Wine To Water Founder Doc Hendley Speaks at ISSA Show
The third day of ISSA Show North America 2023 opened with a presentation by Doc Hendley, founder and president of Wine To Water, a nonprofit organization that provides clean drinking water to people worldwide.
Since Hendley started the nonprofit in 2004, it has served hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. “We just reached 53 countries and two million people,” he said during his talk.
Despite his current success, Hendley, of Boone, North Carolina, said he spent the early part of his life struggling to find his purpose. At first, he wanted to make his mark through athletics as he looked up to his grandfather, who had played professional football with the Pittsburg Steelers. However, Hendley quickly discovered he had no talent for football. He switched his focus to basketball, but his limited skills were soon surpassed by his younger brother, who grew to be six feet, nine inches tall. And his skills in golf were not much better.
Next, Hendley considered focusing on scholastics. But he was a poor student, especially compared to his sister, who earned straight As throughout school, with the exception of one B. “I remember she literally wept when she got that B,” Hendley said. “I would have cried too, but tears of happiness, because I never earned anything higher than a B. Most of my grades were Cs and Ds.”
After an unsuccessful semester in community college, Hendley went to work with an uncle on a horse ranch in Montana. He envisioned a life the resembled a John Wayne movie. “In reality, I spent 90% of my time shoveling manure, and I couldn’t even afford a place to live, so I slept in the barn,” Hendley said.
After his mother convinced him to move back to North Carolina, Hendley landed in the restaurant industry, where he did well. He was promoted to bartender and supported himself while continuing his schooling.
Although Hendley enjoyed spending time with the restaurant/bar patrons, he was in a rough patch of his life and one night, found himself drunk on the floor of a seedy bar’s restroom. At that low point, with only one semester left of college, he decided to buckle down. He had recently learned that a substantial number of people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water, a fact that greatly surprised him. So Hendley decided to put together a fundraiser using contacts he knew through the restaurant for food and drink.
His first fundraiser was a success, raising US$5,000, so he organized several more. He decided to donate the money to an organization working to provide water to people in third-world nations. But instead of just accepting his money, the founder of the organization invited Hendley to join him. Hendley received training in repairing wells and filtering water and eventually found himself in Sudan, installing water systems for victims of government-sanctioned genocide.
The work was difficult and sometimes dangerous, such as the time he was ambushed by a tribe that was enemies of the people he was trying to help. Hendley literally dodged bullets, but he continued the work, created his own nonprofit, and went on to receive several honors, including being named one of CNN’s top heroes for 2009.