CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — It is said “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” But what if you never even got the chance to sample it?

To many, that’s the reality.

Pete Stavrides is with the Forgotten Heroes Foundation. He’s a former U.S. Navy pilot, who along with his colleagues, works to introduce children to aviation.

“We’re talking about kids that are 15-16-17 years old, who have never left the surface of the earth. We get to take them up on their first flight and they love to be able to look at people’s swimming pools in their backyards. It’s a perspective that they’ve never seen before. They just come away extremely excited, and enthused.”

The Forgotten Heroes Foundation’s mission is use aviation, paired with a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) platform to educate, inspire and encourage underserved communities.

Located in Chesapeake at the Hampton Roads Executive Airport, the foundation houses several uniquely painted aircraft to tell stories. One of those aircraft, a T-6 is painted up in the color that Jesse Brown flew. Jesse was the first Black naval aviator and the first Black fighter pilot to fly in Korea. He was killed in combat at the Chosin Reservoir. He was only 24.

“We talk to them about the struggles he went through, fighting for his country, as a Black man, being 24 years old, dying for his country. And that’s inspirational to them,” Pete said.

The connection the volunteers make with the students helps put the students on the right path, both in school and in the community.

“They’re seeing a dramatic improvement in behavior and responsibility in students taking more initiative. They understand that, hey, in order to achieve some of these goals, I actually have to apply myself; I have to work hard.”

Each event includes a lecture, hands-on activities and an opportunity to go flying. Before the flight, the students solve engineering problems – programming compasses or thermometers – which are then used in the air.

“We hope that one of the children that come through our program, when they land, say, I want to do that! And instead of someone like me, who made that decision at maybe 17 or 18 years old, we’d like to capture that at 14 years,” Pete said.

Showing them at a young age – that the sky is the limit – and to dream big.

“One of our catchphrases when we’re giving our introduction lesson is the I-can mindset, or the I-can motto. It simply says, I can do this. There’s a lot of resistance and roadblocks in our underserved communities that would prevent some of these children from ever attaining the goals of being professional career pilots, and we try to emphasize in them that yes, I can!”

The foundation hopes to sponsor scholarships in the future so kids interested in aviation can get their pilot’s license at no cost to them. If you’re interested in supporting the foundation, you can do so by visiting their website. The non-profit organization also needs volunteers to support their STEM outreach programs.