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Business Casual Look Soars at Angel Flight

A small child from a rural area needs an organ transplant, but theres no money to pay for transportation to another state where the surgery can be performed. A grandmother with breast cancer needs to consult with a specialist, but cannot afford the travel expenses. A Hurricane Katrina victim yearns to be reunited with her daughter.

Enter Angel Flight Inc., a volunteer organization of pilots and support personnel who help people get the transportation help they desperately need. Through the combined efforts of its seven regional organizations and with the help of more than 6,000 volunteer general aviation pilots, Angel Flight America transports qualifying Americans to and from every region in the United States for free. This generous organization handles more than 20,000 mission requests annually, and in 2004, it arranged flights for more than 25,000 passengers on nearly 17,000 missions.

For the men and women of Angel Flight America, including Angel Flight Central in Kansas City, Mo., appearance counts. After all, the pilots conduct themselves professionally despite their volunteer status.

Our passengers might be nervous before a flight, but when they see a pilot coming up to them with a cap or shirt on identifying Angel Flight, it helps puts them at ease, says Dick Gooch, a pilot with Angel Flight Central since 1997. He finds the clothing casual but very professional and so important during those long hours of flying comfortable.

Though Angel Flight does not require specific uniforms, clothing offered to its volunteers for purchase is high-quality business-casual apparel emblazoned with the organizations logo. In addition, The Shirt Off Our Back program at Angel Flight Central recognizes pilots with a gift of a blue cotton pique polo shirt following each pilots initial Angel Flight mission. Non-pilot volunteers receive a similar shirt after 10 hours of service. As part of a reward program for its volunteers, the polos, unlike other Angel Flight garments, are not for sale to the general public.

The clothing gets our name and logo out there and walking around, says Christel Gollnick, CEO and executive director of Angel Flight Central. It makes for great awareness and recognition.

Shelley Wales, support services director at Angel Flight Central, agrees. Its a great conversation starter to be wearing my Angel Flight shirt when Im out in public and people recognize the logo and ask me about Angel Flights services, she says. It gives me an open door to share our mission and educate them on what charitable aviation can do for a community and for people in need.

Gooch also finds the clothing helpful in spotting other Angel Flight volunteers. He recalls visiting an air show in New York, where he introduced himself to another pilot wearing an Angel Flight shirt. That pilot was from Angel Flight Northeast and was someone he may not have gotten to meet without the identifying shirt to help bridge the connection.

The new logo, in navy, red and white, shows a plane taking off, its trailing plume curving gracefully into the Angel Flight name. Prices for decorated garments range from $140 for an outerwear jacket to $18 for a cap.

We could get less expensive items, adds Gollnick, referring to the high-end shirts and jacket, but quality is important to our people thats why we work with Susan.

Im a people decorator, declares Susan Kopperman, president of Careerlook Inc., just like an interior decorator goes in and decorates a home. Reflecting on the importance of image in representing a company, she muses, Its very psychological. A persons appearance sends a subliminal message.

Thats where Koppermans expertise enters the picture. Since 1971, when she started working for Career Apparel Inc. in Chicago, Kopperman has been working in the field of career clothing. One of her first clients was Ozark Airlines, where she offered new mix-and-match wardrobes that proved a welcome change from the standard navy uniforms worn until then. In 1974, she moved to Unitog, the Kansas City, Mo., uniform company. In her new position, Kopperman called on white-collar companies, such as banks or savings and loan institutions, to sell custom-made office apparel, such as embroidered shirts and blazers. The division was called Careerlook.

When the Careerlook division of Unitog was closed, Kopperman began running an apparel business on her own, incorporating in 1998.

I got a business plan, she recalls in a profile on her website, careerlook.com. I got my trademark. I started making contacts with CEOs of companies that did purchasing, going to vendors, getting the concept of my company all together. Through Careerlook, Kopperman has provided everything from T-shirts for workers at a car wash to business suits for executives. This spring, her company received the Career Apparel Institutes Image of the Year award for its work with Sprint PCS. To get this award this year was like a validation, Kopperman explains.

This high-energy entrepreneur is thrilled to count Angel Flight among her many accounts. I love it that this organization is about helping other people, she says.

Contacted by Angel Flight through her website, Kopperman quickly moved to find just the right business-casual look for the organization. Using her experience, supplier contacts and fashion sense, she honed in on a number of attractive, high-quality, comfortable clothing items she felt Angel Flight pilots and volunteers would wear with pride.

The process of managing an organizations line of professional apparel is dynamic in that there is a constant evolution of materials, clothing designs and inventory requirements.

Its a living thing, forever changing, says Kopperman. Careerlooks leadership team manages every step of the career apparel program, from clothing design and garment function to managing reorders and offering new clothing recommendations. If a performance fabric enters the market, she explains, Ill send my clients new catalogs and swatches featuring the items.

For now, the dashing navy, red and white Angel Flight logo adorns Outerbanks polos, Dunbrooke jackets and Bill Blass shirts, among other items.

Good design of garments communicates success, Kopperman says. Angel Flight volunteers are very aware of their image and want to look professional. They want their clothing to reflect who they are.

Yvette James, a volunteer office assistant for Angel Flight Central, wears her navy short-sleeve knit polo when she conducts Angel Flight business. Not long ago she passed out Angel Flight brochures during a trip to Wisconsin.

James was awarded her shirt after 10 hours of volunteer time at Angel Flight. Now she donates that many hours a week to Angel Flight during the school year, when her seventh grade daughter is in class.

Angel Flight is just a great way to fly and to give back to the community, says Gooch, who discovered the organization when he attended an air show and visited an information booth. He suddenly found his retirement years brimming with activity as he began flying Angel Flight clients from state to state.

Ill never forget my first job, he recalls. This little eight-year-old girl had a brain tumor, and I flew her and her father from Missouri to Texas and back. His first love is flying, but Gooch also does computer work in the Angel Flight office and helps coordinate flights and he volunteers at the Airline History Museum as well.

The hard-working men and women of Angel Flight enjoy ongoing positive public perception the critical three Ps thanks mainly to their good deeds, but also to their professional appearance, and thats thanks to Careerlook.

Kopperman sees her job as win-win. Everyone looks good in these garments, and I love helping people look their best. She says she looks forward to working with Angel Flight for years to come.

As Careerlook continues to thrive, Kopperman anticipates a fulfilling future spent helping organizations to promote their valued image through their employees career clothing. She has successfully melded her professional goals and personal life, a source of immense satisfaction.

Ive always believed in following ones moral convictions and vision in starting a company, says Kopperman. Im very pro-female. I believe in being able to work and have a family. That balances your life.

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Fall & Winter 2006 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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