On Saturday, January 17, 2015, I stood at the hogares de anciones, the home of the ancients, in Jinotepe, Nicaragua, surrounded by residents of the center that we helped build. Around me were my beloved North Carolina Nicaragua partner, Carron Suddreth of Wilkes Senior Village, and eight of our most dedicated supporters, all from the N.C. long term care community. On a cool and sunny Nicaragua day, we were surrounded by local dignitaries, residents of the renovated center, the center staff and many others, including Keren Brown Wilson, the founder of the Jessie F. Richardson Foundation the sponsor of everything we were seeing and the celebration that was about to begin.
We were there to help dedicate the newly-renovated hogare, eight years in the making.
As I looked around, I remembered my first trip to Jinotepe and the hogare in 2006, when residents were ill-clothed and hungry; the roof was unattached; electric wiring dangled from the ceiling, no potable water and staff that were untrained and often unpaid. I looked over at my Nicaraguan attorney friend, Alma, who, along with a couple of other local women who decided years ago they wanted more for the poor elders of their country. I remembered how Alma found Keren Wilson, Keren found me, I found Carron Suddreth, and Carron and I together found dozens of members of the North Carolina long term care community who always said “yes” when we asked for supplies or money for the hogare.
As the priest stood to begin the ceremony, I looked a few rows back and saw Cheryl Clapp Coleman of Clapp’s Nursing Center; Denise Clapp Campbell of Clapps’s Convalescent Nursing Home; Larry Lollis and Rob Arnold of Grove Medical Supply; Jeff Schneider of Legacy Consultant Pharmacy; and Alicia and Kris Huffman of Wilkes Senior Village. I felt such a surge of gratitude and joy. Each of these wonderful North Carolinians had left their homes and businesses to join us in Jinotepe to witness the dedication of the new center. To my left was the beautiful stucco memorial to all the donors to the center, many of whom are from North Carolina. I thought of all the donors who couldn’t be there, Autumn Corporation; White Oak Manor; Culinary Food Services; the Beaver Foundation; Peak Resources; Jim and Kim Schmidlin and many others I’m sure I’m forgetting.
Then I looked at the newly renovated, expanded hogare, at the staff, the residents, and visitors. It was simply a beautiful thing to behold.
Then it started. The Nicaraguan national anthem played and the residents sang it with all the pride we Americans feel when the Star Spangled Banner cranks up.
Hail to you, Nicaragua
The cannon’s voice no longer roars
Nor does the blood of our brothers
Stain your glorious colored flag
Peace shines in beauty in your skies
Nothing dims your immortal glory
For work is what earns your laurels
And honour is your triumphal ensign
I have to tell you, my tears were flowing. Eight years after Keren Wilson and I and a bunch of local volunteers sat on a dusty dry patch of land in the hogare yard and dreamed of renovating the place—just enough to make it safe—while residents and chickens and goats wandered around us without purpose, it was finally here. That patch of dust is now a lovely tile terrace with a big screen TV where the residents gather all day. The residents look healthy because they have three meals a day. The center has essentially been entirely replaced, doubled in size and is beautiful. The staff are all trained, paid and seem very happy.
Bigger than all of that, the hogare isn’t just a center for abandoned Nicaraguan elders anymore. It’s now the first national training center for the care of elders in Central America, complete with a medical clinic; activity room; therapy room; training room; new working kitchen; working laundry and a well-stocked pharmacy, which is the hogare’s first micro-enterprise. Local citizens can purchase certain medications from the center at low cost, which provides a small part of the $15,000 per month in operating costs the hogare needs. My friend Alma, the tireless volunteer who’s also a busy lawyer, told me her dream is coming true—a future for the poor elders of her country, not just the elders of Jinotepe.
I’ve now been to Nicaragua five times since 2006. Each time, I’ve written about my travels and this amazing adventure I’ve been on in Shorts. Thanks to each of you who have asked me over and over again, “How’s the Nicaragua project?” and “When will it be finished?” Truth is, it will never be finished. There will always be a need there—now it’s a training site and there is work to be done yet.
We have finished this stage and the main capital improvements are complete. Next, the residents need new beds, more supplies and a consistent stream of operating income, but they’re working on those things. I’ve had a very, very small role in all of this but feel blessed to have been part of it. The North Carolina long term care community has been a huge part of this success story.
In 2006, after my first trip, we hosted a small fundraiser at my law office and raised $6,000. A few more small events followed. In 2010, Carron Suddreth grabbed me and said, “I want to help.” Since that time, we’ve hosted parties; held auctions; written a few checks ourselves and started the annual JFR Foundation Golf Tournament. Our first year, we raised $16,000. The second year, we raised $34,000. Last year, we raised $101,000. Our tournament this year is set for May 7 at the Rock Barn County Club in Concord, North Carolina. I’m not sure what our goal is. Carron hasn’t told me yet – but she will. We would love to see you there as a sponsor or just to come play.
In the years since that first little party in 2006, we’ve raised over $200,000 for the Jinotepe hogare, all from the North Carolina long term care community. The funds for this last phase of the new national training center came entirely from our North Carolina partners. You guys are awesome!
On behalf of our North Carolina JFR Foundation contingent, the elders and volunteers of Jinotepe, and the people of Nicaragua, thank you for all you’ve done to help make this dream come true.
Hail to you, Nicaragua and hail to you, North Carolina long term care providers!