Nestled in the furthest northern reaches of Bibb County, between the Academy of Classical Education and the Monroe County line is the headquarters of Pilot International. The multi-national service organization was founded in Macon in 1921 by Elizabeth Leonard and 40 local businesswomen.
The organization was a female answer to Rotary International and Lion’s Club, which were then only open to male members. Pilot International was an outgrowth of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement which achieved the nationwide right to vote for women in 1920, as equality for women expanded during the early part of the 20th century. Currently, Pilot International is mixed gender and accepts both females and males as “pilots” and “anchors.”
“Pilot” is derived not from a reference to aviation, but to the pilots of riverboats, who represented not only leadership but guidance to the cargo ships of the day, as well as “anchors,” which is the term for junior members who participate through middle and high school extra-curricular activities.
“An anchor is our youth division, and they are either a middle schooler or high schooler. It works like an extracurricular activity and gives them a chance for civic involvement, and it helps with their college resumes,” says Nancy White, the current PI Executive Director.
From its inception, Pilot International grew steadily through “service and friendship,” over the course of the next couple decades. Some milestones included the opening of a club in Juarez, Mexico, in 1932, the 22nd club opened by the organization, which made it officially international. With the coming of World War II, Pilot International purchased an ambulance for the Red Cross in England to assist in the war effort. After the war, Pilot International volunteers rebuilt the French town of Vimoutiers, which was destroyed by Allied bombing.
In the following years, the growth of the organization continued, and by 1985, membership reached a peak of nearly 21,000 pilots. Today, the organization has approximately 7,500 pilots and another 7,500 anchors in over 375 clubs around the world. Although smaller than some of the better-known service organizations, Pilot International has a similar mission.
“We are comparable to Rotary International but on a smaller scale,” says White.
The Macon headquarters is not a club itself but coordinates support of the global organization by handling communications, chartering local clubs, setting up the conventions, and managing the membership database. They also award grants and scholarships to local clubs and anchors.
One of the most significant issues for Pilot International clubs is the Brainminders. Pilot International designed Brainminders in 2001 to encourage safety and to prevent brain injuries in children. Today, nearly all Pilot and Anchor clubs present the program within the communities they serve to people of all ages. Local clubs make use of web-based resources, as well as printed materials, puppets, and programs for seniors.
“In a nutshell, pilots come together in friendship and service. It’s timeless, and it’s in our DNA.” said White.
Anyone wishing to get involved in Pilot International can visit their website at https://www.pilotinternational.org/ and fill out an interest form or search for a local club. A group as few as five people can charter a club, and the club has the flexibility to be tailored to the needs of the community and the people involved.