backed down from a fight. She’s not only a role model for students; she is a role model for everyone.”
Glamour announced Weybrecht’s 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 L’Oreal Paris named her the winner of the “Beauty of Giving” award.
Weybrecht was selected from among Glamour’s 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 last week.
“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.”



From July 24, 2005 issue of The Lake County News Herald – Larece Galer
‘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 their dreams.”
“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 Children’s 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 Network.
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.
Ryan’s 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 brother’s 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 at kidsinflight@hotmail.com.


From June 9, 2005 issue of The Cleveland Stater - William Hall
Balancing life on two wings
Maria Weybrecht couldn’t 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. Maria’s 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 pilot’s 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. Maria’s 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 mother’s 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 day.
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 couldn’t 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.
It’s 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 that’s what she did.” Zobian said she believes Maria would make a great spokesperson for childhood cancer.
“I can’t tell kids what it’s like to have cancer. I can only empathize. Maria is living with cancer,” Zobian said. “She can say ‘I know what you’re going through. Look at me. I have cancer. You can do anything you want.’ That’s 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 she’ll 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 couldn’t have been done from a life filled only with success and happiness.
Maria’s prognosis is good, and as she says, “I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.” Note: This year’s Kids in Flight event is scheduled for Saturday, July 23, at Lost Nation Airport in Willoughby. For more information, e-mail maria@kidsinflight.org.


From October 14, 2004 issue of The Lake County News Herald – Larece Galer
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 Cleveland’s 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 added.
Among those donating were Donato’s Pizza, Jersey Mike’s 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 mweybrecht3@hotmail.com.
Lake County News Herald, October 14, 2004.


From October, 2003 issue of The Lake County News Herald – Larece Galer
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, I’m 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 I’m there I’m 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 it’s 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 Bloomingdale’s 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 said.
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 said.
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 didn’t know how to give it,” she said.
Tonight she will be teaching a mini ground school at Cleveland’s Ronald McDonald House. Weybrecht will give the children some basic flight information before the flights on Saturday.
“There are 25 families staying there. I’m 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 children’s smiles and the parents seeing the smiles,” Weybrecht said.
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 organization’s motto is “Giving Hope Wings.”
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, OH 44106.
Lake County News Herald, October 2003


From 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 couldn’t 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 four-seat plane.
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-pilot’s 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,” Rohl said.
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…pilot’s license,” Weybrecht said. “So I went to school to study aviation, figuring ‘If I major in it, I guess I’ll have to fly.’”
She ended up at Lakeland Community College, got the flying time and worked her way toward a pilot’s license.
But Weybrecht’s 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 woman’s life’s work is really to help mothers and teen girls make it throught things like this,” Weybrecht said.
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 care.
Looking ahead to an uncertain future, Weybrecht, now a third-year sophomore at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, plans on flying more. But she’s also planning a double major in aviation and business.
She’ll go back to New York in December for more treatment. There’s even hope that the cancerous cells could someday be gone for good.
“Either way, I feel like I’ve been give a gift of appreciating life more now because of what happened to me,” she said. “So maybe I’ll cry later. Right now I just want to see those kids smile.”

Kids In Flight, Inc.
P.O. Box 5234
Willowick, Ohio 44095-5234

Kids in Flight, Inc. is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. All donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
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