spotlight story: valencia board member takes a life-changing journey

Brad with planeSometimes the journey is not just about the destination. Valencia Foundation board member Brad Pierce found that out when he took a recent trip to Haiti. Describing some parts as “hell on earth,” he was nevertheless impacted by his journey.

Brad Pierce, Valencia alum, has been interested in flying from a young age. He saw a helicopter take off as a part of a tour near International Drive and was hooked. He worked for that tour company at the age of 16, doing sales and learning to fly. At 18 he decided to get his pilot’s license and he has been soaring the skies ever since.

Even early on, he used his talents for good, volunteering for Angel Flight. Angel Flight is a nonprofit organization of pilots, volunteers and friends that arranges free transportation to medical treatments. He still volunteers his time with Angel Flight and recently transported a baby to Miami for eye surgery.

It was this philanthropic sense of using his gifts and talent to make the world a better place that took him to Haiti. He came across a post from Dr. Richard McGlaughlin (Doc McG) on the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association website. Doc McG and fellow pilot, Luke Lyson, were looking to raise some money, buy medical supplies, and enlist a group of volunteers to fly a relief mission to Haiti. His post ended with the profound sentiment: “We will make sure you get down and back safely. You may not come back quite the same.”

Soon 32 volunteers and 15 aircrafts took to the skies with $100,000 in medical supplies, plus school supplies, clothing, musical instruments and toys. The group convened at Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport and then headed for Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
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Arriving safely, the group boarded buses and traveled to the heart of Cité Soleil, one of the poorest and dangerous slums in the Western Hemisphere, and made the first stop at St. Mary’s Hospital. It was here that he was introduced to the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, led by Father Rick Frechette, who lives by the mantra: “Do the next right thing and something good will come of it. Next day, do it again.”

The foundation (http://stlukehaiti.org/) is a Haitian run organization started by Father Frechette and an inspired group of young Haitian leaders. Programs focus on providing medical care, humanitarian aid and employment opportunities to the least served Haitian communities.

The group battled rainy weather and moved on to St. Damien Pediatric Hospital, a facility that also included an orphanage. “Upon driving through the front gates, I knew this was a very special place,” shares Brad. “A place where children could feel safe, secure and comfortable while getting much needed care.”

From there they headed to St. Luc Family Hospital, the site of the gastroenterology lab that Doc McG built. Brad was impressed. “Here we are in the middle of a third world country and there’s a fully functioning hospital complete with an intensive care unit and operating rooms. It’s incredible to think of all the effort that went in to building such capable facilities where they’re able to treat conditions that previously would have been death sentences.”

The trip ended on a very somber note, the group attended a funeral for several that had passed away the day before. It was an emotionally wrenching experience, but Brad was moved by the respect and honor given to the dead.

Throughout the trip, it seemed as though this father of two young boys was most moved by the children he witnessed and encountered. There was the boy in the slums, playing alone with rocks in the rain. The two small children who interacted with the group and the larger group of children who posed for pictures and followed behind the bus when they left, waving goodbye. And there was the young boy at the orphanage. Brad engaged him by playing an improvised game of catch with a shoe.
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The story is emotional and would be depressing were it not for something else that Brad found on his trip – hope and kindness. “I was overwhelmed with emotion, saddened by the things I’d seen, yet inspired by the acts of kindness and good work that’s been done to change the country for the better.” And he was a part of that good work. In the end, he was able to smile, “knowing there was hope for the future of these resilient people.”

When he is not flying around the world doing good, Brad serves as president of Restaurant Equipment World, a leader in the restaurant equipment sales and installation business for over 35 years. The company is known on an international scale. In fact, it was Brad’s international work that gave rise to another company, Critical Supply World, a general procurement supply company that specializes in quick and reliable delivery to the “most troubled” regions of the world.

To keep up with Brad and his travels, visit his personal blog, Brad in Motion (http://www.bradim.com/).
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