Making Your Time Away Count

Most of us are very protective of our vacation time and opportunities to step out of our daily routines. It’s usually time set aside to do the things that bring us joy, which can include travel, sports, the arts, and the list goes on. We don’t usually view those few weeks of the year as opportunities to make a difference in the world, but maybe next year you could use a week of your vacation to bring joy to the lives of children. You would also gain a new perspective of what life is really like for families living in very different circumstances than yours.

Each year, El Hogar welcomes Service Teams to Honduras. They come from throughout the United States and Canada, and all with different expectations, hopes, and fears. Some teams are made up of members who know each other and come from one particular church or organization. Others have members who meet for the first time as they prepare to travel, but who end their trips with new and lasting friendships.

These trips do often include some work, which could be painting or carpentry. While teams help important maintenance work to get completed on our campuses, the real purpose behind these trips is to offer each person a new perspective on life in Honduras. By understanding the difficulties and struggles that are everyday realities for people who live there, it becomes even more evident to team members that we are all connected, despite any cultural differences.

It’s easy to watch videos or read articles, but to ride through the streets of Tegucigalpa or to visit the home of an El Hogar parent brings the realities of life in Honduras into sharper focus. The years of struggle these parents and grandparents have gone through can be seen on their faces, but many have tears of joy when they describe the difference El Hogar has made for their children.

Recently, David Dreisbach, the Director of Communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, was part of a Service Team. He was kind enough to share some of his thoughts about his time at El Hogar:

“I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time I passed through the gate of El Hogar. Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is hot, overcrowded, and loud. People look at you as you pass them on the streets with eyes filled with despair. But inside the walls of El Hogar, there is peace. There is happiness. There is love. And best of all, there is family. 

David smiles with Anna Nicole during his recent Service Team trip to El Hogar. (Photo courtesy of David Dreisbach)

I met dozens of joyful children who all have a story to tell. As I got to know these children and heard their stories, I quickly found a common theme. The theme is that for each one of them, being at El Hogar is a miracle. It’s a chance at life and a chance to make their lives count.

When you leave El Hogar, you have the feeling that you are leaving the real world. A world where contentment is not based on excess but on having what you need. Going back to a society built on excess, greed, and discontentment was very hard. The children at El Hogar are going to be fine whether they met me or not. I, on the other hand, have been forever changed.”

David’s experience is not unique. Each person leaves El Hogar changed and with a perspective that will never be the same as when they first entered our gates.

It’s easy to put a team together or to join a team, and we can help you do that. Planning is already underway for Service Teams who are traveling to El Hogar in 2018. If you’re interested or want more information, please call 781-729-7600 or send an email to info@elhogar.org. We look forward to welcoming you!

New Year, New Possibilities

“The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.”

– Melody Beattie

The first few weeks of a new year are usually spent getting everything prepared to run smoothly as you move forward. For some people, a new year brings feelings of joy and anticipation. For others, they enter with feelings of worry or dread. Like the quote above, I look at the new year like a book – many chapters that tell a story filled with the good and bad that life inevitably brings, as well as the hope and promise that carries us through.

Your support puts their hopes and dreams within reach.
Your support puts their dreams within reach.

Two years ago, my wife gave me a daily diary for Christmas that’s good for five years. Each night you answer a question and, once the year is over, you start back at the beginning. It lets you see how you’ve changed over the years since your previous answers, while also showing you how you’ve overcome the struggles of the previous year. For me, this is how I look at the start of a new year at El Hogar.

Each year our students enter our campuses during the month of January to prepare to begin their new school year. For those returning to El Hogar, they’ve made it through the struggles of the previous year’s studies. They can look back with pride. Now, they’re entering a new grade – or maybe even a new center – with all the hopes and fears that the unknown inevitably brings.

For those who are new to El Hogar, the emotions they enter with are powerful. They’re coming to a new place fresh from situations of neglect, violence, abuse, poverty, and hunger. They’re surrounded by the new faces of other students and staff members. It’s a new world for them and they quickly learn that there are opportunities available at El Hogar that they never could have dreamed of in the past.

Each of these students enter the new year at El Hogar in very different places, but they all have many things in common as they view the year ahead. They have hope for a brighter future. They have determination to get the most they can out of their education. They have peace within the safety of El Hogar’s walls. They have comfort in the love and care they receive from staff members. They have lives that are being transformed through the help and support of El Hogar – only made possible each year by our generous donors.

