Amar Patel, President & CEO Brevard Achievement Center

On the Space Coast, we all feel an affinity of some sort to the Space Program. Some of us, like me, moved here because we were in absolute awe of the amazing things happening and dreamed of being part of it. Others grew up here watching the rockets launch mankind into the unknown. Regardless, almost all of us look to the sky with excitement every time a rocket rumbles into orbit.

Terrence and Mike, participants of the Brevard Achievement Center’s Adult Day Training program have dream’s no different than mine.  Our mission at BAC is to provide persons with disabilities innovative services and opportunities to achieve personal success. The Dream, Wish, and Wonder program fulfills this mission by granting wishes to those in our community who may not otherwise experience things many take for granted. Terrence and Mike experienced a dream-come-true with a VIP tour of Kennedy Space Center, thanks to our friends at the KSC Visitor Complex.  I was lucky enough to experience this with them, watching the day unfold with almost giddy eyes.

Also along for the adventure was our Dream, Wish and Wonder Project Coordinator, Maggie Schmitt. While the intent was for Maggie and me to make the day perfect for Terrence and Mike, it was a true VIP experience for all of us. Maggie even got to hug an astronaut at one point!

We started off by meeting a Space Man in a suit, then walking out to go behind the main gates, so we truly felt like VIP’s going right into the “rocket stuff.” It was simply amazing.

We were provided a personal tour guide for the day who went above and beyond for Terrence and Mike, incorporating his own enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of the space program’s history. He even presented them with a special side activity; they were able to “launch” their own “Stomp Rocket” outside on the grass!

Included in our VIP tour was a one-on-one visit with astronaut Col. William [Bill] McArthur. We had the opportunity to go into his office, just a personal one-on-one with him. Mike, who is nearly non-verbal, found a way to say, “I want your autograph. I want an autograph.” You could tell Col. McArthur was thinking ‘absolutely, we’ll do that now’ even though it was supposed to happen later in the day.  I knew at that moment that this was no normal tour for him. Bill is a national hero, far from ordinary, but he was very ordinary in the sense that he wanted to make it a special day for Mike and Terrance. I really appreciated that.

We then had lunch with 50 or so people and were able to hear Col. McArthur talk about his NASA career and space missions. He even greeted Mike and Terrence by name in front of the crowd, making them just light up with pride.

During the lunch with an astronaut presentation, I learned a lot. He focused on the importance of a mission, having a vision, and having the culture to back that vision and mission. We understand this, running a non-profit, but what was truly interesting was he highlighted that culture happens when you have traditions, and those traditions say a lot about what your culture is. He went through his whole experience as an astronaut creating traditions. It really allowed me to reflect on some of our traditions at Brevard Achievement Center, which was really, really cool. Even the Dream program is becoming a tradition of ours that’s driving the culture of the organization, helping us meet our mission.

After lunch, we toured the launch facilities at KSC, including a climb to the top of one of the launch observations towers and we got up close and personal with the vehicle crawler, which was a very special experience. No busloads of people here, this was a private tour. It was truly a once in a lifetime situation where they rolled the crawler out and had it right in front of launchpad 39B to test the transportation. NASA engineers were huddling around and taking pictures near it, and we got to be there and experience that. It truly is something that you had to be there in that very rare window of time, and it’s never going to happen again until they’re launching rockets from this thing. It’s something that I will never forget, and I know that Mike and Terrence felt the emotion of how rare this experience was as well.

Mike and Terrance had a full day of exciting experiences at the Space Center including the Shuttle Launch Experience ride and visiting the Atlantis exhibit. We could really see how much they enjoyed the whole day, the excitement and raw emotions they displayed looking at the Challenger and other displays was spectacular. They brought that excitement back to BAC, showing the rest of our ADT participants what the “Stomp Rocket” was and having a day where everyone got to “launch” rockets right here at BAC.

My sincere thanks to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex COO Therrin Protze and his whole team, including Trina Johnson, Jenora Duprey, Bill Schafer, George Sioutis, and the many others for making this amazing experience happen.

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