NPH celebrates 60 years of ‘raising children, transforming lives’

| April 8, 2015 | 0 Comments
A young girl from the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos home in El Salvador plays guitar in music class. Photo courtesy NPH USA

A young girl from the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos home in El Salvador plays guitar in music class. Photo courtesy NPH USA

A trip to Mexico for Richard Jordan and his family might not include white sandy beaches and daily siestas. But that’s intentional.

Ever since his daughter, Claire, came back from a mission trip in 2007 with their parish, Holy Name of Jesus in Medina, he has planned an annual trip with his family to help children at the home started by a U.S. Jesuit priest 61 years ago. Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos — Spanish for “Our Little Brothers and Sisters” — serves orphaned, abandoned and poor children in nine countries: Mexico, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Peru and Bolivia. The organization now is called NPH International.

“What happened to her and so many others happened to me,” Jordan said. Echoing what he heard a priest say about NPH, Jordan added, “Something about this place grabs your heart and never lets go.”

For the Jordans, visiting an NPH home means being its guests, sharing meals, teaching at vacation Bible school and doing projects. Claire Jordan’s experience was transformational in such a way that she is now teaching children in Mexico. The Jordans sponsor four NPH “godchildren.”

Like a family

Rose Schaffhausen, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist in Little Canada, began volunteering for NPH in its early days. After hearing about NPH from her sister who worked for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, she looked at how the lives of her five children differed from those in NPH homes and wanted to help.

As her involvement grew from strictly fundraising to regularly visiting the children in Mexico, Schaffhausen said she saw them change dramatically, an observation that has been a constant during her 40-plus years with the organization.

“As [the children] come in and transition, they learn the value system and become responsible, and receive education as far up as they can go,” she said.

Schaffhausen said the children have a full schedule of stimulation and learn self management and “everything you would in a family.”

Father William Wasson

Father William Wasson

“The whole thing stems down from the attitude and workmanship of Father [William] Wasson,” she said. “He was a man of great concentration, but was no bureaucrat. He changed their lives. He gave them love and responsibility.”

Father Wasson started Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos in 1954 in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, after a boy was arrested for stealing from the poor box of the church where Father Wasson served. He was unwilling to press charges against the boy and instead asked for custody of him. A week later, a judge sent him eight more homeless boys. By year’s end, 32 boys were in Father Wasson’s care.

Mission continues

Today, more than 3,000 children live in the nine NPH homes Father Wasson established over the years. More than 20,000 children have grown up in what is dubbed the “NPH family.”

Eventually, Schaffhausen started NPH USA’s upper Midwest regional board, which is based in Minneapolis and raises money and promotes sponsorships of the children.

When current director Molly Boyum began two and a half years ago, she was impressed with the mission, and the passion and commitment of NPH’s many longtime volunteers.

She said what stands out about NPH is its focus on education, which breaks the cycle of poverty. Once the children graduate from high school or college, they return to the home and give back a year of service, Boyum explained.

“It’s such a great opportunity for these young kids new to the home to see firsthand that if you work hard, you, too, can have an education and a career,” she said. “We can tell them, but for them to see it firsthand is amazing.”

A boy in NPH’s Haiti home does chores in this 2003 photo. Photo courtesy NPH USA

A boy in NPH’s Haiti home does chores in this 2003 photo. Photo courtesy NPH USA

Locally, NPH will host its annual gala Oct. 3, when 15 children from NPH’s home in El Salvador will sing and dance, and then spend two weeks with a host family.

Jordan serves on the board and said the needs are still greater than the funds. According to Boyum, the cost to raise a child in an NPH home is about $6,000 annually.

“In an ideal world, we’d figure out how to raise more money and offer more,” Jordan said. “People can’t believe what they do with the money they have.”

Jordan said that the violence in some Central and South American countries drives the need for NPH homes. For that reason, he said a major goal is to double the number of children in NPH homes.

Schaffhausen, who remains on the board, said the organization is constantly changing for the future.

“Looking at the rise in the exploitation of women and young people, I see that this is the model of what can make dramatic changes in our society,” she said. “These kids have a value system and learn to be responsible and learn not to go in the pitfalls — gangs and the like. At NPH, that’s a given, that’s absolute. You take care of each other. We need more of this in the world.”

Jordan points to NPH’s success in the children whose lives are not only saved, but also celebrated by what they’re able to accomplish when embraced in a family-oriented environment.

About three years ago, he said, three girls who grew up together in the Mexican NPH home all graduated from college and have careers in engineering and technology.

“If it weren’t for NPH, there’s a good chance they’d be dead, or into drugs or prostitution,” Jordan said. “[NPH] gives these kids a chance. These kids aren’t asking for handouts. To be able to see these results and the opportunity it gives kids is just amazing.”

More information about Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos

Woman calls childhood in Mexico a blessing, thanks to NPH

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