When Wings of Hope workers venture to a Third World country where villagers want a school built, they will not be the only ones doing the work. “We empower and facilitate the villagers to do the work and we manage the process,” says president Douglas Clements. “We make sure they have the resources and techniques to build the school, but then they provide the sweat labor so it becomes their school, not the ‘white man’s school.’ It has to be theirs for them to take ownership.”
This is the one of the key philosophies behind the almost 50-year-old Chesterfield-based organization. Its humanitarian efforts around the world focus on health care, education, sustainable food programs and community development, but the goal is for the recipients to one day no longer need those services. “It’s all well and good to give away food, water and health care, but it doesn’t necessarily raise that element of mankind to where the charity can go home and not go back,” Clements explains. “If you don’t teach people how to raise food, to manage clinics and run a school system, they’re always going to be dependent on charity.”
Wings of Hope works in 45 countries, with 154 bases of operation. There are no religious, political or racial agendas behind the help they provide, and no hoops to jump through to access that aid, Clements notes. “We want to extend the hand of human kindness because someone asked. Once a need is identified, we now have an obligation to help our fellow man.”
That help has to be requested, and the work is done by sitting down, “knee-to-knee, and discussing what needs to be done,” Clements says. “We never tell anyone what to do. We ask questions and listen. We want to help them fulfill their dreams, not our dreams.”
Many of those fulfilled dreams take place in the St. Louis area, where every year, Wings of Hope helps more than 600 children with birth defects and adults with rare illnesses. Through their Midwest Medical Relief and Transport (MAT) program, the charity transports the underserved poor via ‘air ambulances’ at no cost to various health facilities in a 22-state area.
The work that Wings of Hope does is funded through individual donations, corporate gifts and special events like its annual invitation-only dinner auction. Because 90 percent of its funds go to program services, the organization depends heavily on volunteers. There are more than 600 local volunteers and 3,000 around the world, but Clements still finds it a challenge to get the right people on board. “When you’re a volunteer at Wings of Hope, you’re the Marines of volunteers,” he says. “Volunteers might say about a project, That’s good enough, but it’s never good enough until it’s exactly the way it needs to be for those we serve. They deserve our absolute best.”
Wings of Hope is nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this year, and even if it doesn’t win, Clements hopes the designation will garner a little more recognition for the charity in its hometown. “People around the world often know us much better than right here in St. Louis. The world has a lot of needs, and better understanding of what we do could help us achieve more of our goals.” LN