Rick Mantei Inspires Teens

Rock Hill, SC– At the York County Airport on August 14, two teens and their coach from I AM 24/7 in a biplane flight. The nonprofit, based in Charlotte, aims to create a positive generational impact that grows exponentially through peer support. Rick Mantei flew the boys in his 1941 Stearman biplane and spent time talking with them about the historical significance of the plane and encouraged them to aim high in all they do. 

One of the ministry’s strategies is to expose young men to experiences they normally would not have access to, like a ride in a 1941 Stearman, piloted by the retired South Carolina Air National Guard Desert Storm fighter pilot and 1976 Air Force Academy graduate. The rides are typically reserved, but Mantei insisted on allotting time for the teens to have a tour through the air, followed by animated conversation in the airport’s pilot’s lounge. As he explained how the plane and ones like it were used during World War II, the boys asked many questions about the planes and what it takes to become a pilot. They sat with rapt attention as Mantei passionately shared the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military pilots and some of the best pilots in the U.S. Army Air Force due to their internal drive, determination, and shared bond. 

Mantei chose to sponsor rides for the boys with I AM 24/7 because, he says, one amazing experience can alter the course of a child’s life. The nonprofit “engages, equips, empowers, and then employs” teens so they grow into men who succeed academically and in the workplace. Volunteers and staff pass on important life values through healthy peer mentoring and coaching relationships. The older teens become part-time paid staff members. Local sports team members, like the Charlotte Eagles, get involved in donating the most precious resource one can share with teens: time. Relationships are developed through sports, tutoring, travel experiences, and leadership skills training, in addition to academic support and sharing hope with the next generation.

“What if I go down like Kobe? What if the brakes don’t work?” were among the many concerns raised by 12-year-old Bona, just before his turn in the open-cockpit plane.
“It was so cool! You’ll be fine and can see everything from up there!” assured his friend, 12-year-old Miking, who had just finished flying with a big smile on his face. Their mentor, Coach Jim Bryant, went first to show them there’s nothing to fear. He battled a bit of motion sickness afterward, but his determination to encourage the boys paid off. As Mantei says, “If people trust us with their lives, then we’ve proven something important.” Afterward, the boys insisted on receiving photos of themselves to show their friends: “Proof or they’ll never believe it!”

For more information on and to support I AM 24/7, please visit: https://www.iam247.org/.