Founder and President, Wine to Water
Doc Hendley dreamed up the concept of Wine To Water while bartending and playing music in nightclubs around Raleigh, NC.
In February 2004, Doc held his first fundraiser. And by August, he was living halfway around the globe in Sudan, Africa installing water systems for victims of the government-supported genocide.
Foundation: Tell me a little bit about your background (where you grew up, education, early career) and how bartending launched a movement.
Doc: I grew up in the Carolinas and was a bit restless when I was younger. I never quite felt like I fit in at school or the Church where my dad was a pastor. I left home at 18 and spent the next 4 years between Montana and New Zealand before returning home to NC. I got my first restaurant job as a server not long after returning New Zealand, and I fell in love with the job. Within a couple years I had moved from serving to bartending and for the first time in my life I felt like I was at a place where I truly belonged.
In the bar community I didn’t have to try and be anybody else. I was free to be my whole self. Both Good and bad, I was accepted for the first time in my life by a community just the way I was. This was the catalyst that helped to kick-off the dream that has become Wine To Water
Foundation: The world has so many needs. Why is providing clean water for the world particularly important to you?
Doc: Truthfully, before that night in 2003 I had never thought about the global water crisis. I didn’t even know one existed. It’s important to me now because I’ve not only seen how devastating it is for communities to not have access to safe water, but more importantly I’ve seen what happens in a community once they receive safe water for the first time. Infant and child mortality plummets. Economic status in the community skyrockets because the time spent gathering water or money spent taking care of sick children is no longer an issue. Absences from school and work all but disappear. All these things together allow for an immediate transformation in each village or community where we’ve worked
Foundation: How did you go about founding Wine to Water?
Doc: It’s strange, but I’ve never really viewed myself as having “founded” Wine To Water. In fact, I kind of view it the opposite. I believe Wine To Water found me. In December of 2003, after working in the restaurant industry for a number of years I found myself in kind of a bad place. I am the kind of person that makes a lot of mistakes in general. But sometimes, for reasons unknown to me, I can’t just choose to make one or two mistakes and then move on, I have to make like fifty… all at once. I was right in the middle of one of these times in my life when I was failing over and over and just couldn’t see the light of day when I took 2 weeks off the bar and spent Christmas at home with my parents.
Late one night lying in bed at my parents house I woke up with the phrase “Wine To Water” in my head. I couldn’t get it out and I couldn’t understand why that backwards phrase was in my head. I knew all about the “water to wine” story from the Churches that I went to growing up, but I couldn’t figure out why it was stuck in my head and more importantly, why it was backwards.
I couldn’t sleep at this point so I went to my parents computer, which I was just learning how to use, and began to search for information about water. I thought that maybe I was supposed to know something about water. That night completely altered the course of my life. It was the first time I had ever heard there was a water crisis and more importantly the first time that I found out the water borne illnesses kill far more children in the world than anything else.
Six weeks later, in February of 2004 I held the first Wine To Water fundraiser which ended up just being a simple wine tasting event at the bar. Six months after I started hosting fundraisers I moved to Sudan.
Foundation: What is its mission?
Doc: To support life and dignity for all through the power of clean water.
Foundation: Obviously, seeing two of your team members killed in Darfur was traumatic. How did you find the courage to keep going?
Doc: The first friend and team member that we lost was captured and executed not long before I moved back home to the U.S. to try and start transforming Wine To Water in to a global charity. That definitely made it much more difficult to keep motivated. I also made a lot of mistakes that first year in Sudan. I had never had any formal water or engineering experience. So on top of losing a team member I’m the kind of person that sometimes focuses too much on my mistakes rather than be encouraged by the successes. Not long after arriving home in N.C. I learned of my another team member, and dearest of friends, being killed. So it was kind of a perfect storm of bad things all at once and I got to a place where I wasn’t sure if I could continue.
I guess just like with the organization as a whole, I don’t feel like I found courage to get past that really difficult time. In an inexplicable way I believe it found me. In fact there is nothing with this organization that I feel like I can take credit for. Everything from day one has been like a gift to me, a gift that I don’t feel like I deserve but am infinitely grateful for.
Foundation: What are the ripples that appearances on CNN and TEDx events have generated?
Doc: At Wine To Water we have always been very proud of not just the work that we do, but the way we go about our work, using local people and local materials whenever possible. The media exposure that we have received allowed us a platform to share our story with millions more people than I could have ever figured out how to reach out to just on my own.
Foundation: What is your organization’s reach now?
Doc: Wine To Water has worked in over 35 countries to date and we now have permanent locations outside of our NC headquarters in Nepal, Tanzania, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.
At the beginning of this year our total beneficiary number was between 800,000 and 900,000. We hope to have reached our millionth person by the end of this year and we hope to begin growing that number exponentially with each year that follows.
Foundation: Which of Wine to Water’s accomplishments are you proudest of? Why?
Doc: By far I am most proud of the team that this organization has. Our work is only as strong as our team.
Foundation: How does Grand Circle Foundation benefit Wine to Water?
Doc: Grand Circle Foundation is one of Wine To Water’s most strategic partners. The Foundation has greatly supported and improved our programs in Colombia and the Amazon Jungle region as well as continues to regularly support or water filter program based in Tanzania.
Foundation: Tell us a story about one instance where Wine to Water has had an impact.
Doc: There is a village in Nepal named Dahakani that had never had any form of running water. The people were forced to walk hours each day to access all their water needs for drinking, cooking, washing etc. We installed a spring catchment and 5 kilometers of piping to give the community a fully functioning water system with taps of running water all throughout the village. The entire community was transformed in less than a year. The village began to grow once outside people heard of the water improvements. They were also able to begin new agricultural programs because of this new water access. On top of the increased income, food, and decrease in disease in the community, Dahakani was just awarded a $50,000 grant from the Nepali government to grow their local agricultural program now that they have access to running water.
Foundation: What is your vision for the future?
Doc: For the future I hope we are able to impact literally tens of millions of lives around the world, but my hope not only lies with impacting lives across the ocean. There are so many people here in the US whose lives have been completely changed through partnering with us or volunteering with us in the field. My dream would be that for every life that we positively impact in another country, we are able to have an equally positive influence or impact on one here in the US.
Foundation: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Doc: I’m a bit of an adventure junky. I love surfing, snowboarding, and riding my Harley. But above those things my life now is smitten with this little family I’ve been gifted. I have an angel of a wife who has been the source of much of my motivation and encouragement as well as 3 equally wild and motivated children ages 4, 9, and 11.
Foundation: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Doc: I’m not a big fan of sweets. My wife thinks I’m the stinkiest person on the planet (I think my smell is combination of gasoline and wet dog). I like beer more than wine. And I still bartend at a social enterprise Pub we started up called Ransom which exists to help support Wine To Water.
Tell us a little about yourself. Which do you prefer?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Reading a book or seeing the movie?
Reading a book
Going for a hike or sitting by a fire?
Sitting by a Fire
Talking or listening?
Listening *I prefer this one but I’m not always the best at it 🙂
Dogs or cats?
Being interviewed or having a tooth pulled?
I love getting teeth pulled 😉
Foundation: Anything you’d like to add that we haven’t touched on?
Doc: No matter how old you are or aren’t. No matter what you believe or don’t. No matter what you have or don’t have. You are a gift. And I believe that the greatest gifts are used to help those who can’t help themselves. So whoever you are reading this, we welcome you on our journey to love and serve as many people as possible. Cheers!