The Origin Of WINGS - An Inspiring Example Of What Happens When Kids Get WINGS

by Ginny Deerin, Founder

At 40, Ginny Deerin was recognized as a successful woman. She had lots of friends, a son at Harvard, a smart, beautiful baby girl and five brothers and sisters she adored. In South Carolina she had helped to elect a mayor, a U.S. senator and a governor. She’d risen to the top of the highly regarded Rawle Murdy marketing firm by helping businesses flourish.

But her perspective suddenly shifted when she attended a women’s leadership conference and heard the spellbinding Johnnetta Cole, then president of Atlanta’s Spelman College, give the keynote address. Cole spoke about how girls and women shut themselves up in small birdcages.

“She warned that if we couldn’t envision ourselves soaring beyond the cage – we never would. The door was open. It’s up to us to fly,” Ginny says.

“I realized I had lived my life as the consummate Number 2 person, limiting my possibilities. I told candidates for political office, ‘You run, I’ll run your campaign.’ I worked behind the scenes on community action projects, rather than take the lead. The cage was open, I was staying put.”

Ginny began thinking about making some changes in her life. As she sought counseling help, she began to realize that some of the skills she was learning with the help of psychologists and psychiatrists were transformational. “It was eye-opening. I realized there was a set of really important skills that I had never learned – and, boy, would I have lived my life differently if I didn’t have to wait until my 40s to learn them!”

Among these skills and insights were the need for empathy, the recognition that others’ needs may differ from our own, the ability to communicate constructively and listen carefully. “While I was becoming more self-aware and learning these skills, I noticed that I was not alone – many people lacked the same skills,” Ginny says.

While attending a workshop in California, she was assigned a reading of the inaugural address of the courageous South African leader Nelson Mandela. Two of his points hit home: “Who are you serving by living ‘small’ in the world?” and “We are all given gifts – who are you not to use yours?”

It was then that Ginny made a commitment to devote her life to making sure that kids learned these skills before they became teenagers. On a yellow legal pad she scribbled a list of the vital skills, using layman’s words, and wrote up a mission statement for WINGS: “By the time that kids are teenagers, they’ll know how to live joyfully, powerfully and responsibly.” Her mission would be to teach this list - and help kids soar.

Flying home from Los Angeles, she happened to see on a newsstand a copy of Time magazine featuring on the cover Daniel Goleman, who had just written the book, “Emotional Intelligence.” Inside she found a list that matched the one she’d sketched on the legal pad, enumerating the set of skills of an emotionally intelligent individual.

And so, in 1996, after consulting experts in the field and designing a curriculum, Ginny launched a summer camp to develop social and emotional intelligence. Word spread, and the superintendent of schools asked her to use the WINGS model to open an after school program in downtown Charleston.

That program to give kids a comprehensive social and emotional education was the start of the WINGS learning laboratory at Memminger School of Global Studies. In the years since then, the program has evolved and grown, as WINGS continues to develop and test strategies, practices and materials.

What has never changed is the mission – to instill those missing life lessons within a fresh and fun after school program so that kids can live joyfully, powerfully and responsibly.