TSM23-16. Lisa Wilkes Compassion for Human & Animal alike.

Their Story Matters with Sara Troy and her guest Lisa Wilkes, on air from April 18th

As far back as I can remember, I eagerly participated in charitable ventures. This stems from being an extreme empath—it wasn’t intentional, exactly, but I always searched for ways to better the lives of those around me. Sometimes it seems I have a special built-in antenna that allows me to sense any suffering within a five-mile radius. Then I take all the necessary steps to alleviate that suffering, even if it means staying awake for nights on end or working myself to the bone.

I clearly recall saving an injured bunny rabbit when I was seven years old. I found the wounded bunny on the playground at school. My first instinct was to carry the rabbit home, gently, in the safe and plush fabric of my lunchbag. Then I brough the bunny to the vet for immediate medical attention.

When I was nine, I wrote a guest editorial in the local newspaper (I grew up in the Chicagoland area, in a town called Glenview) listing all nearby animal rescues in need of donations, should any youngsters have extra money to spare from birthdays or recent holiday gifts.

It never really occurred to me to do anything other than help out wherever I could, whether that meant assisting animals or humans. The thing is, most folks seem to be deeply interested in personal gain, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s great to strive for bigger, better, more ambitious goals. It is wonderful to challenge ourselves, reaching for impressive new goals, and expand our horizons. But, for me, the motivation was different. I always accepted a fresh new challenge with the underlying intent to help others through its completion.

Throughout middle school and high school, I tutored my peers in all subjects four to five days per week. I stayed late after school, trying my best to explain lessons they were struggling to understand. My parents are both educators, so I suppose I was born to appreciate academia! I loved my classes, which made me quite nerdy. But I was a compassionate nerd, eager to help my classmates. At my twentieth high school reunion last year, a beautiful and brilliant friend of mine named Sheena reminded me of the time I rode four miles on my bike to deliver her missed assignments when she was out sick from school for a week. I had forgotten that incident! But it definitely sounds like me. I think finding ways to help others is a source of fuel for my soul. It is my sustenance. My internal batteries are charged through acts of service.

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Fast-forward to college, where I created and launched a brand-new mentorship program linking University of Florida students to disadvantaged students in the nearby elementary school. I received the Member of the Year award for my university’s philanthropy club, and went on to complete two years of full-time service with AmeriCorps (the domestic version of the Peace Corps). I built houses in conjunction with homeless families. I also prepped adolescents for their next chapter of life by  tutoring high school dropouts, to help them pass their GED exam so they could pursue higher education or more advanced work opportunities. 90% of my students passed the exam that year, which was astonishing and really impressive.

When I became a flight attendant, I joined the airline’s peer-support team. It’s a huge honor to aid and counsel those in crisis, whether their trauma stems from personal or professional incidents. I also returned to graduate school in my thirties, pursuing a Master’s in Social Work. I knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit organization because this was what my heart had been called to since childhood. I also wanted to start my own nonprofit someday! That plan is currently in the works. I aim to register for official 501©(3) status by the end of 2023.

My main areas of concern are animal rescue and basic human rights. I have watched this nation become increasingly divisive and hateful over the past few years. Sure, there was always bigotry brewing right below the surface, and ethnic minorities as well as the LGBTQ+ community were often subject to its wrath. But it feels as though hate was given a special platform on which to thrive. Since 2016, I have seen the harm caused to those who are most vulnerable. Violence has been inflicted on ethnic minorities for no reason other than the color of their skin, and these injuries are more public than ever, thanks to modern technology and cell phone footage. Yet I haven’t seen a huge societal shift toward equality, not yet anyway. It seems many politicians and subsets of society are more determined than ever to deny racism’s existence. Here in Florida, teachers are no longer allowed to present American history. They have to adhere to a strict set of standards and intentionally ignore any topics involving racial injustice. It’s frightening that repressive, power-hungry politicians are so thirsty for support that they are wiling to pander to society’s most extreme white supremacists. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me. My newest novel, Mid-Flight, addresses racial injustice in no uncertain terms. I wanted to remind the world that there are consequences to this type of unacceptable discrimination and marginalization. My fictional novel intends to serve as a warning and a reminder that action is needed from each one of us, within our own individual spheres, if we hope to attain the equality and dignity which has—shamefully!—been denied to people of color.

