CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Charleston resident is the new president of an organization that supports humanitarian efforts in the Bahamas and the Caribbean through aviation.
Mike Plante was chosen recently as the new president of Bahamas Habitat. The organization’s founder and president Steve Merritt died last month from injuries suffered in a North Carolina plane crash.
Plante and Merritt were longtime friends and flew to the Bahamas together for the first time in 2005. The pair, both pilots, became interested in the people of the country and helping meet their needs. Merritt formed Bahamas Habitat in 2007.
Plante views his appointment as a way to continue Merritt’s vision.
“Because I knew him so well and flown with him so often and have been a volunteer with the organization for such a long time, the board felt I had the institutional memory of what the group has been involved with as well as being exposed to the vision,” Plante said.
Bahamas Habitat is an all-volunteer organization with members, many of them pilots, from up and down the U.S. Plante said his job will include fundraising, program planning and the normal triage of setting up the operation.
“We respond to natural disasters. We respond to the seasonal hurricanes that happen every year. We try when there are special needs to be part of that,” Plante said. “I’ll be partnering with existing groups there to meet their needs and organizing with pilots here to schedule the trip and get them (what they need).”
Bahamas Habitat grew from a small non-profit organization to what it is today because of Merritt’s leadership, Plante said.
“He was one of those individuals who had mastered the art of the possible,” Plante said. “He would see a problem, see a challenge, and find a way to meet that.”
“We look forward to working with Mike, who knew Steve so well and who flew with him so often, to continue finding the ways and the means and the courage to say “why not” in seeking solutions to the many challenges that lay ahead,” Bahamas Habitat Board Secretary Katharine Zimmerman, who is the longest serving board member.
Some of the organization’s large growth came following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti in which more than 400 missions were flown in connection with recovery efforts.
Last month, Merritt was helping a group of young pilots near Lewisburg, North Carolina, when the plane he was piloting malfunctioned and crashed. He died Dec. 17. Plante was able to spend some time with Merritt before he died.
“I look at this (becoming president) as a way to continue his memory and his legacy and employ the things that he taught me both aviation-wise and personal-wise,” Plante said.
More information about Bahamas Habitat can be found at www.bahamashabitat.org