“You don’t have to be Bill Gates to make a difference.”

These were the words Doc Hendley spoke last night at a fundraiser for his organization, Wine to Water. To me, this statement was the most powerful of the night. Doc Hendley is certainly not Bill Gates. He’s a lanky, tattooed former bar tender who happened to hear about the need for clean water in the developing world.  “Water kills more children than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined,” he told us last night at Providence Cafe here in Charlotte. That fact had such a powerful impact on Doc that he decided to establish Wine to Water and get clean water to as many people he possibly could. Lots of us hear about problems in the world. Maybe we’re affected for a couple of days by a tragedy or poverty in some other part of the world and then we forget about it and go on with our lives. What makes Doc different is that he decided to act.

In 2004 Doc held his first fundraiser in Raleigh. He wanted to see if the idea of bringing clean water to impoverished countries was a concept people would respond to. That fundraiser would end up changing the course of Doc’s life. It was a success and led to more and more fundraisers — wine tastings, dinners — any way to get the word out…and Wine to Water was born. As of today, Wine to Water is in Sudan, India, Cambodia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Peru and most recently Haiti.

Doc had just returned from Haiti and the trip was so emotionally exhausting that he almost wasn’t able to come to the fundraiser last night. He said of all the places he’s been — and he’s been to some really, really bad ones — Haiti is the worst. He said what few water pipes there were in Port-Au-Prince burst during the earthquake and water is running through the streets where people are living. The water has of course become filthy and contaminated. But Doc said people are so desperate they are scooping it up and drinking it anyway. Wine to Water is providing Haitian families with water filters that can turn that dirty street water into clean, drinkable water. You can watch Doc at work in Haiti on CNN.

In some places Doc builds wells, some places he provides filters, some places water sanitation centers, but wherever Wine to Water works there is a singular purpose: empower the people. “When we go in to build a well, we get the local people to build it with us. That way they learn how to operate it and how to fix it if something goes wrong,” he told us last night. In Uganda Wine to Water is building two training and resource centers where locals will learn how to access clean water.

To date, wine to water has brought clean water to more than 25,000 people. And it all started from a guy serving drinks in a bar who heard about a problem and decided to change it. You don’t have to be Bill Gates to make a difference in the world. You just have to have a good heart, drive and perseverance — qualities Doc Hendley has in abundance. Doc is showing us all what one person with a passion can do.

Read more about Doc Hendley on CNN Heroes.

Sara Ellington is author of The Must-Have Mom Manual (Ballantine/Random House, 2009) and The Mommy Chronicles (Hay House, 2005) both with Stephanie Triplett.



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