Following Through on Big Dreams


Doc Hendley is the unexpected founder and leader of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Wine to Water. Their mission is to provide clean water to needy people who don’t have access to it. I had the pleasure of hearing Doc speak about his passion last week.

A college dropout, Doc is young, tattooed and hip-looking with an air of humility, kindness, and resolve about him. He started Wine to Water while working as a bartender and musician in 2004. He became passionate about the subject of clean water for the needy when he learned that more children die from water-related illnesses than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.

Lacking what we might consider the usual education and background required to fulfill a big dream, when he discovered the impact of disease-laden water on the most vulnerable children, Doc headed to Darfur to see its effects first-hand on the refugees who were in camps and didn’t have immediate access to clean water.

Doc chose one of the most dangerous places on earth to begin the work on his big dream. The Darfur camps were declared off limits by the United Nations because the “rebels” had decided to protect their women and children from the rape, death, and destruction of the Janjaweed, armed nomadic gunman who were devastating the settled communities over scarce water supplies. Fierce fighting took place as the rebels protected their families.

This successful beginning of an unlikely leader’s dream allowed Wine to Water to continue to make progress in providing clean water through digging wells and providing biosand filters to such countries as Ethiopia, Uganda, India, Cambodia, Peru, Haiti, South Africa and Sri Lanka. In 2009, Doc was named a Top 10 CNN hero for the work he’s leading.

What’s Your Dream?

You have a dream of making an impact in your organization or the larger world. What lessons can you learn from Doc?

He took action: How many times does a big dream seem overwhelming? How often do you say to yourself, “I just couldn’t do (whatever) because…”. Doc may have had the same thoughts at times, but despite being an unlikely leader, he was determined to learn about the water issues first hand in one of the most dangerous places in the world. He took that first step, and is now making an impact in the poorest countries across the globe.

He built relationships: Doc noticed that the NGO’s supplying food to the camps were dropping the food off from their trucks and leaving due to the dangers in the areas. Without normal human contact, the refugees distrusted these people who were meant to help them. Doc knew that he had to do develop relationships with the refugees as well as the rebels who protected the camp to make headway on his dream.

He let others know of his passion: Doc is the perfect spokesperson for clean water. He’s visibly passionate about the work. He knows his organization is making a difference, even though he recognizes the huge obstacles to overcome. He’s not afraid to let his emotions show as he speaks about the great need for clean water in the world.

He kept going: It would have been all too easy for Doc to give up after that first trip to Darfur. The danger was so great, and the needs of the refugees could be discouraging. Yet they only served to solidify his mission and spur him on to provide clean water in several other areas of the world. He has kept going, despite obstacles and setbacks.

What big dream do you need to follow through on? What’s the first step you can take?


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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