Edgewater Woman’s Charity Helps Soldiers and Their Families Fly
Edgewater resident Alison Sheele is a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines. For the past 18 months, she’s quietly run a simple charity that takes airline employees’ “Buddy Passes” and gives them to soldiers, veterans, their families and caregivers. Sheele said that most of the donations of Buddy Passes happens through word of mouth among Southwest Airline employees.
Buddy Passes are passes for free flights given to Southwest employees. Generally speaking, someone with a Buddy Pass can get on any Southwest flight as a standby passenger.
Recently, Sheele got to spend the day with one of the wounded warriors whose family she has flown frequently through her “Passes for Warriors” program when the Gary Sinise Foundation and Warrior Events broke ground on a home in Crownsville for triple amputee Army Sgt. Adam Keys.
Sheele said that she got her Buddy Passes program started after meeting the president of Warrior Events, John O’Leary, on a flight. O’Leary and his charity are headquartered in Annapolis. Sheele said that since her husband is in the Air Force, she related to O’Leary’s charitable activities and had been looking for a way to get involved and to help soldiers and their families.
Sheele said that over the past year and a half, word has spread about her program and her colleagues donate their unused passes to help fly people all over the country.
Sheele said that sometimes recovering soldiers are in the hospital for a long time with surgeries, recovery and therapy. She said that family members can’t relocate to be near their loved ones, so being able to give them free flights to come regularly is the least she can do.
Sheele said that one local whom she has helped is Keys, who lost both legs and his left hand after being wounded in Afghanistan in Kandahar in 2010 while deployed with the 20th Brigade of the 27th Engineer Battalion.
Keys, originally from Whitehall Township, Pa., is relocating to the Crownsville area to be closer to his medical care out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – Bethesda. Since Sheele had been involved in helping Keys’ family travel to be able to be with him throughout his recovery, she was eager to help Warrior Events and the Gary Sinise Foundation’s RISE (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) program, which helps build homes for wounded soldiers.
Earlier this month, Sinise visited Anne Arundel County to break ground on the Keys home in Crownsville. At the event, Sheele was there with eight of her flight attendant colleagues to help. The Keys home is designed with the challenges of wounded warriors in mind. From the Gary Sinise Foundation website:
All of our warriors encounter difficulties when they return to civilian life, but these heroes face unimaginable life changes. Help us honor their incredible service to our country with a new Smart Home, customized to ease the day-to-day challenges they now face. Features like retractable cooktops, cabinets and shelving, automated lighting, heating, air-conditioning and window treatments controlled by an iPad, as well as elevators, roll-in bathrooms, front-load washers and dryers, intercom systems and automated doors can help restore their independence in countless ways.
Sheele said that there is no monetary value associated with the Buddy Passes, and that she accepts donations from any flight attendants who want to give, although only crew members can contribute.