Photo: Pictured above from left to right, Gadsden Pilot Club members Betty Roberts, Iva Patty, Alma Alford, President Carolyn Hammond, Barbara Braun, Sammye Hill, Rebecca Tinker and Sherre McGinnis donate $1,000 to the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office to fund Project Lifesaver transmitters in Etowah County.
By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
On Feb. 27, Gadsden’s Pilot Club nurtured a legacy created almost 100 years ago. Through donating $1,000 to the Etowah County Sheriff’s Department, the Pilot Club of Gadsden represents an organization devoted to service, education and its community.
Gadsden’s Pilot Club is a branch of Pilot International, an organization that began in 1921 in Macon, Georgia. A service that was once confined to one city expanded into branches worldwide that are all dedicated to Pilot International’s mission: to influence positive change in communities around the world through uniting in friendship and service, focusing on encouraging brain safety, health and supporting those who care for others.
Gadsden’s Pilot Club sponsors several projects throughout the year that raise awareness for brain health, like Snellgrove Civitan Center, Circle of Friends, Coosa Valley Nursing Home, Make-a-Difference Day, Camp ASCCA (Alabama Special Camp for Children & Adults), Anchor Scholarships, Brain-Power Walk, Special Olympics, Handicapped Camper and Families at Christmas. Gadsden Pilots also support “Brain Minders,” a program geared towards kindergarten and elementary school students that trains and teaches young children skills to protect their brains for life. From serving delicious meals at a spaghetti fundraiser to a flapjack breakfast in March, Gadsden Pilots promote a warm, welcoming atmosphere that strives to uplift families and provide service to those in need while encouraging others to do the same.
“[Pilot Club] gives me a purpose in life to give back to others,” said Gadsden Pilot Sherre McGinnis. “I’ve been a Pilot for 27 years. Friendship and service [is what I enjoy the most]. We fill a need and we try to follow the ABC’s of Pilot, with our Anchor Clubs in our youth and the Brain Minders.”
Anchor Club is the youth division of Pilot International that instills a positive attitude towards service and raising awareness for others in students at a young age, developing community leaders who are compassionate and devoted to speaking for those who cannot advocate for themselves. The Gadsden Pilot Club partners with Anchors at Hokes Bluff High School, who are actively involved in events and fundraisers on a weekly basis. When Hokes Bluff senior and Anchor Club President Elizabeth Cortez was a sophomore, one of her friends convinced her to join. By the end of Cortez’s sophomore year, she fell in love with the club far more than she ever anticipated, resonating with a mission of service and gratitude.
“Coming into Anchor Club, they give you their mission statement: raising awareness for people with brain-related injuries and illnesses,” said Cortez. “I could relate to that, kind of. When I was born, I was born with a brain bleed. The doctors told my parents that I would never be able to learn or function or develop correctly, and [today] I’m a straight A student and president of the Anchor Club.”
At the $1,000 check presentation, Hokes Bluff Anchors assisted the Gadsden Pilots with setting tables, escorting guests and preparing food. As the Pilots filtered in, the Anchors met them with embraces and smiles, representing a deep bond derived from individuals who share the same giving hearts and dedication to serve.
“The most rewarding thing [about Anchor Club] for me is seeing the smiles on people’s faces,” said Cortez. “At Snellgrove, they’re all special needs, but they are some of the best people. At TBI Camp, there was a woman named Miss Pixie and she couldn’t move. She’d been in a car accident and was completely bound to a wheelchair. She could barely move her hand, but she would dip it into this tube of glitter and rub it onto your cheek—that was her pixie kiss. So, stuff like that is what makes [Anchor Club] worth it to me.”
Gadsden Pilot Club President Carolyn Hammond led the meeting, thanking the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office for their attendance, support and partnership with Project Lifesaver, the program receiving the donated funds. She attested to Gadsden Pilots’ commitment to their beliefs and responsibilities before McGinnis presented the check to Investigator Brian Smith and Executive Sheriff Assistant Tammy Bean.
“Last month, I challenged you to think of a word that describes Pilot here in Gadsden,” said Hammond. “After discussion and some great suggestions, we came up with the word ‘loyal.’ That’s a great choice, because we have been loyal to Pilot. We’ve stood in the rain and done things for Pilot. We’ve stood in the wind and done things for Pilot. We’ve stood in the cold and done things for Pilot. But Merriam Webster Dictionary describes loyal as ‘faithful to a cause, ideal or custom.’ I believe we at Gadsden Pilot Club are faithful to Pilot International creed and code. I want to commend you for all the things you do, and for all of your hard work.”
The Gadsden Pilot Club sponsored Project Lifesaver for many years in conjunction with the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office. Project Lifesaver combines proven radio technology with specifically trained search and rescue teams, developing a small transmitter for individuals with cognitive illnesses or disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, Autism and Downs’ Syndrome who are prone to wandering. Individuals enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear the transmitter on his or her wrist or ankle that emits an individualized frequency signal. If the individual goes missing, his or her caregiver notifies the local Project Lifesaver agency and a trained rapid response rescue team searches the wanderer’s area, using the person wearing the transmitter’s individualized frequency to locate the missing individual’s position. The trained first responders understand the best manner to approach the missing person once located, ensuring the individual returns home safely.
“The Gadsden Pilots have been very instrumental in Project Lifesaver,” said McGinnis. “We could not do this without partnering with the Sheriff’s Department. This partnership has saved 3,650 individuals all over the world by wearing a tracking bracelet. [Pilots] should be very proud to be a part of that.”
Gadsden currently has 30 active individuals (16 adults, 14 children) wearing Project Lifesaver transmitters. In 2019, Smith confirmed the program’s success, sharing that a few missing persons were located safely within minutes. Certified officers change the transmitter batteries every 60 days, and Smith included Etowah County School Resource Officers to assist with changing batteries for children during school hours. In 2020, Smith hopes for the same positive response, expecting the process to continue smoothly and thanking the Gadsden Pilots for their selfless contribution to noble cause.
“I want you to think about service,” said Gadsden Pilot Rebecca Tinker. “We don’t have to wear a façade of something that we’re not. But we can follow God’s guide as He sends us out to serve. Service is what Pilot is. Let us ask each day ‘who can I serve?’”