Apr 26, 2013 7:23 PM by Andy Koen
COLORADO SPRINGS - This is the day they've all been waiting for. After 8 long weeks of studying and memorization, there's just one final test. The four teenagers huddled over a table inside the hangar at Cutter Aviation rack their brains to remember which gauges are where inside the cockpit and what causes an airplane to stall out.
Their reward for passing the test is to take the co-pilot's seat and fly a plane for the first time.
"I'm just thinking about how high up in the sky I'm going to be," said a student named Tony.
"I'm just nervous," joked Chance, another student. "It's kind of a small plane and I'm not the smallest guy."
The path here wasn't easy. When you spend your days locked away in a juvenile detention facility, it's much harder to believe in yourself than it is to doubt yourself.
"There hasn't been a lot of accomplishments that I've made," Chance said. "So, it means a lot to actually get to this point and accomplish something and do something right."
The boys are able to experience the freedom of flying thanks to a unique program coordinated by the faith-based group Southern Colorado Youth For Christ. Executive Director Mike Rueffert explains their motivation comes the gospel, Matthew Chapter 24 to be precise.
"Where Jesus says, when I return I want to see you doing these things, feeding the hungry giving water to the thirsty, clothing those who are naked, visiting those who are ill and visiting those in prison."
The flight is no ordinary joy ride. The volunteer pilots from SkyWest Airlines intentionally fly over the detention facilities where the boys are serving time.
Now in it's fourth year, the Juvenile Justice Ministry's Wings program has graduated more than 40 students. The experience was so life-changing three years ago for Jason Lujan that he now volunteers with Youth For Christ.
"These guys that they were coming in that they actually did care, it wasn't just a program of Spring Creek, that they actually, they have a heart and they've actually been there," Lujan said.
The program is entirely voluntary. However, director Rueffert says the boys have to earn the right to be here.
"I had to maintain my Level 3 since September," Tony said. Level 3 is the highest category that the Spring Creek Youth Services Center designates for good behavior. Young people in that category are considered role models for the other offenders.
Southern Colorado Youth for Christ currently operates in 8 youth detention centers in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Canon City. In addition to the Wings program, they also have formed mentoring programs with professional golfers and firefighters.
There will be a benefit concert next Friday, May 3rd to raise money for ministry. Contemporary Christian musicians Nichole Nordeman and Stephanie Pauline will perform at 7:00 p.m. at Woodman Valley Chapel, 290 E. Woodmen Rd. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door and can be purchased online or by calling 1-800-965-9324.