Partner Spotlight: Partnerships are how it all began 30 years ago

Partnerships are the foundation of Heart to Heart International. We wouldn’t even exist today if it weren’t for the partnerships built and the people brought together on that very first airlift to Russia in 1992.

The vision for that first mission started with Gary Morsch and a mission trip to Chernobyl, where he witnessed a medical system in crisis. He could see the former Soviet Union was in desperate need for medical supplies, so when he got home he spoke to the Olathe Rotary Club about what could be done. That first partnership got everything rolling, because several other Rotarians (Jim Kerr, Ray Mattix and Dave Lundgren to name a few) dug in their heels and “started knocking on every door we could,” said Morsch.

Morsch also talked to College Church of the Nazarene in Olathe and his kids’ schools which were other early partners. But the group knew they needed a pharmaceutical connection to provide medications, and getting a foot in the door with a pharmaceutical company was proving to be tricky. Jim Kerr was a pharmacist and through his network he got in a good word with Marion Merrell Dow, which led to that incredibly important partnership. “If it hadn’t been for them, I don’t know where we would be today,” said Morsch.

The American Academy of Family Physicians was another important partnership because Morsch said they were powerful advocates: “their endorsement opened doors for us.”

The news media spread the word, and the community responded. Another partner, Carl Seaton with Seaton Transportation, canvassed the city in his truck picking up the donated supplies. Morsch said it just “went bananas” and the group ended up with thousands of medical supplies stocked in warehouses across the metro. Morsch remembers how Kerr would say “it’s a miracle a minute.”

The group decided their original plan of sending people abroad with duffle bags full of supplies was not going to work. They needed a plane.

That’s what led to the next critical partnership: the U.S. government. Senator Bob Dole from Kansas agreed to help the group and got them a C5 plane from the U.S. State Department – the largest military transport plane. Thanks to that partnership, the group loaded up 90 tons of medicine and medical supplies, and set off on the largest private humanitarian effort ever attempted at that time.

Of course through all of this, the group relied on another important partnership with the local news media. Morsch says the media helped spread the word about this group of Rotarians trying to get medical supplies to Russia. Then during the airlift mission, the media came along on the plane to document this historic undertaking, so Kansas Citians could watch back home and see the impact of this effort on the nightly news.

Morsch says it all happened through a lot of prayers and a lot of trust. In those early days, the group would often shake their heads and think “how did we get this done?” They thought this would be a one and done mission, but afterwards, Morsch said there was still “so much energy and enthusiasm.”

That’s when the state department called. Morsch said they told him “if you want to do another airlift, we’ll get you another plane.”

Barbi Moore, who ended up being one of HHI’s first staff members, said everyone in the community recognized that average citizens truly wanted to help, “so they decided it shouldn’t stop, and we should become a viable 501c3 and keep it going.”

“I honestly saw miracle after miracle with what’s happened with Heart to Heart,” Moore said.

Morsch believes what Heart to Heart International has been able to do is due to people wanting to make a difference and working together to make it happen. “It’s not just the medicine, it’s being present, the people-to-people connection, and people wanting to do something,” Morsch said, “it’s amazing what people can do together and the power of partnerships.”

HHI’s story continues to be a story about the power of partnerships. Today, 30 years later, it still takes strong partnerships to keep this organization going strong: from the thousands of medical professionals and logistical volunteers to the corporate sponsors and individual donors. We are grateful for each and every one.