The new year brings the promise of new possibilities for each of our students – ones that were out of reach for them previously because of the poverty they were born into. With your support, our students can continue to break free from the cycle of poverty in their families and see their lives turn around. With your support this year, 2017 can be the turning point that changes the direction of their lives forever.

The Greatest Gift

The holiday season is a special time at El Hogar.

Is it just me or has the holiday season just become far too commercial? My favorite memories of the season come from time spent with family and friends, delicious meals featuring long-held “secret” recipes, and strolling through the neighborhood looking at the decorations adorning each home.

Sadly, most people seem to focus more on the gifts that they’re giving than the intent behind the gifts. By the time the clock strikes midnight and 2017 begins, many Christmas gifts will have already taken up residence in their permanent new closet or basement homes. I find this troubling because it’s not what the holiday season is supposed to be about.

This special time of the year should be about bringing back fond memories, rekindling joy that may have been stifled because of a difficult year, and giving us an opportunity to look at how we can make the season better for those in need. It’s that last point that’s particularly timely for me.

The students at El Hogar are wonderful teachers. They teach us lessons each day with the things they say and their actions. One thing that has struck me each time I’ve visited – as it has for many service team members who have gone to Honduras over the years – is how giving the students are toward each other.

One story that’s stuck with me was told by a service team member not long after I started at El Hogar. They told me that during a trip to Honduras, they had taken some of the students out for lunch following a church service. The children enjoyed their lunches, but several of them only ate half of their hamburgers and kept the rest wrapped up. One volunteer noticed this, but thought they were taking it back to enjoy at El Hogar. On the contrary, when they returned to the school, these students gave their remaining hamburgers to their brothers or sisters. They were sacrificing a treat to make sure their family didn’t feel left out. It’s a giving spirit that rings true for us during this time of year, but one that we should also try to have all year long.

For me, it’s a gift to see the lives of our students impacted for good each day. It’s a gift to see the hope and promise in their eyes. It’s a gift to see smiles on their faces. These are the gifts that truly matter and they’re made possible because of the generosity of people just like you. People who give whatever they can to make the lives of our students – children they may never have a chance to meet – better. That’s the greatest gift you can give no matter what season it is.

For those of you who have given to El Hogar this year, thank you for your support. You’ve shown us the true spirit of the holiday season throughout 2016. For those of you who may be new to El Hogar or who haven’t given a gift to us yet, please consider giving your gift today by clicking the button below. It’s a great way to do something truly meaningful and selfless during this season. When you do, let me be the first to say thank you!

On behalf of everyone at El Hogar, I hope you have a wonderful, joyous, and peaceful holiday season.

 

El Hogar Graduation (November 2016) – Preparing to Celebrate at El Hogar

Jason Lang (Website)
Jason Lang, El Hogar’s Manager of Marketing and Communications.

Graduation is such a special time for students and their families. No matter where you are in the world, the moment when that diploma is handed to the honored student marks the completion of years filled with hard work and studying. It’s the moment when the importance of the sacrifices made by families and friends to provide the support and help needed by the graduate can really be seen. Depending on the situation and location, some of those sacrifices can be greater than anyone can imagine.

Our students in Honduras come to El Hogar from situations that range from extreme poverty to abuse, unending hunger to neglect. Some of our students’ parents truly care about them and turn to us as a way for their children to break out of the cycle of poverty. Other students don’t know or have a relationship with their parents for a number of different reasons. No matter the situation, we provide all of the love and support they need to learn all they can and to eventually reach graduation.

I’m excited to be traveling back to Honduras tomorrow to be a part of the graduation festivities at three of our campuses. For the students at our Agricultural School and Technical Institute, it’s the moment they step into the world to use the skills they’ve gained to make better lives for themselves and their families. For our sixth graders, this is the moment they leave our Elementary school to take their next steps toward growing up and moving into one of our secondary education programs. This year’s graduation will also be the last before the first of our high school girls graduate and take their next steps toward adulthood.

I’ll be blogging daily about each of the graduation ceremonies and my time at El Hogar. It’s an amazing and humbling experience to be a part of each of these special days, and I want you to feel like you’re also there being a part of these turning points.

I hope you’ll take this journey with me and check back each day for updates. We fly out tomorrow!

School Supplies Aren’t Just Good to Have…They’re Essential

Gladys Jiménez is a third grade teacher at our campus in Tegucigalpa.
Gladys Jiménez is a third grade teacher at our campus in Tegucigalpa.

My wife is a teacher and I think she’s the best – no impartiality here. I’m sure each teacher’s spouse, significant other, family members, or friends feel the same way, and we each have a lot to be proud of. Teachers work tireless hours to ensure that their students get the fundamentals they need to finish the year ready to move forward toward success in school and life. Teachers are also a very creative group of people who find amazing ways to use everyday items to get their lessons across to students.

I recently came home to a pile of boxes in our dining room. My first thought was that we were preparing to open some kind of home-based business, but my wife informed me that all of those boxes were going to be used to create a bear cave for her students. It’s a creative use of ordinary items for her classroom, but there have also been times when she has had to take steps to provide the essentials for her students.

Most school districts in the United States are unable to provide some of the supplies needed by students in classrooms, which leaves teachers to often purchase those items with their own money. We’ve had moments when my wife has walked into a store and purchased hats, gloves, and scarves for each child in her classroom because their families didn’t have those items for winter. She has also purchased unknown numbers of pencils, crayons, notebooks, and other items that are essential for students to get the most out of school. That’s in the United States, but imagine what it’s like in Honduras.

Virginia Maradiaga teaches first grade students at our Tegucigalpa campus.
Virginia Maradiaga teaches first grade students at our Tegucigalpa campus.

In a country where many students often don’t even have the ability to regularly attend school, the students at El Hogar have a wonderful opportunity. They have teachers who truly care for them and who work hard to teach them everything they can to ensure they have chances to succeed in life. And just like students in the United States, El Hogar’s students need supplies to get the most out of their education.

Though they receive school supplies thanks to the generosity of our donors and supporters, there is always a need for more help. That’s where our Academic Essentials program comes in.

For as low as $25 per month, Academic Essentials offers people of any age or income level the opportunity to help us purchase needed supplies for our four campuses. These supplies range from textbooks to animal feed, computers to teacher salaries. For the price of one meal out, you can ensure that our students – children who come from some of the most impoverished and dangerous circumstances in Honduras – are getting the most out of their education.

A solid education offers the best opportunity for our students to break the cycle of poverty within their families and to make their hopes and dreams reality. With your support for Academic Essentials, our amazing teachers can ensure that their students get the best education we can provide.

For information about Academic Essentials, please click on the link below or contact the El Hogar offices via email at info@elhogar.org or by phone at 781-729-7600.

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Every Little Bit Really Does Count

“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” – Maya Angelou

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A photo of a family during a recent home visit by our Elementary Director.

Giving is an important aspect of life. Growing up, I was taught that lesson by my mother. We didn’t have very much money – she was raising me by herself after my father died – and she worked long, hard days to provide for me. But no matter how little we had, she always taught me the importance of giving. That last dollar in your pocket might mean a meal or a safe place to sleep for someone, instead of that cup of coffee you were planning to buy or that pack of bubble gum you have your eye on.

Working for El Hogar and traveling to Honduras, I’ve been exposed to the poverty that’s so intrinsically woven into that country’s society. There are very distinct class differences there – much more than in the United States or many other countries. The value of a dollar there takes on a bit more meaning when you consider the fact that $1 = about L22.   *L stands for lempira, which is the currency in Honduras. 

I don’t know if it’s because of growing up with very little money, but I have a habit of always picking up coins from the ground. It’s something that I’ve done since I was a young child and my friends have never understood it. Most of the time, the coins that I find are pennies – it’s a great day when you find a quarter or some other “big” money. Most people just throw away pennies as an unnecessary part of our currency here in the US, but not me. I’ve always had a coin jar around that those found pennies and other coins make their way into. As the jar fills, I look forward to the day when I can’t fit any more in and I roll the coins up to deposit at the bank. It’s at those moments when the real value of a humble penny can be seen and also when the laughs of my friends turn into looks of amazement.

I’m from the Mid-Atlantic and I knew about a well-beloved sculpture called “Penny Ben” in Philadelphia. This sculpture had been unveiled in 1971 and was covered in about 80,000 pennies – about $800 worth – collected by students in the city. It deteriorated over the years and was replaced in 2007 by a sculpture that incorporated keys and 1.8 million pennies – about $18,000 worth – from students. It’s another example of how powerful the humble penny can be!

Now, I’m not penny crazy, but I’m just trying to show how powerful small amounts can be when combined together. That’s the same way we work here at El Hogar. We have people from all backgrounds who give donations in a wide variety of amounts, both large and small. Those varying amounts combine to make our work in Honduras possible. Just like all of those students gave their pennies to make “Penny Ben” and his replacement possible.

I know that the summer is usually thought of as a time to enjoy some well-deserved relaxation. Here in Massachusetts, that usually means time at the beach or in the mountains. But I encourage you to make your summer count for more and to make it have truly lasting effects that will cross borders and oceans.

