One of the unique traits of our nation is the outstanding community of philanthropic leaders who use their passion, perseverance, and personal experiences to benefit others. Southwestern Medical Foundation takes pride in inspiring gifts of better health for all and has acted as a steward of generous hearts for decades.
This inspiring philanthropic spirit and desire to give back runs just as deep in the heart of our nation as it does in the hearts of our team members. We had the opportunity to discuss One Wing Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and advocating for families who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss with Katie Schlieve, the Foundation’s Director of Donor Relations and co-founder of One Wing Foundation. She shares her family’s journey of loss and how she and her co-founder, Holly Aldredge, are helping other women find hope, healing, and resilience.
It was coming up on the first tough milestone I faced as a bereaved parent – Hudson’s due date. Our loss occurred when I was 33 weeks pregnant. I went in for a routine appointment to learn he didn’t have a heartbeat to what we later learned was due to an umbilical cord accident. This milestone was about a month and a half after our loss and in a strange way, the final realization that this was it. It wasn’t a terrible dream, this was our reality. Our son was gone, we were not still waiting for him to arrive, we weren’t waking up from this. Throughout that time of processing, One Wing Foundation started with an idea to create a legacy for him; a way for him live on through us.
“I wanted what every parent wants – their child to matter – and in our case, I wanted him to be remembered.”
On July 15 2015, his due date, my mom and I sat at R+D Kitchen and had the chance to open our hearts and talk – something I hadn’t done much of leading up to that point because the pain was so heavy, talking about it took me to “the dark place” and I hadn’t wanted to go there very often. That lunch was really a catalyst to all of this. We sat there talking and crying, and it was the first time I said out loud that I had been thinking about doing something.
While pregnant, my husband had nicknamed Hudson “Hudder Budder.” As we sipped Whispering Angel and split our Newporter Salad, I said, “Wouldn’t a Hudder Putter be so perfect?!” We were a golf family. When I was nine years old and wanted Samantha the American Girl doll, my dad gave me my first set of Callaway junior clubs and excitedly told me I was going to take golf lessons. Growing up, it was the way our family spent quality time together with my dad, brothers, and myself playing, and mom as the best cart driver. We grew up watching Dad as a hole marshal every year at the Byron Nelson and later the tournament chairman. My husband Max realized two years into dating that golf was something he needed to learn in order to be part of this family someday – our first date was actually Top Golf and I taught him to swing a club. Golf was authentic and special to us.
I didn’t know who would come to play. I didn’t know what it would look like. I didn’t know what it would support exactly. There was a lot more to figure out, but that conversation was the turning point.
My mom was wearing a bracelet that she had had for more than 20 years. She took it off and handed it to me. Inscribed on the cuff read we are all angels with one wing, we must embrace each other to fly. It meant something even deeper to us now as we were on a road of grief. What we had recently experienced spoke so poignantly to that quote.
“Getting through this was not something we could do on our own, we relied on our community to lift us and support us – be our other wing to help us ‘fly’ again.”
Those two words- “one wing” – spoke to me and was in my mind as a name for whatever it is that we did.
Two weeks after that lunch with my mom, I met Holly for the first time. She had experienced the loss of her daughter at 37 weeks a few months prior to ours. What started as an opportunity to sit face to face with another mother of stillbirth loss, someone who knew and understood what I was going through, turned into so much more. What a lot of people don’t understand is that time does not heal all wounds at first, and grief is all over the map.
As I got further out from loss, that Fall season specifically, was when I felt like I was really in the throes of my grief – as difficult as it is to admit, it was harder than I anticipated to see the friends I had been pregnant with bring their babies into the world and become moms. Their babies were here and ours wasn’t, because of something as rare as a lightning strike. It hurt more than I could fathom. To experience family-centric holidays that all ran one after the other: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Having other loss moms to bond with in this different sort of way helped.
“Throwing myself into this passion project really helped during that time.”
In one of my conversations with Holly that September, I first shared with her what I had been researching and working on. After first being inspired by creating Hudder Putter, that led down a path of asking, but for what greater purpose? I had been reaching out to non-profit organizations who provided programs and resources for families of pregnancy and infant loss to find out what they needed – they all said the same thing, more funding. She had a desire to do something, too, and by November, we were taking the needed steps to put plans into action. We found the gap that we could fill, we could rally our community and fundraise to help support the missions of others and give back to this loss community we had found ourselves a part of. We were providing something that did not already exist for this specific need. By the end of 2015, we had filed for our charter of incorporation with the state of Texas, then filed for our IRS status as a 501c3. We launched in January 2016 and haven’t looked back.
We held our first Hudder Putter Classic the week of his first birthday in 2016 and were humbled by 18 teams of 4 who joined us with nearly 30 volunteers. It’s grown to include more than 30 teams and more than 60 volunteers who make the tournament run smoothly by helping us with registration, work activity holes and pass out player perks on the course, assemble Care Boxes for families who experience loss, sew ornaments to remember babies held in hearts throughout the holidays, and some who just want to be there with us to feel community and to lend their support in celebration of Hudson or another family of loss. The night before the tournament, we hold Olivia’s Gift, a kick-off celebration party in the name of Olivia – the baby that Holly lost – with a concert and silent auction that has grown to more than 300 people since 2016.
These are two of our three annual events to raise money and provide a place to celebrate these precious lives that continue on through us. We also host a Wine & Dine in November – an intimate five-course dinner and guided wine pairing where we announce that year’s grant recipients. In addition to our events, we also have our Care Box program, which are lovingly curated boxes to gift bereaved parents with items Holly and I felt were helpful in those immediate months following loss. We’ve worked on creating an online grief store, Good Grief, with special items that can be gifted to anyone enduring any kind of grief, but due to COVID-19, we’ve had to pause that launch effort for now. Our CuddleCot Initiative helps give the “gift of time” to families by providing specialized cooling bassinet systems. Finally, we are grateful for donations of support throughout the year toward our mission and those given in memory of a loved one.
It is through these efforts that we have been able to be an answer to more than 25 beneficiaries since our inception, fulfilling our mission of raising and distributing funds to non-profit organizations who serve the medical, physical and grief recovery needs of families who have or will endure pregnancy or infant loss.
Facing The Challenges of Today
Canceling Olivia’s Gift and the Hudder Putter Classic this year was a very difficult call to have to make. Even though we knew it was the right decision, it doesn’t take away from the emotional ties – these are our kiddos. It’s how we honor them. For our family, it’s how we celebrate Hudson’s birthday each year. It’s not just another event that can’t be held, it’s our biggest piece of him we get to let shine once a year for this really special day that provides so much for so many. It hurts – but our pain is just one kind of a pain in a sea of heartbreak right now throughout our world.
Like many, we are learning to pivot this year. It’s hard when you are a fundraising entity to not tie success to the amount of money you raise – but that’s just one aspect of what we do.
“Our mission says that we are here to provide for the pregnancy and infant loss community. We are re-defining what ‘provide’ looks like for us right now.”
Without our events, our fundraising is severely impacted. However, right now we define our success as the ability to make an impact. As long as we can do that, we are fulfilling our mission and can remain successful in this difficult time.
The giving spirit is alive and well – from what I’ve seen, it’s actually thriving.
“Whether it’s by helping a neighbor, paying it forward, a random act of kindness, or giving monetarily where you feel called to give – humanity is shining to help others in need and in this time of challenge and uncertainty, that is a beautiful thing.”
The pregnancy and infant loss community is still a relatively small part of the population, comparatively speaking. But, at the same time, loss is still occurring. Parents are still hearing the news “I’m sorry, there’s not a heartbeat” or are leaving the hospital without the baby they had envisioned a life with. Loss is already a very dark and isolating world to be thrust into, but imagine doing it in this current climate of quarantine and social distancing. People need support and connection more than ever.
Just like this pandemic, these needs cannot be answered without the support and generosity of many. Philanthropy funds the answers to problems and the needs that exist.
Most people are grieving in their own way right now. For those who are seeking a way to make a difference, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; a lot of small things can add up to one large impact. Don’t be discouraged by things you think may stand in your way. If it’s something that is on your heart, it’s not wrong. Be a doer.
You can make a difference in so many ways and if it is important to you, seek out what is meaningful and authentic to you to be able to go and do. Define what it means for you to provide for others and inspire progress forward.