HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WDVM) — TJ Kim is not your average high school student. The 16-year-old is a junior at the Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland but has been spending most of his time in the sky. Now, he has turned his hobby into a humanitarian mission, delivering personal protection equipment to rural hospitals all over the DMV area.
TJ Kim started his pilot’s license training nearly two years ago and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kim’s first thought was to help others in need.
“I wanted to find a way to keep flying so I came up with operation s-o-s to continue flying and also help hospitals in need,” he said.
Kim launched operation S.O.S., or Supplies Over Skies, to deliver personal protection equipment to rural hospitals. The 16-year-old is making good use of his mandatory training hours.
On September 19th, Kim flew from Leesburg, Va. to Hagerstown Regional Airport where he donated about four thousand pieces of much-needed medical supplies to Meritus Medical Center. Kim wanted to expand his flights to include Maryland after meeting with Maryland First Lady Yumi Hogan at a Korean War Veterans memorial event.
President and CEO of Meritus Health, Maulik Joshi, stated that he and his staff are so grateful for the donation, calling Kim an incredibly, wonderful human being. Joshi went on to explain that almost every organisation in the United States has been affected by a PPE shortage.
“I think it means a lot and it shows that COVID is not just your own county or your own region but it really is a country-wide problem and having someone who thinks about all of us, it’s so thankful. We are so thankful, Joshi said. “This is not just nice to have, this is absolutely necessary to have. We’re grateful because we will use this immediately.”
David Powell has taught Kim since his first Discovery Flight in 2018 and cannot be more proud of his student.
“When he first came to me with the idea, it just kind of blows you away, you know? And just to see this blossom and continue to extend into Maryland is just an awesome thing,” said Powell. “He’s doing really really great.”
Kim dreams of attending the United States Naval Academy to become a Navy pilot when he finishes high school. “I started flying because ever since I was really little, my dream was to go to the Naval Academy and become a Navy pilot and when I had the opportunity to start flying even though this is nowhere near a Navy jet, I love, I fell in love with the opportunity, and I took it.”
Kim also believes that community service is essential especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe that you should help out in the community any way that you can,” he advised. “You don’t have to have a pilot’s license but just finding ways to continue to help in the community cause everybody is having a hard time right now.”
Kim and his instructor, David Powell, plan on making more PPE donation flights in the near future and will continue to train until Kim’s Pilot’s License test in March.