We recently launched a new monthly giving program at El Hogar called Partners for the Future, which gives people the opportunity to give a recurring gift each month to El Hogar in any amount that they’re comfortable with – $5, $25, $50… Those monthly gifts, like all of the other donations we receive throughout the year, add up to pay the necessary expenses each month to keep El Hogar going. Please take a few moments to make your monthly commitment to the children of El Hogar by clicking here.

Some people look for a way to make the summer last all year and this is one way that you can make that happen in a very good way!

Partners for the Future (Blog Button) - June 2016

Breaking Free from the Cycle of Poverty

Poverty is a problem that knows no borders and it doesn’t target a particular group of people. It’s a societal problem that plagues people around the world and that traps them – many for generations – in a continuous cycle that can seem nearly impossible to break out of. This cycle becomes worse in developing countries that have no network of support programs for the poor and where unemployment is rampant, which is particularly true in Honduras. It’s this cycle of poverty that is one of the main focuses of El Hogar’s efforts.

By working each year with the children at our four campuses, we’re providing them with the education and knowledge they need to break out of this cycle of poverty. Our students come from backgrounds that have included homelessness, hunger, abuse, illiteracy, and many other factors that would otherwise work to trap them in this cycle that their families have suffered in. Education is a driving force behind them breaking free.

When a child gains an education, they have a necessary foothold to climb out of poverty. They finally have paths to choose from in life, which can include attending university or finding a good job. They’re no longer hindered by their past, but are empowered for the future.

I’m quickly approaching the completion of my first year of working at El Hogar and throughout this past year, I’ve been struck by the stories of success that have been shared with me about our past students. Though it’s very difficult in a developing country like Honduras to keep in close contact with all of our graduates, we’re excited about the stories that are shared by them when they check-in with us. These stories are evidence of how life-changing El Hogar’s work is for our students.

Mario with Elementary School program Director Claudia Castro
Mario with Elementary School program Director Claudia Castro

I’m reminded of graduates like Mario Mejia Sanchez, who came to El Hogar in 1998 from a home with a hardworking single mother and five siblings. His mother worked long days that began at 5 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m. when she would arrive back at the family’s rented room to begin her housework. At El Hogar, Mario was able to get an education and to prepare himself for a bright future. According to him, “Graduation left us with a great sense of accomplishment and a certainty about our preparedness for life in Honduras.”

Mario now holds an administrative role in the Honduran military. His success has enabled him to financially support his mother and to purchase a home for her to live in. It’s success stories like Mario’s that show the difference that El Hogar is making in the lives of the most vulnerable children in Honduras.

I’m excited to share stories about our graduates – something I look forward to doing much more in the future. Their stories of success and of breaking out of the cycle of poverty make me proud to be a part of the El Hogar family.

I encourage you to also become a part of our family by providing support to our students and giving them a future full of hope and optimism. It’s not difficult and only takes a few moments of your time, plus maybe one less takeout meal per month.

When you do, let me be the first person to welcome you to the El Hogar family and to thank you for working with us to break the cycle of poverty.

Donate Button

A Season of Hope

Ever since I was a young child, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day has always been my favorite time of the year. While my friends would dream about spending warm days on the beach, I was looking forward to putting up the Christmas tree and decorating the house. Some might say that it was because I was looking forward to the idea of presents under the tree, but they would be wrong.

This time of the year has always been and continues to be my favorite because of one thing: the feeling. It’s hard to explain, but the world just feels right during this time of year. Attitudes seem calmer, people seem more giving, and there’s an air of hope that permeates the atmosphere. It’s that hope that inspired me when I sat down at my computer to write this post.

I firmly believe that each person on the planet is born with hope. I also believe that we can lose sight of it due to the circumstances that happen in life – illness, death, financial difficulties, and the list goes on. But losing sight doesn’t mean hope is lost.

When you look into the eyes of a child you see hope that is without end. They look at each day with new wonder and with excitement that many of us could learn from when we approach a Monday morning. While it would be wonderful for all children to have all of the opportunities and benefits they need from the very beginning, this isn’t always the case – particularly in developing countries, like Honduras.

The children who come into our care at El Hogar are coming from situations that would be deemed by most as hopeless – they’re poor, they’re orphans, they’ve been abused. They’ve gone through so much in their young lives and hope is often the only thing they have left.

During their time with us, we do all that we can to build on whatever hope they come to us with – some with just a small flicker because of the circumstances they’ve come from. This lets them dream about their futures – the families they’ll have, the jobs they’ll work in, and much more.

