Since my January trip to Nicaragua, and our stories in Shorts about that trip, the support and offers of help we have received for the abandoned elders of Nicaragua have been overwhelming. We have received offers of clothing, bedding, equipment, medications, and training programs that we will transport to the five hogares de ancianos or “homes of the ancients” we support in Nicaragua in partnership with the Jessie F. Richardson Foundation.

On Thursday, May 19, 2011, those efforts took another giant step forward. Carron Suddreth and the staff of the Villages of Wilkes in North Wilkesboro hosted a luncheon, which we now call the “Because We Can” luncheon, named for that famous statement from JFR Foundation founder Keren Wilson when I first asked her why she was working to help elders in Nicaragua, of all places. You’ve heard me say before, or read in our stories, that she looked me in the eye and answered “Because I can,” and that has become the name for many of our Nicaragua efforts here in North Carolina.

The luncheon at the Villages of Wilkes was downright stupendous. Carron and her staff had set up the lobby of the assisted living community with beautiful tables, dishes, flowers, and an incredible lunch spread. Each table was decorated with vases of sand, shells and starfish from the famous story about the little boy who was throwing starfish into the sea after a storm washed them all ashore and, in the process, inspired a grumpy old man who thought the boy was crazy to help him put starfish back into the sea – to make a difference for at least some starfish who would otherwise die.

Carron invited nearly 40 people to the lunch, and they came—competing long term care providers, home health providers, the Chamber of Commerce, bankers, long term care suppliers and vendors, her staff, a representative of the Wake Forest University School of Business (which is providing us with an intern for eight weeks in Nicaragua this summer), and others. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone. Keren Wilson and I attended and I can only say I’m still smiling at what a great day it was. We showed pictures of the hogares in Nicaragua and of the elders we are helping, talked about our progress and the great needs still existing, and about ways local groups can get involved. Boy, did they take that message home.

By the next morning, Carron had called me and said, “You won’t believe the response.” Apparently, folks who attended have now offered us three storage facilities to hold the goods, medications and equipment that are coming in from across the state until the next truck heads to Nicaragua (we were about to rent a storage unit); a supply of prescription medications; and several hundred gently used manual crank beds. The resident council of another local facility is collecting goods for us. A food service vendor has offered to host similar “Because We Can” luncheons around the state. The local bank wants to help and is considering options. We’ve been offered a supply of adult activities products to use in the new resident activity training module Carron is putting together to transport to Nicaragua. She will then go down there with activities directors to train the local staff. And the list goes on.

Some of the other folks from North Carolina who have offered help include:

With all these blessings, Carron Suddreth and I, with the support of the JFR Foundation, are launching the “Because We Can” N.C. Chapter of Friends of the Hogares. Things are moving so fast we actually need an organization to coordinate everything. Our goal, besides direct assistance to the Nicaraguan elders, is to create a model and “how-to tool kit”, based on all we are learning about raising interest, funds and goods, to help other local groups learn how to create support systems for their projects. The Foundation’s core principles for all its work are “sustainability and replicability.” So, the Foundation hopes we’ll pull this off and become a model for similar efforts in states around the country.

When I look back at all that my North Carolina friends and clients have done for the Nicaraguan elders since we first began in 2006, I’m overcome and overwhelmed by all the support, love and compassion. On a personal level, your generosity has given me the chance to do, by far, the most important work of my life. You know I’m one for the mushy little story or quip, and I’m struggling as I write this to find a great one. But, there are no words – mine or anyone else’s—that can express the fullness of heart I feel when I look at what you guys have done, right here in North Carolina, for people far, far away.

The elders of Nicaragua will probably never know our names. They will never get to meet most of you. They may not even know where N.C. is located. But at night, when they lie down, they sleep now in beds; they eat wholesome food; they have medical care; wheelchairs, walkers and medications; and soon they’ll have at least a rudimentary version of an activities program to keep their minds and bodies sharper. More than that, these abandoned elders will know, many for the first time in their older lives, that somebody, somewhere, cares about them. That’s the best medicine of all.

So, my friends, thank you so very much. You inspire me. You motivate me. My commitment to you is to ensure that every single prayer, dollar, aspirin, pillow, bed, or baseball cap is delivered to the Nicaraguan elders with the same love, generosity and compassion with which it was given.

I once read that “there is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of one small candle.” It’s clear to me that here, in North Carolina, among the long term care professionals of this state and all who service and support them, the candle burns bright. What you have done is amazing. What we have left to do is daunting. What we will do is boundless. Why? Because We Can.

◀︎ Back to Thought Leadership