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Local residents hold fundraiser for Honduras Hope

October 15, 2010
LITTLETON- How long does a life-changing event last? For sisters-in-law Carla and Marianne Vaughan, it was two weeks this past summer in Honduras that opened their eyes to the struggles facing some of the world's most impoverished men, women, and children. For the months since their return, the Vaughans have spent their free time selling raffle tickets outside grocery stores and going from business to business to ask for donations in preparation for an Oct. 23 fundraiser at the Maplewood Hotel in Bethlehem that will benefit the people of Honduras.

"The poverty was so overwhelming," said Carla, who brought her two children, Jessica, 10, and Ashley, 13, on the trip organized by the non-profit organization Honduras Hope. Carla and Marianne spent some of their time in Honduras going door-to-door to distributing vitamins, and had a chance to see how the Honduras' people really live. "We felt gut-wrenching sadness at seeing children with distended stomachs, babies with chest infections, children running the hill sides with no shoes through animal and human excrement."

Despite the extreme poverty many of these families deal with everyday, the Vaughans also spoke of the resilient optimism and pride they encountered whilst spending time with Hondurans, traits that Honduras Hope Founder Bill Briggs has tried to foster.

"Honduras Hope isn't about throwing money at something because money doesn't always solve the problem," said Briggs who maintains one of the most important gifts his organization can give is self-esteem. "One of the things that we do while we are there is believe that they are somebody."

Of course, Honduras Hope also deals in more tangible contributions than self-esteem. Since its creation by Bill and his wife, Susi, of Franconia, in 2001, Honduras Hope has formed educational, health, and economic development programs to help the people of two of the poorest villages in the country: Plan Grande and San Jose.

Plan Grande is a village located approximately five kilometers outside of Yoro, a city located in northwestern Honduras, on a Tolupan Indian reservation. San Jose is an even more remote location. Located in the mountains 15 kilometers outside Yoro, San Jose's residents have no official claim to their land as Honduras' state officials have deemed it a national park. Both villages have a population of 500 or less, and have no electricity. San Jose is only accessible by foot or on horseback. In a country where the average family makes between $600 and $1200 per year, said Briggs, these communities are among the poorest.

Briggs tells the story of Martha, a single mother of five who lives in Plan Grande, and supports her family by doing laundry in Yoro for $2 a day. One day, Martha was finishing up some of her laundry when a man grabbed a shirt from her pile of clean clothes and used it to wipe the mud off of his dirty boots. "That's how much people who have means in Yoro think of the people who live in the villages 20 miles out of the city," said Briggs. "That's why we're in Plan Grande."

Honduras Hope makes a group trip four or five times a year, though Briggs travels to the villages five or six times a year.

"In the last 8 years or so, we have developed a number of programs. Our idea about community development is developing long-term relationships with the community," said Briggs. "Then, we ask the community what they need, so it's their program, not ours."

One of Honduras Hope's projects in Plan Grande has been a nutritional center where three times a week, women from the community get together to prepare meals for the children under the age of five. Another program, a women's vocational school, offers classes on sewing, soap and shampoo-making, and jewelry-making. Briggs sells some of the jewelry made by the women at his store, Sterling Works, in Littleton. Most of the school's students are young mothers (ages 14 to 18) or older woman, and have had no formal education past the fourth grade. The skills learned offer the women the opportunity to earn money for their families.

The extremely remote San Jose had little access to health care, so Honduras Hope built a health clinic and supports a full-time nurse's salary, housing, transportation, and continuing education. The nurse holds daily clinics and makes rounds by horseback.

San Jose's remoteness also makes it very difficult for its children to attend high school in Yoro. "High school kids have to hike down into the city to go to school," explained Marianne. The journey is long and rough. At a meeting, Briggs asked what the high school students needed. The overwhelming response was shoes. "Because they have to walk so far, they wear their shoes out because it is a dirt, muddy path they walk on," said Briggs. Honduras Hope got the children shoes, but also created a boarding house, monitored by house parents, for the teenagers of San Jose to attend the private high school in Yoro.

Honduras Hope's scholarship program allows for students from both Plan Grande and San Jose to attend high school in Yoro by covering the cost of tuition, uniforms, books, and other materials. The housing improvement program is also active in both villages, working to ensure that all the homes have new concrete floors and walls, as well as metal roofs to protect from environment, parasites, and disease.

From its original mission, Honduras Hope has expanded its focus beyond the residents of Plan Grande and San Jose. Honduras Hope helps to fund a vocational school in Yoro that benefits students from all over Honduras. The organization's newest project is a culinary school set to open this spring in Yoro. The project has been done in partnership with The Common Man Restaurants and CEO Alex Ray who has been very active in the organization.

About five years ago, said Ray, Briggs and Peter Lovett, a Honduras Hope board member and friend of Ray's, came to talk to him about their trips to Honduras. "I thought, 'Oh, boy. I'm going to get hit up for money," said Ray. Briggs and Lovett traveled to the Sandwich Fair where Ray was working and managed to squeeze in some face time, convincing Ray to come on a trip to Honduras with the group.

"I told myself, 'I'm not going to get hooked,'" said Ray. "I've probably been 20 times since then." Ray said he was moved by the approach Briggs brought to Honduras Hope. "He didn't just say, 'Here's a thousand dollars.' He treated people with real respect and care."

Honduras Hope was recently awarded a Seal of Excellence from the Independent Charities of America. One of less than 5 percent of charities nation-wide that earn the honor, the seal reflects that the money fundraised by Honduras Hope is going directly into helping its people, and not into administrative or maintenance costs. Ninety-eight percent of the roughly $80,000 to $100,000 annual funds go towards funding the charity's programs. The other two percent goes to pay for the organization's tax audit, which Briggs managed to find at half-price.

Briggs mentioned that the entire funding going directly into the programs is not the case with many charities. Many take money out of their fundraising to pay employees, maintain a building, or for the expenses of the fundraiser. "That's not our culture," said Briggs. "Our culture is Marianne and Carla."

Everything the Vaughans have gathered for the Honduras Hope fundraiser has been donated. "The North Country has been so wonderful," said Marianne. Almost every business they asked in the community has donated something for the silent auction, which is up to 130 items. Grammy nominee Sarah Brooks will be playing at the event, along with her band, The Usual Suspects. Other draws include a 50/50 raffle, door prizes, cash bar, and appetizers provided by The Common Man Restaurant. The Vaughans are asking for $30 per person, or $50 per couple, and tickets can be purchased with check or cash at Razzmatazz Hair Salon, Sterling Works, The Village Bookstore, Twin Mountain Country Store, Mojo Headquarters, The Franconia Village Store, and the Carlisle Place Spa.

"[Bill] knows every single person in both those communities, and [he] cares about them," Marianne told Briggs.

"And they know that [he's] there to help," added Carla.

"That's why we like Honduras Hope," said Marianne. "Because Honduras Hope does have a relationship with these people."

To know this is true, one just has to listen to Briggs talk of his experiences in Honduras for a few minutes.

Briggs recounted a New Year's party he was invited to a couple years ago. The family made tamales and played music on an old stereo they had to run off of a car battery. Despite the rain, the party-goers were enthusiastic. "We were all out there dancing, eating tamales, and having a great time," said Briggs. "That would never happen here."

Briggs then told the story of being summoned to the bedside of a dying older woman. She was a member of a family he had grown to know very well. "When you really enter into a community's life, you get invited to the dance," said Briggs, "but you have a heartfelt obligation to be at the funeral."

A life-changing event can last a year, a minute, or a second. Regardless, its repercussions tend to last a lot longer.

Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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