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★ JOHNSON COUNTY’S NEWS MAGAZINE

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T H E K A N S A S C I T Y S TA R

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A GLOBAL LEGACY OF CARE 20 years of Heart to Heart International Page 26

NOT A CHANCE Talk of regional transit is a waste of time | Steve Rose, Page 40

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A deeper connection to helping worldwide

A

By LAURA NIGHTENGALE | Special to The Star

ndre Butler grew up in south-

the chief executive officer of Heart to Heart

ern Kansas City, spending

International of Olathe, where his grandmoth-

summers working with his dad

er’s principles are put into action on a global

mowing lawns for extra cash.

scale every day.

When he visited his grandmother Arbella Ev-

Celebrating 20 years of service this week,

ans in another Kansas City neighborhood, she

Heart to Heart today works in 60 countries

would send him to Miss Sally’s house, a wid-

around the world, responding to disasters and

ow who lived down the street.

delivering medical aid to developing nations.

To cut Miss Sally’s grass for free.

Each year, thousands of individuals volunteer

After his work in the summer heat and hu-

their time and resources to the nonprofit. The

midity, Miss Sally would invite young Andre

organization collects $80 million to $100 mil-

in for a cold glass of water and conversation

lion each year in donations from individuals,

full of stories about her youth. The visit often

businesses and other groups or organizations.

was the highlight of Miss Sally’s week. His grandmother, who has since passed away, instilled in Butler a sense of community. Miss Sally’s grass cutter went on to become

Butler has worked at Heart to Heart for 14 of its 20 years. Recruiting thousands of volunteers and working in countries all over the CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE

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Five-year-old Cameron Carlisle of Olathe recently put together a care kit for Heart to Heart International at Zurich Insurance. Cameron’s mom, Tina Caldwell, works at Zurich, and a group of children related to employees helped put the kits together. SUSAN PFANNMULLER | SPECIAL TO THE STAR

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“… WE MAKE IT EASY TO CONNECT AND WE SHOW THEM THE REAL NEED, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, WE SHOW THEM THAT THEY CAN HAVE AN IMPACT ON THAT NEED. THAT’S WHEN PEOPLE WANT TO GET INVOLVED.”

Andre Butler, Heart to Heart CEO

world, this network of service has become an enormous sum of individual acts of giving. “I always compare Heart to Heart to my grandmother,” Butler said. “That’s what Heart to Heart’s all about. We are about seeing needs there and addressing those needs, and even if that entails, like my grandmother did with me, telling someone else that I need you.” Heart to Heart operates by giving people “handles,” a place to grab on and connect with a community in need using whatever skills they may have. They believe everyone has something to offer. For Butler growing up, it was his ability to do yard work. As CEO of an international nonprofit based in his hometown, he’s encouraging people to “think globally, act locally.” While Heart to Heart has been an international organization from its inception, domestic involvement is also a major theme of the organization’s work. Working with community health clinics in the Kansas City metro area is a way for the global organization to focus efforts at home. Since he took over as CEO in 2010, Butler has made it a priority for Heart to Heart to strengthen the organization’s presence in the community. For example, Heart to Heart began partnering last year with the Kansas City, Mo., school district to provide a backpack for each elementary school student, all 10,000 of them, equipped with school supplies and personal care items. From several hundred to several thousand, volunteers are involved in Heart to Heart’s many projects — some putting together care kits for a few hours, some working for a week in a developing country, and some working year-round in the Heart to Heart office. “We have found that if we provide the venue, we make it easy to connect and we show them the real need, and most importantly, we show them that they can have

TAMMY LJUNGBLAD | THE KANSAS CITY STAR FILE PHOTO

Heart to Heart’s work overseas has included helping victims of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. In January 2005, the group brought water purification equipment to this camp in Tangella, Sri Lanka, for those left homeless by the disaster.

an impact on that need,” Butler said. “That’s when people want to get involved.” ❚❚❚ Volunteers at Heart to Heart record their time not in months or years, but in natural disasters. Since Katrina. Since Haiti. Since Joplin. Warren Okeson has volunteered since Greensburg. After tornadoes destroyed the western

Kansas town in 2007, he completed online applications for both Heart to Heart and the Red Cross, looking for a place he could lend a hand. His phone rang almost instantly after he hit the send key, asking him to help at the Heart to Heart global distribution center. Okeson drove to Heart to Heart’s Kansas City, Kan., warehouse and began packaging sup-

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SUSAN PFANNMULLER | SPECIAL TO THE STAR

