Saturday, May 5, 2012


We had the privilege recently of participating in a TOMS Shoes Gifting to the children of St. Helene. TOMS did not allow photography so we have no pictures to share with you, but the mental images will stay in my mind forever. Children we have come to know and love came out of their classrooms wearing shoes with holes in them, some with their feet hanging off both ends of worn-out sandals. They took a seat in one of the 10 chairs lined up on the portico, and they were fitted for a brand new pair of shoes! Something I'm sure they have never experienced before.

Can we even begin to comprehend the significance of a new pair of shoes? It starts simply with the protection from injury and disease, but grows to include the more subjective but real aspect of self-esteem. It was a gift to see the looks on the children's faces when they received their gift of a brand new pair of shoes!

In one day, roughly 320 pairs of shoes were given to children on the island of St. Helene. During the week in Roatan, over 2000 children received shoes!! And the really great news for those who don't know, is that once you're on the TOMS Gifting list, their commitment is to come back every 6 months to keep children in shoes that fit as they continue to grow!

We are so grateful to TOMS Shoes for their incredible program, and to Vivian Chahin and her family - especially Andrea - for bringing the TOMS Gifting program to Honduras, and now St. Helene!

Friday, April 20, 2012

From Trash to Treasures!

A month ago, our friend and fellow board member, Gina Bueso, and friend, Iliana Callejas, offered to teach anyone on the north side of St. Helene how to take plastic trash bags and turn them into products to be sold at Gina's shop at the Roatan cruise ship dock. This past weekend, they showed me what they had already created! Now they are taking what used to be trash littering the ground, and turned them into beautiful treasures that will eventually provide them with money to feed and clothe their families!
I could already see a difference in the countenance of the women participating. They have more confidence. They know they can do this and do it well. And they are having fun doing it!! They laughed as they told me the only ones not liking this new endeavor are the men... because the women are spending so much time crocheting now, they're not cooking enough for them! ;-)

The ladies voted on a "head" of the women's group that will keep track of hours worked per person. The women will be sharing the money coming in equally between themselves based on the number of hours worked. By doing it this way, it causes the women to come together, interact and socialize. From what they have told me, they are not accustomed to doing that, and are enjoying it very much.

As in everything ALF does, we don't give it away for free. There has to be a "buy-in" so there is "skin in the game." In this case, the crochet hooks given to the women were not free. It is a loan of $1.50 per hook to be paid back after their products start selling. It is a minimal amount, but it is something, and it begins to teach them business skils, work ethic, and self-respect.

There were not enough hooks for them to each have their own, so they've been sharing until I could bring more down. But before I could get more hooks to them last weekend, one of the ladies' husbands started making them out of wood and bamboo... and they work perfectly!! They are shaped and sized to match a store-bought size 6.5 hook EXACTLY!! (Yet another product to produce and sell??)

We are excited for these strong, beautiful women to be productive members of their family and community! Be watching for a way to purchase one of these hand-crafted bags for yourself soon!!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sweet Equity

When you put in the hard work required to earn something, it's called 'sweat equity'. When you work at building relationships that allow you to help people who then help others, I call that 'sweet equity', and that's what we have with Mark and Susan Schuler.

We've known the Schulers for about 4 of the 8 years they've been living and serving in Roatan as missionaries. After 2 years ministering to the people in the poor community where they live, several families came to them and asked if Mark would be their pastor.
They started church in their home with a few families. 5+ years later they are bursting at the seems with 50-80 in their living room 3 times a week! Two years ago they opened a Kindergarten in the mornings and this year started a "high school" in the afternoons for grades 7 - 10. They also do Bible studies, English classes and tutoring for anyone who wants to attend. With all of this - and more - taking place in their home, they've needed a church - and now a school - for quite a while. This is where the 'sweet equity' comes in!

Of the 12 acres ALF purchased for affordable housing, we set aside enough land for the Schulers to build a church/school. What a privilege to be able to bless such humble and dedicated servants!

Although the land was a donation, this relatively small and very poor church have a lot of work ahead to raise the money needed for building. But the 'sweat equity' began a few weeks ago as they began clearing the land of their future church home using only machetes - Honduran lawn mowers!

