Congratulations to TJ Kim of McLean – winner of the 2021 Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award for Outstanding Youth Volunteer! Becoming a Navy pilot has been one of TJ Kim’s greatest childhood dreams. To make his dream a reality, he began taking flying lessons as a teen. When TJ’s school and lacrosse season were shut down due to COVID-19, his flight training became one of the only activities he could still enjoy. The high school senior decided to combine his passion for flight with helping others as a way to help serve his community during this challenging time, he decided to combine his passion for flight with helping others. He created Operation SOS (Supplies Over the Skies) as a way to transport PPE to critical access, rural and community hospitals.
Operation SOS began by flying to Page Memorial Hospital in Luray (one of seven critical access hospitals in Virginia). From that mission, TJ received overwhelming gratitude from the hospital during a time when everyone wanted to focus donations on the big city hospitals. This interaction really inspired TJ and helped him recognize how much of an impact he could have by conducting these medical supply missions. Operation SOS now distributes supplies to critical access and other rural and community hospitals throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.
TJ coordinates every element of mission planning from sourcing PPE to flying the aircraft under dual instruction. For each mission, he sources local vendors, performs hospital outreach to gauge needs, and conducts strategic flight planning. To date, he has completed 22 missions and has sourced and delivered nearly 85,000 PPEs and ventilator supplies to 21 locations. As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, TJ plans to continue in his missions as long as he can source the supplies and fly them to the hospitals in need.
One message that he has continually reinforced in public is telling young people that “you are never too young to be thinking about helping others in times of need. All you need to do to make a difference is to think of others first and the impact you will have will follow.”
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