Warren Okeson has been a Heart to Heart volunteer for five years. Now he’s the principal driver for the mobile medical unit.

plies to be shipped to the disaster. Soon, he became a regular volunteer at the warehouse. Five years later, Okeson drives of Heart to Heart’s mobile medical unit, essentially a clinic on wheels. He’s sometimes called the fleet manager or principal driver, but as a volunteer he’s never been assigned a formal title. In his travels — from San Francisco to Orlando, Fla., from Houston to Fargo, N.D. — he’s seen nature’s wrath on humankind. In Cordova, Ala., after an EF-4 tornado ripped through the town last April, the medical staff was

so overwhelmed with patients that Okeson stepped in to triage patients. With no waiting room, patients were forced to line up in a parking lot to see a doctor. Okeson stayed in Alabama with the mobile medical unit for almost a month, sleeping on a cot in the RV-like vehicle. On other trips he’s stayed in community or Red Cross shelters and, sometimes, in private homes. But in a community nearly wiped out by the storm, Okeson had to improvise. When Okeson saw the groups weathering temperatures exceed-

ing 90 degrees, he provided water and comfort to those in need. Okeson, who retired from the Sprint technical team shortly before joining Heart to Heart, had no special training to prepare him for situations like this. Over the years he has worked closely with everyone from physicians to rank-and-file folks like him who have no medical background. He’s seen up close the Heart to Heart tenet that anyone can help their community. On a cold, rainy January night following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Okeson drove the mobile

medical unit to the Wal-Mart Supercenter on U.S. 40 in Kansas City, where he helped Heart to Heart collect donations to send to the devastated country. A woman approached the site and offered her help collecting and packaging donations. “It was pretty obvious that she didn’t have much but wanted to help, so we put a red T-shirt on her, over her winter coat,” Okeson said. After a 10-hour day, Okeson and the other volunteers packed CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE

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Dr. Gary Morsch founded Heart to Heart International 20 years ago. Now he’s on the board of directors, and he’s still a regular volunteer. Recently he pitched in at the organization’s warehouse in Kansas City, Kan. TAMMY LJUNGBLAD | THE KANSAS CITY STAR

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up for the evening. The next day when he arrived at the Power & Light District at 1 p.m. to do the same thing, the woman was waiting for him on the sidewalk. By the time they were ready to call it a day about 8 p.m., it had begun to rain. “Looks like I’m going to get wet going home,” Okeson remembers her saying. She told him she didn’t have money for the bus, so she was going to walk to her home near the Kansas City VA Medical Center. That’s at least five miles from both the Wal-Mart and the Power & Light District. “We asked her how she got to Wal-Mart the day before. She said she walked. Well, how did you get to the Power & Light District? She walked,” Okeson said. “We found her a ride home.” ❚❚❚ These are some of founder Dr. Gary Morsch’s basic principles: Everyone has something to give. Give what you can. Morsch arrived late to a meeting of the Olathe Rotarians 20 years ago, thinking he would grab a plate of food and listen from the back of the room before returning to his busy practice as a family physician. He had recently returned from a trip to a Cambodian refugee camp. He had other things on his mind that evening, but when the scheduled speaker canceled at the last minute, they asked Morsch to make a presentation. Gary Morsch stood in front of that Holiday Inn ballroom and spoke from the heart. He had no notes, no speech prepared. What he had was a philosophy, an idea — the idea that we live in a world in need, full of people with the resources to give something, anything. So there he stood, an Olathe family physician, in front of 100 of his friends — doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers — and offered a challenge to this group of Rotary members. “I said at the end, extemporaneously, ‘Look around this room. Just think if you picked a need

somewhere in the world, stretched yourself, and went and painted a school or fixed a roof or helped this or that. And if you did that — and then other Rotary Clubs did that — that would change the world.’ ” That challenge, though simple, was enough to ignite a spark. The Rotary president made him another offer following the speech. Would he like to organize an international trip for the Rotary members? “I speak before I think. I just said, ‘Well sure. Yeah, I can do that,’ ” Morsch said. “And I’m glad I did.” He organized a group of Rotary volunteers to go to Belize to rebuild a damaged YWCA that was on the verge of shutting down. From there, the group attracted more volunteers and gained momentum. When the group prepared an airlift to the former Soviet Union that took off May 22, 1992, Heart to Heart International was created. And there was no going back. ❚❚❚ A year ago an EF-5 tornado swept through Joplin, Mo., killed 161 people, destroyed 7,000 homes and took out one of the community’s two hospitals. Within 48 hours the Heart to Heart mobile medical unit had arrived. They set up in a part of southern Joplin that had been devastated by the storm, a few blocks from the destroyed St. John’s hospital. Many were left without homes and cars and couldn’t get to medical facilities in the city. Heart to Heart set up in the center of the destroyed neighborhoods so people in those areas could get the medical care they needed at the mobile medical unit. “If they had not been at the corner of 20th and Main, people would have had no other way to get medical care until some ambulance would have come along, because we had no communication either,” said Barbara Bilton, executive director of the Joplin CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE

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A mission of healing, for others and for himself By LAURA NIGHTENGALE Special to The Star

When Dr. Gary Morsch approached Art Fillmore with the opportunity to return to Hanoi on an airlift with Heart to Heart International, the Vietnam veteran was skeptical. “It was the last place in the world I wanted to go ever,” said Fillmore, who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after his war service. But eventually he was persuaded, and in August 1994 he led an airlift back to Hanoi delivering $10 million worth of medications on behalf of Heart to Heart. There he witnessed the destruction left by war: craters left by bombs, vegetation completely wiped out by napalm, and amputees living in Vietnamese cities. But he also saw communities recovering and people leading normal lives. He got to Art Fillmore know some of the Vietnamese veterans he once fought against and saw healing in the land that had been haunting his nightmares for decades. He visited a clinic in Cu Chi, Vietnam, the city where his 25th Infantry Division was headquartered. When he arrived he encountered a small boy about 10 years old. Doctors told Fillmore that the boy had a treatable disease, but with only herbal medicines available to treat him, they were not expecting him to recover. Fillmore offered doctors his bag filled with medical supplies from Heart to Heart. With that, he had delivered the antibiotics necessary to save the boy’s life. “The boy, the doctor and I all had tears in our eyes, and for me it was so cathartic because I was now bringing healing to a place where I was once involved in killing,” Fillmore said. “And literally at the moment, the nightmares I had about the war went away.” Over the next year, Fillmore made six trips back to Vietnam. His involvement in Heart to Heart escalated after those trips. He served as chairman of the board from 2003 to 2006 and still serves as a board member. Heart to Heart gave Fillmore the opportunity to confront the phantoms of his past. After years of nightmares, he was finally able to return home feeling safe. “When I came and left on that first trip, it was with enormous relief and piece of mind and I found out that we could make a difference,” Fillmore said. “I felt a peace I hadn’t felt in a long time.”

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Heart to Heart has a partnership with El Centro, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and KU Pediatrics to vaccinate uninsured and Medicaid-eligible adults and children. On a recent weekend, Guadalupe Rodriguez was a patient at a Heart to Heart vaccine clinic at Casa de Dios para las Naciones in Kansas City, Kan. SUSAN PFANNMULLER | SPECIAL TO THE STAR

Isabel Valles (left) filled out the forms with volunteer Astrid Reynoso, 16, to receive vaccinations at a Heart to Heart clinic at Casa de Dios para las Naciones in Kansas City, Kan.

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Community Clinic. “They were out there going to people, and so the help that they provided immediately was unbelievable.” Over the next month, 70 Heart to Heart volunteers went to Joplin delivering medical care and supplies to the recovering community. More than 400 local volunteers assembled care kits at the global distribution center for tornado victims. Heart to Heart provided first aid supplies, from bandages to vaccines. “I would not have had the money or the ability when we had the tornado to purchase the tetanus vaccine that I got from them,” Bilton said. “It just made it so much easier for us to serve the needs of the uninsured in southwest Missouri.” After about a month, the mobile medical unit packed up and returned to Olathe, but that wasn’t the end of Heart to Heart’s involvement in Joplin. Heart to Heart continued to provide supplies to the community clinic, sponsored events such as health screenings and provided 300 flu vaccines last fall. A year later, Heart to Heart is still working to supply local clinics and is planning a second flu clinic for September. Recently the community clinic opened an on-site laboratory with the help of Heart to Heart donations, allowing the clinic to provide quicker and more comprehensive care to its patients. “They didn’t just leave a month after the tornado. They’re still trying to figure out ways to help our community recover,” Bilton said. Indeed, Heart to Heart swoops in fast when disaster hits, but they are no flash in the pan. Two years after the Haiti earthquake, Heart to Heart is still in the country. More than 400 Heart to Heart medical volunteers have delivered more than $20 million worth of aid and have treated more than 100,000 people. They treat about 2,500 patients a week. Morsch — who has since