Hope is a precious commodity that many people seem to lack in today’s world. During this season of hope, I encourage you to take a few moments to learn this valuable lesson from the children of El Hogar – there is always hope. No matter what circumstances occur around us, there is always a glimmer of hope for the future.

Like the students of El Hogar, we must never lose hope. It’s the light that can brighten a difficult day or the peace that can lift you up at the right moment. In the words of Norman Cousins:

“The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started.”

– Norman Cousins

For more information about El Hogar or to make a donation, please visit our website at www.elhogar.org.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – Final Thoughts

I had hoped to publish this final post yesterday, but it was a long day of travel. I was on planes for most of the day and didn’t walk through my door until the early hours of this morning – not the time to be posting to a blog.

 

The past days in Honduras were uplifting and meaningful for me. I work each day to ensure that people hear the story of El Hogar, our amazing students, and the work that we do. This trip gave me the chance to see these students at important points of their lives. Even at their young ages, they’ve taught me so much about not letting life’s circumstances dictate how I approach each day of my future.

This trip was also a time of learning. It never ceases to amaze me how each moment of our lives – even time at the airport – can teach us valuable lessons. While standing in the check-in line yesterday in Tegucigalpa, I saw a young boy who must have only been about seven or eight years old. His face was dirty, his clothes were ragged, and he wore stress on his face that was beyond his years. He was approaching various people to ask them for money and was being turned away by each person as they focused on their imminent flights.

The boy seemed to be making his way through the entire airport and it broke my heart. This young child – someone who should be playing and going to school – was struggling to simply survive. I wondered about the circumstances of his life and where he had come from. Would I see him again the next time I visited Tegucigalpa? What will his situation be like next year, five years from now, and beyond? I don’t have the answers to these questions and all that I can do is hope that he gets the help he needs.

This drove home the importance of the work we do at El Hogar. The children in our care have come from situations that run the gamut, but they’re safe now. They have the love they need, the education they require, and the food that nourishes them. They’ve been lifted out of their difficult situations and given new leases on life thanks to El Hogar and our fantastic supporters.

The past days have been uplifting as I’ve seen young men and women taking their next steps toward (or into) independence. But our work isn’t done.

There are still far too many children living in poverty and dealing with unimaginable hardships in Honduras. We’re here for them. Our mission doesn’t end until each of their lives are changed and the cycle of poverty in this beautiful country is broken.

To those who support us and our work, thank you. For those of you who haven’t yet, we invite you to click here to begin changing the lives of these children today. It’s a sad time when I leave Honduras, but I look forward to returning and seeing (or hearing) more stories of change in the lives of the children of El Hogar.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – El Hogar’s Elementary School (El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza)

Today was my final full day in Honduras for the various graduation events that have been occurring at each of the El Hogar campuses. Today’s event wasn’t a graduation, but was a clausura – an event marking the students’ transition from the Elementary school to one of the other specialized programs established by El Hogar. This also marks the end of their time with Claudia Castro.

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Yesterday, I spoke about Lazaro Juarez and his love for the boys in his care. Claudia sees the children of El Hogar when they first enter our program. She sees the difficult situations they come from and watches them grow beyond their hardships. She is a mother to each of the boys and girls in our care and you see it with how each of the students interacts with her and speaks of her.

The ceremony was beautiful and included honors for the teachers who work with the students, presentations made by the children for the various special classes that they take part in (baking, sewing, art, etc.), plenty of wonderful music, and emotional moments that left most people wiping a tear from their eyes.

This was a special time that honored the hard work that these students have put in and the special people who got them there. These types of ceremonies are not short, but the fact that the children were well-behaved during the entire process shows how wonderful and amazing they are.

After attending the three ceremonies over the past few days, it’s become even more evident how important the teachers and administrators are to the lives and success of the students in El Hogar’s care. The staff members at El Hogar work hard to give these children the education they need to succeed in life. They don’t sugarcoat their message by saying life is easy, but they prepare them well to deal with many of the obstacles they may encounter. They celebrate the triumphs and lend support during difficulties. They are educators who give their all to ensure that these students have every ounce of support they need.

I leave Honduras tomorrow and I have to admit that I’m sad to go. Like in August, I continue to fall in love with this wonderful country and its people. I’m the luckiest person in the world to work with an organization that’s changing lives in Honduras. Though returning home is always nice when you’ve been away, tomorrow’s blog post – my last for this trip – will be hard to write.