By Sheryle Verkley, Co-founder and Board Member and
Stephanie Slavin, Board Member
Growth is a part of life, with organizations as well as with people.
Starting in 2011, with a single volunteer, Melinda Gordon, Hearts of Gold began to respond to requests from Ecuadorian families and organizations in need. Our friend Tarek ben Miled Flores also grew passionate about the cause and joined our staff to help build the website.
Back then, Hearts of Gold operated out of our home. We were like a family, small and casual, and we ate lunch together every day.
As North Americans, our intention from the beginning was not to impose our culture on our Ecuadorian neighbors, but to give back to a country whose people had welcomed us so warmly, and who were now asking for our help.
At first, we joined a Cuencano friend to help his church provide more food baskets and clothing at Christmas throughout the rural areas of Azuay Province. From this, there were more requests for help and we realized the full scope of the need in our new community.
Our intent has always been to help break the cycle of poverty, and to empower people to sustain themselves. That’s why we built a chicken coop at CETAP-Lucy, so that founder Rocio Illescas could support her pre- and after-school program for disabled children by selling eggs and chickens (which she continues to do). And we began to pay for a psychologist to counsel parents on how to better care for their special-needs children. We also co-funded CETAP-Lucy’s sexual-health program to reduce teen pregnancy.
Operating under the philosophy of “teach a man to fish, rather than give a fish,” Hearts of Gold attracted both Ecuadorian and expat volunteers and a capable part-time director. As our momentum grew, our reputation grew, and we were encouraged to become an official “Fundacion” in Ecuador. This was no small task! It was an expensive, paperwork-intensive year-long legal process, but we achieved our official status of a non-profit foundation in late November, 2013. Now, the government ministries that govern non-profits are able to officially request our help. One ministry recently asked us to help create a microloan for a family, which we did.
Regarding the cost of becoming a fundacion and hiring a full-time director, we are fortunate that our corporate sponsors have covered that, allowing us to continue to donate 100% of all monies raised for our community services.
Then, the real work began
Because all non-profits in Ecuador are supervised by MIES (Ministerio Inclusivo Economica y Social), we were required to immediately form a board of directors. Fortunately, Melinda Gordon and several expats with extensive experience in not-for-profit organizations stepped up and were elected to lead us forward.
In January, a prominent Cuencano physician joined the board, followed by a retiree who is an expert in information technology. As is the case with North American 501C(3) non-profit organizations, the downside of becoming legal is the bureaucracy. No longer could we respond to every request for help. Instead, we had to clarify our vision and mission, define how and when we could respond, get board approval, then file reports to MIES and other ministries. In addition, we now submit financial and board of director’s action reports every month to MIES.
Also, in January, we started the nationwide search for a new executive director. That process took six weeks of countless telephone and live interviews. In mid-March, as the board was interviewing the final top candidates, Tarek and another employee let us know that they were leaving to form their own business. Because they were such an integral part of Hearts of Gold, it required us to consider hiring both an executive director and a program director. We selected an outstanding young woman from Quito with extensive MIES experience to direct our programs.
Our brand-new board members worked very hard during the first quarter of 2014 to develop the structure and systems needed for us to move forward. They focused on fulfilling the top priorities of our mission: primary Ecuadorian social-welfare services we support, meeting several emergencies, and creating systems and processes.
What we weren’t able to do was to keep you informed of every step as it happened. Now that we have staff and volunteers in place, we will remedy that by telling you everything that’s going on. Thanks for bearing with us!
A painful transition
In many ways, it was hard to move from a family run, personal mission to an official foundation with all that it requires. But, change is part of life.
We would like to express our eternal thanks to Tarek for creating our website (www.heartsofgoldfoundation.org) and helping us develop our promotional program, as well as to other staff members who have moved on. We owe a special debt of gratitude to our tireless volunteer, