by Jill Meyers
Last week I wrote about my own round-the-clock efforts to support Shaesta Waiz and the Dreams Soar team and mission, and how the reward far outweighs the fact of not being paid. This week I am writing a special tribute to our all-volunteer support team at Universal® Weather & Aviation, Inc. Why am I doing this? Because they are located in Houston, Texas. Yes, Houston. Their continued support to us (and other clients) during Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, is stunning and admirable beyond description. They are true examples of people who are so passionate about their work and so dedicated that they go to great extremes, with personal sacrifice, to fulfill their mission.
Universal’s Aviation Weather department is an experienced team of aviation meteorologists who “predict and adapt to weather conditions impacting your missions.” They have an amazing team assigned to Dreams Soar, headed up by their manager, Jack (I am using all fake names to protect their privacy), who was a Meteorologist in the U.S. Air Force, and who runs this team with compassion and a great sense of humor. He calls their Dreams Soar team “The Women of Meteorology”! The team includes three Master Meteorologists: Kim and Tara, both military veterans with over 25 years of experience; and Leah, with 18 years of experience. We also have two Senior Meteorologists: Alison, who also holds a dispatch license and specializes in weather flight following; and Wendy, newer in her career but a real role model for young women hoping to move into the science of Meteorology.
Universal provides Shaesta a weather report prior to departure, with information that helps her make go/no-go decisions. When Shaesta is enroute, they do “flight following”, meaning they follow Shaesta’s flight plan and provide her real-time weather data - information that helps her make the best decisions on things like avoiding storms or minimizing turbulence. The Universal team and I are able to exchange messages and pictures with Shaesta using a private and secure onboard system. We usually have two people from Universal working each flight. In addition to exchanging weather information, we try to have fun too! Sometimes we play “Marco Polo”, a game I loved playing in our backyard pool as a kid. Alison or Tara will type “Marco”, and Shaesta will provide her exact position from her flight computer, and I’ll take a screenshot from a map-based tracking system I use and post it with the reply “Polo”! And sometimes Universal will provide a satellite or infrared photo that looks like this:
The Universal team provides all of this support on a volunteer basis, day and night. Some of them work from home after their normal work shift ends, and some will drive into the office in the middle of the night to get online. Then, Hurricane Harvey came, during a time in August when Shaesta was scheduled to fly every other day, hopping across the South Pacific with questionable weather conditions. When I learned of Harvey’s path heading to Houston, I immediately contacted Jack, who assured me that Wendy, Alison, Tara, Kim and Leah would all be available as needed, even if they were stuck at work or stranded at home. My emotions bounced between shock and gratitude. The day after the hurricane devastated Houston, I texted Jack to see how he was doing. He replied by telling me he and his wife and dogs had to be rescued from their home by boat, and then he sent me photos of his neighborhood that brought tears to my eyes. He later told me that Leah’s home was also under water, and that she stayed at work to be online with Shaesta, while her husband dealt with the flooding until she got off shift.
Shaesta and I were so grateful for their continued support over this difficult time, and we reminded them of this during every flight. Wendy and the others would reply by simply saying how much they love what they do, and that they were just happy to be a part of our mission to inspire the next generation. It touched our hearts, and still does.
The cleanup in Houston continues and Jack tells me it will take a year to rebuild his home. Leah and her husband are in a similar position. Luckily, the others on our Universal Dreams Soar team had no catastrophic losses. Throughout the past two weeks, we have witnessed this incredibly dedicated group of people giving support to Shaesta during a time when they had serious issues to deal with at home. They made this decision out of compassion for us, love of their own work, and dedication to supporting their customers no matter what the situation. It takes a very special kind of person to do this, and we are forever thankful. To the team at Universal, your devotion and altruism made moments like this one below possible. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.