There is nothing sweeter than investing in the lives of other people... especially when those people are servants who use what they are given to help others!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 2012

For those of you who are familiar with the other 2 areas of giving at ALF, the "bleed-over" between the 3 segments continues! We took boxes and boxes of leftover t-shirts from our Discovery program to St. Helene and gave every adult a brand new, free t-shirt. Also on our February trip, we took about 70 new and gently used shoes to St. Helene and lined them up inside the school for the community to go shopping! A special thank-you to our friend, Shawn Mack, for getting all those shoes donated.

Meanwhile, back on the island of Roatan, we continue moving forward with what we are calling the "Dignity Housing" project. We have hired people to clear the 12 acres of land, which of course is all being done by hand with machetes. Tedious, hard work, but as the underbrush is cleared, you can see what an outstanding piece of property this is! Most everyone living here should have a beautiful view of the ocean, including its cool breezes.

Here is a picture of a road that they cut and cleared, providing access to the top of the hill. Beautiful! Housing will predominantly be on the hillside, with a church/school, shops and recreational area (hopefully with a soccer field) on the bottom flatland. The world class architect working on the Grand Roatan is donating his services for free to do the site plan. Thank you, Juan Carlos Choussy... again! (He also designed the school for us in St. Helene!)

Again, the commitment is that, for every condo sold at the Grand Roatan Resort in West Bay, together, we will build an affordable "dignity home" for a qualified family in need. So we'd better get busy because the Grand Roatan is going up! Incredible views from every unit - but watch your step!

This is "Building 1". It is going up fast!

David and I were asked to announce the Dignity Housing program to an international audience in San Pedro Sula, Honduras as the owners/developers of the Grand Roatan began marketing their condo sales. We were very excited to tell this group of 100 people how we plan to benefit the island and its people through a joint effort with developers on the island.

While in San Pedro Sula our friends, the Chahin family, invited us to go on a TOMS Shoe drop with them. For those who don't know about TOMS Shoes, their commitment is that for every pair of shoes sold, they donate a pair to a child in need around the world. We have been moved and motivated by Blake MyCoskie's passion and vision for several years, and it inspired inspired us to the "1 for 1" idea with the dignity housing. So to go on a shoe drop with this amazing family and witness the TOMS Shoes vision in action was a thrill! There were around 1200 kids at this one school in San Pedro Sula who ALL received a free pair of TOMS Shoes! Amazing! They are always given a black pair of shoes as that is what is required to attend school. So every child receiving a pair of TOMS not only receives protection for their feet, but entrance into school to receive an education.

This is Andrea Chahin. Although a child of affluence herself, she was very aware of the poverty all around her. When she was 16 she wrote a letter to TOMS and asked if they could extend their free shoe program to Honduras. Now, 2 years later, she and her mother head up the entire country of Honduras for TOMS and their free shoe distribution program. In 2012, they estimate that they will distribute roughly 45,000 pairs of TOMS shoes in Honduras alone! Roatan was added to their distribution list last yaer, and in April this yaer, they will make their first shoe drop to the children in St. Helene!! More than that, once a school gets on their list, they re-visit them with new shoes every 6 months. So the kids in St. Helene have no more worries about shoes for school! Thank you TOMS!! And thank you to Vivian and Andrea Chahin for the excellent work they do throughout Honduras!

Friday, January 27, 2012

January 2012

Happy New Year!

I can't believe so much time has gone by since my last post. My apologies! But we've still been hard at work in Roatan and made 3 trips since my last entry.

November marked the end of the first school year for the 57 students at the new school in St. Helene. The new year starts in February and we've been collecting backpacks, school supplies and money for uniforms in preparation. There's been more work on the building as well, adding gutters and piping to capture rainwater and direct it to the nearest well to keep their spring water supply full.

