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Wings for the Wounded

Terps’ Flight Nonprofit Lifts Soldiers’ Spirits

By Alex Stoller

Wings for the Wounded

Last Christmas, all Marine Sgt. Joshua Lopez wanted was his family by his side. His right leg had been amputated below the knee, the result of an infection that never subsided after he stepped on an explosive device while under enemy fire in Afghanistan in 2012. Now he was recovering alone at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., 3,000 miles away from home.

That’s when he learned about Luke’s Wings, which provides free airfare and travel services to military families throughout the recovery process. The two Terps who help run the nonprofit, Lindsay Gill ’06 (below, left) and Jennifer Magerer ’03 (below, right), brought 10 of Lopez’s family members to Maryland for Christmas last year.

Founders“There’s actually people and organizations that care,” Lopez says. “Having them be able to bring my family to me or send me home to see my friends so I can get out of the hospital is healing in itself.”

Over the past seven years, Luke’s Wings, named in honor of a wounded service member, has provided 2,000 airline tickets to soldiers and their families; 1,500 of these flights have taken place within the past two years.

On Veterans Day, Luke’s Wings kicks off its annual “No Soldier Spends Christmas Alone” campaign. The U.S. government covers the cost of three flights per injured service member returning from overseas, to distribute to relatives. Typically, families use these flights in the first week of an injury, often leaving soldiers without support at their bedsides during their long recovery process.

“We ask everyone to help provide flights for this holiday season,” says Magerer, who oversees communications. “We open up the floodgates of our budget and try not to turn anyone down.”

In the next two months, Luke’s Wings hopes to provide 200 or more flights and raise at least $150,000 to keep supporting military families throughout the year. For every $50 donation, a donor receives a commemorative ornament. For every $350 donation, roughly the cost of a round-trip flight, donors are given an ornament and a holiday card explaining how their money is helping a family.

Magerer and Gill, who oversees fundraising, started as volunteers with Luke’s Wings in 2009, looking for work where they could see results.

“This is the most traumatic thing that has happened to most of these families. We’re going to be a friend to them in their time of need and if we’re privileged enough to give them a flight, then we’re honored to do that as well,” says Magerer. After a 2011 grant, the two became full-time members of the leadership team.

Luke's WingsLuke’s Wings works closely with Walter Reed, but most of the success and growth of the nonprofit have come from the families who have used its services.

“It’s all word of mouth,” says Gill. “If you help one wounded warrior family in one hospital room, they’re going to tell the next family in the next hospital room. Having that reputation that we’re here for the families and we’re here for them start to finish has been a huge help for us.”

Magerer is a fixture at Walter Reed, reaching out to families, coordinating flights and even recommending additional resources. She and Gill have grown close to many of the families, attending birthday parties and weddings.

“These two ladies can just do their job and that’s all they have to do, but they come to the hospital,” says Lopez, who’s now retired, recovered and back home in San Diego. “The love, the support that they give beyond just their job is ridiculously amazing.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.