stepped back from Heart to Heart and now serves on the board of directors and as a regular volunteer — has revisited that Belize YWCA where it all started. He’s been back several times, even in recent years just to check in. “The (YWCA) director says, ‘You know what you gave us, what you Rotarians gave us? It wasn’t really the work you did on the building, the old building that we had,’ ” Morsch said. “He goes, ‘It was hope. It made us realize how important our work was, and it gave us hope.’ ” ❚❚❚ Heart to Heart’s warehouse is filled with various medical, care and health items awaiting their time to be packaged and delivered to a disaster site or volunteer clinic. Ninety percent of the goods are donated by pharmaceutical and other companies — one reason Heart to Heart is able to operate so efficiently. More than 98 percent of its funds go directly into program expenses. Product donation is a large part of the equation. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, among others, have long-standing relationships with Heart to Heart. FedEx has worked with Heart to Heart for years, offering pro bono transportation of many shipments, including one to South Sudan. Through such product and service donations, a $1 monetary donation to Heart to Heart is stretched to $25 worth of aid, officials there said. The organization has spent the last two decades building rapport with corporate sponsors. “You’ve got to do what you say you’re going to do,” Morsch said. “Don’t make decisions based on expediency because the press wants you to do it or they’re going to cover it or it’s the sexy thing to do, or it’s where the money is. That’s not why you do things.” Volunteers with Heart to Heart usually travel at their own expense. The organization discourages well-meaning volunteers who don’t have the financial

means to complete their mission. But for those who can’t afford a round-trip ticket to Haiti, Morsch started Volunteers with Heart, one of about a half-dozen charities Morsch has helped create. Run by his personal assistant Paula Johnson, it helps individuals raise money for their volunteer efforts, even if the trip is not with Heart to Heart. ❚❚❚ A flag from every country where Heart to Heart has served — 116 in all — hangs from the walls of the organization’s global distribution warehouse. Last month, immigrants and refugees from one of the world’s youngest nations gathered to present Heart to Heart with its newest addition to the collection: the flag of South Sudan. After over half a century of turmoil and war, South Sudan became an independent nation in July 2011. “Today I’m very honored and proud to be here to present the flag of my country,” Rebecca Mabior of South Sudan told the small crowd. “That flag means to us a lot of things. We’ve lost parents, uncles, kids, we’ve lost a lot of things. This flag is a piece of comfort.” Her young son presented the flag, gift-wrapped in silver paper, to program director Scott Koertner. “When we know you are shipping medication there, it helps us to know our people will be taken care of. It’s a big step,” Mabior said, tears running down her cheeks. A shipment containing nearly two tons of medical supplies left the global distribution center on April 27 headed for Juba, South Sudan. The nearly 4,000 pounds of supplies were accompanied by 10 Ready Relief Boxes, each providing pharmaceutical equipment to treat up to 500 patients, to be received by the International Medical Corps for distribution. “This is a really good example of what we do. We’re mobilizers. CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE

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TAMMY LJUNGBLAD | THE KANSAS CITY STAR FILE PHOTO

“DON’T MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON EXPEDIENCY BECAUSE THE PRESS WANTS YOU TO DO IT OR THEY’RE GOING TO COVER IT OR IT’S THE SEXY THING TO DO, OR IT’S WHERE THE MONEY IS. THAT’S NOT WHY YOU DO THINGS.”

Dr. Gary Morsch, Heart to Heart founder

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TAMMY LJUNGBLAD | THE KANSAS CITY STAR

At Heart to Heart International’s warehouse in Kansas City, Kan., employees from State Street packed individual care kits that might be sent across oceans or across town.

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We’re connectors,” said Heather Ehlert, vice president of global development. ❚❚❚ Morsch can’t begin to estimate the number of lives he has touched through his work at Heart to Heart International. “Most everything I do is based on a real philosophy of what I’m trying to do in life, with my life,” Morsch said, “which is to use whatever talents I have and resources I’ve been given and try to make the world a better place.”

He speaks with a slight southern drawl, true to his Oklahoma roots, and wears blue jeans to work on Fridays. He doesn’t even have an office at Heart to Heart or any of the programs he works with. He didn’t have any idea, standing in front of that Rotary Club 20 years ago, that he was starting the multimillion-dollar organization that Heart to Heart has become today. “And I don’t know what’s going to happen 20 years from now,” Morsch said, leaving his challenge open to anyone willing to accept it.

Employees from State Street, including Nicole Callaway, double-checked the contents of care kits at Heart to Heart’s warehouse.

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