St. Charles Community College alumna Laura Helling has a career she loves working as director of development at Wings of Hope and is able to use her education and skills to support humanitarian efforts throughout the world.
“Wings of Hope does international programming to lift people out of poverty,” Laura explained. “Aviation is at the core of our mission, but the impact is bigger.”
During a recent trip to Ecuador, Wings of Hope took baby chicks to the people in the Achuar Tribal Village in Juyinsta. The chickens not only provide food, they help replace the time villagers spend hunting and gathering with time to learn to read and write, or to create jewelry and baskets to be sold.
With chicks being the first step, the program cultivates small industry and, at the same time, reduces the impact on the rainforest.
“The whole goal is to help people to be self-sufficient,” Laura said. She explained how the plane ride there is only the beginning, and the bigger picture is in the efforts to work with the indigenous people in Ecuador and other places to equip them with the resources and education they need to be sustainable in the future.
An Associate of Arts degree from SCC was a first step for Laura in reaching her career ambitions. The AA degree is popular for students who plan to transfer to a four-year institution.
“I needed to get started,” Laura said. “I knew I wanted to go on and get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a Ph.D. and build on the foundation I started at St. Charles Community College.”
She was a returning learner at the time and said that when she was ready to go back to school SCC was the perfect choice for her. She was rearing five kids, and with the college nearby, she found the flexibility she needed to fit classes into her busy schedule.
“My teachers were phenomenal, and I enjoyed the academic environment,” Laura said. I gained a set of skills at SCC that prepared me for success.”
She went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Lindenwood University in communications with an emphasis in creative writing and a master’s degree in nonprofit administration from Washington University.
“Who would have thought that 20 years ago when I was going to St. Charles Community College that this is where I would be?” she said.
When she accepted a position at Wings of Hope less than a year ago, she said she couldn’t be happier and that she was drawn to the job because of a childhood dream to travel the world and make a difference.
The efforts of Wings of Hope are widespread, from creating alliances to fight infectious diseases in Zambia, to building water wells to provide clean drinking water in Guyana.
The non-sectarian, non-racial, non-political, nonprofit organization was nominated for a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and has 157 bases in 47 countries, with a goal to change the course of humanity towards peace and hope.
In the United States, Wings of Hope provides access for people in rural settings to medical care with transportation through its Medical Mission and Air Transport service.
Prior to working at Wings of Hope, Laura was executive director of the Foundry Art Centre, and was cultural arts supervisor for the City of St. Peters Cultural Arts Center, helping the organization to grow and coordinating grassroots efforts to establish local interest in the arts.
Beyond her work, she contributes to the community. She served on the Arts and Culture Commission with the City of St. Charles. She is a founding board member of Riverside Shakespeare Theatre Co. (responsible for producing the St. Charles Shakespeare in the Park event), a board member for the Festival of the Little Hills, a member of the Association for Fundraising Professionals and is a member of Lambert Airport’s Art Advisory Committee.
“I love what I’m doing now,” she said. “It’s important to give back.”