Our most recent trip to St. Helene was the week before Christmas. We held a community meeting to further discuss the concept of sustainable living with a community garden, chicken coops and the like. There's a lot more to talk about, and they will need to prove to us that they are up for all the hard work involved as well as the ability to work together for the collective good before we will invest in such a project. We've been in contact with an agricultural university on the mainland who is very interested in helping with this idea, but the biggest roadblock is whether or not the community will pull together to do something of this nature. It is not the 'culture' of their community right now, which we learned while building the school. So in the meantime, we are trying to foster a sense of 'community' through various things including a 'work for food' program. The idea is that each of the 25 families in the community will make a list of things that would help them (i.e. fix a leek in their roof, have help washing clothes, one lady said she could really use an indoor bathroom so she doesn't have to go outside each time, etc.). Then someone in the community would do that work for them, sit and share a meal together, and they would earn a voucher for food. It might not sound like much, but this would be a huge start! The hope is that this will help them bond with each other and realize that by helping each other, they are actually helping themselves. A long process, for sure, but each step in the right direction brings us closer!

After the seriousness of the meeting, it was time for some fun! We really wanted to bless the people of St. Helene and, knowing how hard times had been, food was the best way. So we arranged to have enough smoked turkeys done ahead of time so we could give one to each of the 25 families in the community! David donned his Santa cap and as each family was called and sent a representative forward to receive their tureky, David greeted them with a hearty "Ho! Ho! Ho!", a big hug, and an even bigger turkey. (Here's the 25 of them holding their birds!) After the adults got their 'treats', our daughter and niece who was with us helped hand out goody bags to each of the children. They were thrilled to get a present and seemed to enjoy the candy canes most of all!

After everyone left to go home, David and I made our rounds and tried to talk one-on-one with as many people as we could about the idea of sustainable farming. There is definitely some interest, but it is far from what it would take for us to move forward with this project at this time, which pains us.

One last pic from St. Helene. Some friends of ours recently went on vacation to Roatan and made it a point to go to St. Helene with books, supplies and clothes. This is Meagen Edgars, Lindon Martinez (school teacher in St. Helene), Julie Smith Doyle, her son, and Kevin Wesley (ALF representative from Roatan). Julie is a former school teacher and team leader in one of the poorest school districts in Houston and is highly regarded for her parent classes and her "teach the teacher" programs. She had tremendous results with her programs in Houston and is now highly sought after. She donated her time to share her techniques with Lindon for the day and will return in subsequent trips to continue the education. Many thanks to our friends from Texas for helping our friends in Roatan!

The children's home has had some changes lately. The two women who have worked at and run the home for the past many years decided to leave at the end of December. So now there are two new women working there, and Glen Steer who has been there for the past year. Several of the children have left them home recently, and one new boy has been admitted. That new boy, and one of the girls who has been there for a couple of years, have recently become elligible to go to bilingual school. We have someone sponsoring the girl for half her tuition, but are looking for someone interested in covering the other half, as well as a sponsor for the boy. The girl is 12 and in the 6th grade. She is very intelligent. Her only struggle has been learning enough English in order to make it at the bilingual school, but she is ready now. The boy is 11 and in the 5th grade. He is a go-getter and we believe will do well with the new challenge!

Lastly, an update on the Affordable Housing Project. Again, this is a joint venture between the Abundant Life Foundation and the Grand Roatan - a luxury condominium development project. Together, we have committed to build an affordable home for every condo sold in the project, which is slated to be 281. When someone buys one of their condos, the Grand Roatan will build a home in that person's name for the next family on the pre-qualified list. ALF's role is to buy the land and do all the site and prep work. Then, by making roughly the same monthly payment a hard-working individual on the island would be making anyway, within 10 years, the home would be paid for and they would own it and the land it sits on.

There is still a TON of work to do on this project, but the ball is definitely rolling. Meetings have been held with banks to work out loan deals; we closed on 12 acres of land in a prime location; the world-class architect that is designing the Grand Roatan has donated his time to this project and has designed the homes to be built as well as the lay-out of the 12 acres for maximum utilization (Many, many thanks to Juan Carlos Choussy from El Salvador for doing this AND designing the school in St. Helene! His talent and his heart are endless.) And the Grand Roatan has begun a massive marketing campaign to sell the units... so we had better get a move on!! Stay tuned!!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August 2011

August marks a personal change in our lives that affects how we will be doing our work in Roatan for quite a while. Our little girl started 1st grade this month, so now we begin a new and wonderful stage of life! But the reality is that she and I will no longer be able to travel as frequently to the island as in years past. So this was David's first of many trips to Roatan 'solo'. It was such an odd feeling to not be there with him, but I embrace this new stage and look forward to supporting him and our projects even more actively from home.

