At the CAF Red Tail Squadron, we call our volunteers ambassadors. Why this distinction? Because those that join our team do so out of a deep reverence and respect for the Tuskegee Airmen. Their commitment to our mission is evident. They do more than lend a hand; they are a friendly face to the thousands of people that are touched by the important message of the Tuskegee Airmen. We’re proud to have these ambassadors help spread the word!

Gwen McNealOne of our ambassadors, Gwen McNeal recently stepped up to become the Squadron’s liaison to original Tuskegee Airmen. Her service to others goes far beyond her work with the CAF Red Tail Squadron. McNeal has been serving others through her many years in the field of vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities.

McNeal is the manager of services for the blind for a large region of Michigan. At all levels of ability or degrees of blindness, clients in her care are instilled with the confidence that there are, in fact, very few things that a blind person cannot do. At times coming from a place of despair, people leave McNeal and her staff with a renewed sense of purpose, along with the skills and tools to maximize independence.

“Our work encompasses a wide array of services that we offer people with blindness, from proper glasses for babies to job placement for adults. It is very rewarding work,” said McNeal. “It’s remarkable to begin a journey with a client who feels they have no hope, and watch them evolve and realize what they truly are capable of. Each time it’s amazing to see what this dedicated staff can do.”

With a bachelor’s degree in deaf and blind education, a master’s degree in learning disabilities, and advanced training in rehabilitation leadership and vocational rehabilitation administration, McNeal has made it her life’s work to help others achieve their greatest potential. She has shared this passion for education and witnessed others reap the rewards.

“I counseled a man that became blind later in life,” recalls McNeal. “I encouraged him to go back to college. Although he thought it was unattainable, he ended up getting his degree and coming back to work at the same agency I worked for. I have seen students I’ve worked with grow up, marry, have families and careers. Watching them succeed has been so inspirational for me.”

Although she always knew she wanted to help people, McNeal says she was guided towards a career in the media and started out pursuing a degree in broadcast journalism. But when a professor made a racist and disparaging remark, it was enough for her look at other majors.

“I took an internship in the deaf and blind education department, and it really changed my life,” she says. “My sister had problems with vision since birth, and it was here I saw an avenue to help people like her. I had finally found my passion, which is still with me today. People with disabilities can defy expectations and I encourage anyone who feels like they need help – or knows someone who does – to contact their local state agency for the blind. You may surprise yourself with what you can learn and accomplish!”

After meeting and volunteering with several original Tuskegee Airmen, McNeal felt a personal determination to ensure that the important experiences and lessons of these role models were not lost to future generations. She grew up with a keen interest in aviation, which led her to learn about the Airmen, but it was meeting these unsung heroes that kindled her passion to want to tell their stories.

“In my role as Tuskegee Airmen liaison for the CAF Red Tail Squadron, I want to help honor the Airmen that are still with us and help them share their life lessons,” she says. “Whatever roles they played – pilots, cooks, nurses, mechanics – the Airmen exemplify for young people that preparing yourself is the first step if you want any chance of succeeding. We need to show kids how to define their own heroes, and teaching them about the Tuskegee Airmen can help do that.”

To learn more about the CAF Red Tail Squadron ambassador program, visit http://www.redtail.org/support-the-mission/volunteer/.

 

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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