Pepperdine People Magazine
Pepperdine People Magazine Spring 2008
Flights of Angels
Pepperdine's Real Estate Chief Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Getting a Medical Air Charity Off the Ground
by Vincent Way
On average, every 20 minutes of every day, a pilot takes off somewhere in America on a mission of mercy flying people in need of health care to and from medical facilities. That there is need for such a service is not surprising. What is surprising, is that these flights, made in small, personal aircraft, are provided free of charge by volunteer pilots who donate their skills, their time, and all the costs of the flights.
The remarkable work of Angel Flight, a charitable network of thousands of volunteer pilots (and non-pilot supporters) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Founders Dennis and Averi Torres take great pride in the part they played in creating the organization that today covers the entire United States including Alaska and Hawaii.
Angel Flight is not a medevac or emergency air ambulance service familiar to many of us from television news coverage. Rather, Angel Flight missions provide transport to the medically stable, though many passengers suffer from life-threatening diseases.
Remembering one of their earliest missions, Dennis recounts a typical situation: "There was a bank president in Orange County, a man in his late 40s with a wife and four children, who was diagnosed with a very virulent form of cancer. It threatened the amputation of the entire lower half of his body, and he was in need of specialized treatment available only in Texas. The bank realized that he would not return to work anytime soon and terminated his employment. Overnight he became financially needy. Angel Flight flew him and his wife almost monthly for over a year at no cost. I am happy to say that he recovered from his cancer and regained his life."
What gives Dennis and Averi particular joy is that Angel Flight serves the needs of all of society, for even those with medical insurance are not covered for nonambulance-type transportation costs. Many people are just too sick to travel by car and commercial airlines will not permit ill persons to board. The bank president had resources, but not enough. Angel Flight fills that gap, making a life-or-death difference for many. In return its pilot-donors receive the joy of helping others firsthand, while doing something they already love: flying.
The charitable services of Angel Flight are not limited to only transporting the medically needy. Angel Flight also flies sick children to camps; reunifies families through hospital and hospice visits; transports organs, blood, and other emergency supplies; and brings injured military personnel home after active duty; to name only a few.
Originally a recreational flyer, Dennis obtained his commercial license and became a flight instructor. He enjoyed piloting himself and Averi in their own twin-engine airplane both for fun and in relation to their work in real estate investment and sales (Averi also has enjoyed a 40+-year career as a professional psychic consultant). But says Dennis, "we felt that burning up 45 gallons per hour for personal enjoyment seemed wasteful." Having both come from families immersed in philanthropy, it was only natural when Averi suggested they might use their plane to transport people in need.
So in 1983, modestly starting by stuffing invitations to area pilots from the floor of their den, Dennis and Averi launched the fledgling charity with about eight volunteer flyers. By the end of 1984, their first full year of operation, Angel Flight had flown 15 missions. For the first five years the Torreses worked tirelessly at creating and building an organization around their idea. Angel Flight's successor organization today provides some 25,000 missions annually.
While speaking about Angel Flight at the Malibu Rotary Club, Dennis met then Pepperdine executive vice president Larry Hornbaker, who, in need of someone with Dennis' experience, recruited Dennis for the University where he has served as director of real estate operations for 20 years. He has also served as adjunct professor at the Graziadio School of Business and Management for the past four years. In 2002 Dennis earned his master of dispute resolution degree, which he employs as a University negotiator and as a consulting mediator and arbitrator.
The Torreses have received many awards and recognition for their work over the years, but perhaps the most sentimental will be on May 9 of this year when Dennis' high school in New Jersey will induct him into their Hall of Fame.
While Dennis and Averi no longer fly and only maintain a founding membership role in Angel Flight, their simple idea of giving an airlift to the needy continues to develop and thrive. It will do so as long as there are flyers, like the Torreses, willing to share some time, a little gas, and a lot of joy.