Separated by nearly 2,000 miles, two sisters — both diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer — had not seen each other in 13 years. And with limited resources, a reunion seemed impossible. A single plane ticket closed the gap between Alabama and California, and the siblings were able to spend the holidays together one last time.
“Their story really touched my heart,” said Susan Wehr Worline, a 2004 graduate with a master’s degree in educational administration. “Family is so important. I have a sister, and if I couldn’t see her at a time of crisis because of a lack of funds it would be very difficult. That’s one reason I started Flying for Hope, to give people with financial challenges the opportunity to be with their loved ones in times of crisis.”
The original impetus came from a Facebook post. Her cousin had a plane ticket he couldn’t use and offered it to Worline, who suggested he donate it to a local hospice organization. As the business director at a Chicagoland hospice, she had seen many patients with family who could not afford the travel expenses to visit during their final days.
Her suggestion made it possible for a young college student to spend several days with her grandmother before she passed away. That was 2012.
Since then, Flying for Hope has provided flights and bus or train tickets to dozens of people who would have otherwise missed the opportunity to attend a funeral, spend time at nursing facilities or hospice, or have the ability to give care and comfort to family members.
In the early days of Worline’s organization, the Chicago Tribune did an article about a man from Texas whose trip to Chicago to visit his dying mother was made possible by Flying for Hope. The attention launched the organization to new heights in support of their motto: “Giving Hope to Families in Crisis – Changing Lives One Flight at a Time.” Word of their services began to spread, and requests for help starting pouring in.
Today, the nonprofit organization has more requests than it can accommodate, with more coming in daily. It keeps expenses low with an all-volunteer staff working pro bono.
“We support our mission through donations, community support, sponsors and local business partners coming together,” Worline said.
Now in its fourth year, the Spring Fever Gala (www.flying4hope.com/events) is the largest of those events. For the second year in a row, fellow UD alumnus and CBS Chicago reporter Dave Savini ’89 will serve as emcee for the event. Sponsors also make it possible to fill smaller requests that aid people in the local community who have transportation or mobility issues.
Other fundraising activities throughout the year also help grant requests, as well as the donation of frequent flyer miles or travel points. “We don’t want to turn anyone away. It is so hard knowing the situation they are in,” Worline said.
One of those individuals was Iraq War veteran Robert Dudley. He wanted to attend the funeral of his father, Robert Sr., who had served in Vietnam, and make sure he received a full military honors service. “Robert wanted to lay the American flag on his father’s coffin, pay his respects and say goodbye, but he didn’t have the money to get there. We provided a flight from Wisconsin to North Carolina, and Robert was able to ensure his father had the kind of funeral he deserved,” Worline said.
When asked if there was a particular case that has impacted her significantly, Worline offered the story of Trisha from Poughkeepsie, New York. Trisha’s dad had terminal cancer and lived in Arizona, and she wanted to spend time with him before he died. “We got her there and she spent a little over a week with him,” Worline said. “On her plane ride home her father passed away. Trisha thanked me for the gift of time with her father, and it changed how I viewed things in my own life, allowing me to reevaluate what is important. Time is a precious gift. We just have to stop for a moment once in a while to embrace the time given to us.”
Flying for Hope works to offer that precious gift to as many people as possible.