I also noticed blatant attacks on women and the LGBTQ+ community. This is another theme of my newly-released novel, Mid-Flight. When Texas cracked down on women’s rights, restricting medical care and basic autonomy for women, I stepped into action, Quickly. My social work clients and those I had met through my nonprofit work were suffering so much. Women who were raped, harassed, and threatened were suddenly denied the right to control their own bodies. It was a slap in the face after already enduring unspeakable trauma, and I could not watch these individuals suffer immensely at the hands of misogynistic politicians and narrow-minded extremists. So I launched my own project, with the help of a fellow social worker. We created a website providing information and resources to women who no longer had any access to medical care. We shared transportation networks, contact information, and helpful tips to those whose rights had been stripped overnight. In addition, I threw myself into every volunteer opportunity offered by Planned Parenthood. I spent hours making care kits for men and women in low-income communities. I met with leaders to discuss ways we could expand our reach and help even more women. I hit the ground running, long before that egregious decision was announced by the Supreme Court in June of 2022.

Believe it or not, between writing books and pursuing my master’s degree and working as a flight attendant and fighting for human rights, I also immersed myself in the world of animal rescue. I began fostering homeless pets during the pandemic. Over the course of three years, I fostered 29 cats, two dogs, two birds, and a bunny. I am happy to report they all went to safe homes where they are currently living their best lives! In addition, I became a leader on my airline’s animal rescue team, SWATT, earlier this year. SWATT is a group of airline employees who use our travel benefits to fly rescued dogs and cats all around the country, to their new homes. The program is fully volunteer. It is so heartwarming to transport a rescued pet to its new family; I cry every single time! I can’t help it. It’s just so sweet to greet the new family and witness their eagerness to welcome this adorable furbaby into their home.

I believe this is a crucial moment in history. Every generation receives opportunities to protect those in need, but this present moment (right here and now, in each of our lives) feels like a critical turning point. We have witnessed incredible steps toward acceptance and compassion. Animal cruelty is now a felony here in America, and it’s about time! The bill passed unanimously in the Senate. There is a movement toward preserving our planet and ensuring ethical, sustainable harvesting of natural resources. Same-sex marriage and interracial marriage have finally been codified into law, after weighty opposition from those who stood to benefit from hate-fueled discrimination. 

Yet there is so much work to be done. And I am eager to tout the importance of taking a stand in favor of compassion. In the animal rescue world, I constantly see animals who are tortured and killed. With a shattered heart, I continue my pursuit of rescuing as many homeless pets as possible.

And I know women, ethnic minorities, many within the LGBTQ+ community (especially trans individuals) who still cannot receive access to basic human rights, including medical care. I have watched my patients and friend suffer from re-traumatization of crimes committed against them. When those in power deny resources to the individuals who need it most, we all need to speak up. The responsibility rests on our shoulders to voice our concerns loudly, publicly, and without ceasing. We also need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Through my novels, my work with nonprofits, and my actions within the community, that’s exactly what I intend to do.


Lisa Wilkes is an American flight attendant, animal rescuer, and author. She has spent 13 years as a flight attendant, jetting across the globe and collecting inspiration for her writings. Her debut novel, Flight Path, is a fast-paced romance laced with serendipitous encounters. 

In 2022, Lisa earned her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Texas at Arlington. While in graduate school, she interned as a community liaison. Lisa also completed an eight-month apprenticeship in the Behavioral Health Unit of a hospital, assisting patients in outpatient treatment programs. In addition, she has written web content for multiple nonprofit organizations and recently joined the leadership board for a national aviation-themed animal rescue group. Lisa continues to serve as a powerful advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and women’s rights organizations across the country. 

In her second novel, Mid-Flight, Lisa transports readers to the year 2038. A flight attendant uncovers a political ploy to decimate one-fifth of the population. To combat this sinister plan, she must risk everything. Including her breathtaking new romance.







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