And although WE weren't with David, don't think he was there all alone! He had long-time friend, Philip with him, and new to the scene was Chance Gilbert, a fairly recent alumni of the Discovery program, out living his mission and seeing what direction it might take.

Here are the guys, along with locals to St. Helene, Lindon and Whetsel, attaching a gutter to the roof of the new school. It was extremely hot and humid and a long, tiring job... but worth it in the end! Eventually, these gutters will funnel rain water over to a cistern to be gathered and used.

Here, Lindon is showing us the vegetables the kids in school are growing from the starter kit given to them by friend, Kathy Wells Strand, on her last visit to the island. They have transferred them from the starter pots to the ground and are doing well despite the struggle with insects. The kids were so excited to see something grow that they planted! They had never experienced that before! Hopefully it will spark a new interest in gardening as they desperately need fresh fruit and vegetables.

When the school was dedicated in February, we gave them 3 plaques. It was finally time to hang them on the wall:

1. A list of major contributors to the project
2. The commitment from the community to keep their land clear of trash
3. Two inspiring quotes from Booker T. Washington

Kevin and David.

The trim still needs painted along the bottom of the walls, but see that blank row of blocks just above the windows? That's where your name could be painted - to be a part of the school for all time - for a minimum $100 donation to our St. Helene project. We will continue to sell them until the entire row is sold.

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 2011

Another visit to St. Helene! The school still needs the trim painted (which we delivered on this trip) but is looking good!

We love being there when school is in session so we can say hi to all the kids! Here we stopped by during their English lesson and helped them with ther studies.

Now all that's left of the old school is an open dirt area that's being used as a small soccer field - of course!

This time we made our trip an over-nighter. Many thanks to Larry and Sheila Benson from Missions Encounter International, on the south side of the island, for hosting us and treating us to great conversation, fellowship… and food!! Here is Larry and Sheila (far right) and their team (from left to right)- Molly, Dominick and Ashley. All such wonderful, godly people!

We have come to love the people that make up this community - a very small one of about 22 families of 100 or so people. Through building the school we came to know some of them, but not all. So on this particular trip our commitment was to go door-to-door introducing ourselves to all 22 families and spending some time getting to know them, and they us. We hope to earn their trust over time so that we might all work together to better their community. We had an unbelievable time! Here are some of the beautiful faces of the north-side community of St. Helene:

Pastor Ted (on right) is a pastor at the church on the north side. He agreed to take us door-to-door to make the initial introductions. (Our daughter, Anna, was with us as always, and on this trip we also had my nephew, Billy.)

This is Truman, sitting on the front step of his home. Born and raised on St. Helene, he fishes and dives for lobster for a living, as do most of the men on the island. He doesn't do it commercially anymore, just to live off of. But the fish and lobster are getting scarce. He told us that lately (including the day we met him) he will fish all day and often come home with nothing. The waters used to be plentiful, but no longer. Life is hard.

Another woman, born and raised on Helene, taking care of her grandchild.

This is Rollins Rich, also born and raised on Helene, and is the 3rd oldest man on the island at 83! He is as spry and chipper as someone half his age! He is one of the only people we know of with a garden (about 1/4 acre) and he tends it all himself.

It was a sincere pleasure, and an enriching experience, meeting everyone. We look forward to getting to know them all better in future visits and working together to bring hope, healing and prosperity to this beautiful island.

Lastly, we would like to introduce you to our newest endeavor. We are partnering with a luxury condominium development on the island called "Grand Roatan" and, for every one of their 280+ condos they sell, together we will build a home on the island of Roatan for a qualified family. We are very excited about this project on many levels. Not only will it make dreams come true for locals who could never have thought home ownership possible, but also, it joins tourists with locals and bridges cultural divides. It also shows social responsibility giving back to the communities we come to enjoy and not only taking from it. We hope it will encourage other business people on the island to do similar forms of giving back. There are myriad details to work out, and undoubtedly many hurdles to face, so look for more details on our website as we work through them. But we have already bought our first 12 acres of land and built 1 'test home', seen here. "The Grand" is in its initial stage of construction and has only recently begun moving dirt, but we hope to position ourselves to have homes ready to be built as the first units are finished out.