Earlier this week I sat down to begin cranking out blog posts about all of our service projects and experiences during our time in Bolivia. After a busy month of volunteering, exploring and making new friends, I was inspired to document our time there and share information about the organizations we’d had the privilege to work with while we were in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
It was then that I received the shocking news that our good friend and host during our time in Fiji had been killed in a tragic biking accident. Reuben Summerlin’s death rocked this family. Brian and I were in a fog of grief, thinking constantly about his beautiful wife Diana, their children Leah and Ike, and the rest of Reuben’s family. All the while, we knew the pain we were feeling over losing him was a tiny fraction of what those closest to him were going through.
The idea of writing again on this blog seemed unfathomable at first. What was the point of this silly little web site after the tragic loss of such an amazing man and humanitarian? My inspiration to write was completely gone. But then I started writing about Reuben. In thinking about his life and his legacy of service, his openness to the world and his positive attitude toward life’s challenges, my motivation to write slowly returned. As sad as it can be at times, life does go on. We have to make the most of our time in this physical world in honor of those whose time here ended much too soon.
So here I am, sharing the story of Stansberry Children’s Home. Like Reuben, the leaders of Stansberry are focused on improving lives. They do it not only by caring for children who have lost their parents, but also by providing childcare for struggling families. This allows parents to improve their income potential and stabilize their family’s life.
Alex Kozel serves as the site director for Stansberry, and his wife, Julie, is heavily involved in the daily operations of the facility. Since Alex, Julie and their children quickly became good friends of ours, we got the opportunity to spend a lot of time at Stansberry and learn about the organization’s unique programs.
Stansberry Children’s Home has implemented an innovative model for the children’s care which reflects the dynamics of normal family life. Instead of living in gender-specific dormitories, the children at Stansberry live in houses with their siblings, a few other children and their house parents. These homes are similar to the foster care system, except instead of taking a child into someone’s home, Stansberry provides the house and brings qualified people in to care for the children. The large grounds include a fruit orchard, pasture for the organization’s milk cows, playgrounds, a basketball court and a soccer field. It’s a wonderful place of healing for the children who live there.
Stansberry’s forward-thinking philosophy when it comes to children’s wellbeing also led to the development of the “Guarderia Moises” day care center and the Before & After School program. Parents living in poverty are often forced to give up their children because they can’t feed everyone on one income nor can they afford childcare. Sadly, children will enter the home for several years while the parents try to get back on their feet. Often the family’s reunion never happens or when it does the feeling of abandonment created by their time apart has a deep psychological impact on the child.
To prevent this sad story from unfolding, Stansberry created a subsidized childcare program. Families apply and are accepted based on need after an evaluation by the organization’s social worker. The extremely low cost of the program allows the parents to earn an income and keep their children with them. Families also have access to workshops, adult education programs and medical support services.
We were so impressed by every aspect of Stansberry’s philosophy, facilities and services. Their innovative approach to supporting struggling families and the holistic care they give to orphaned children was inspiring to see firsthand.
We were able to help out with the organization’s San Juan festival bon fire and hotdog roast. This involved some time in the kitchen cutting vegetables and a few minor hand cramps from wielding a knife for so long. However it was well worth it. Our kids had a great time playing with the children living in the Stansberry home. We roasted hotdogs and marshmallows, drank local tea and experienced a longstanding Bolivian tradition for this holiday.
With our friend Reuben Summerlin and his family still very much at the forefront of our minds, I couldn’t help but think as I typed this post that Reuben would have loved this organization. On several occasions I heard him talk about the importance of addressing the root cause of poverty and looking for innovative ways to give people a hand up instead of a hand out. With its family support services and daycare programs, Stansberry is a unique children’s home working hard to minimize the need for children’s homes.
I’ll paraphrase something poignant Reuben said to me in Fiji when we were talking about the nonprofit world. You’ll have to imagine the charming southern drawl that goes with it. The best charity is the one that’s trying to put itself out of business because it actually solved the problem.
So true, Reuben. So very, very true.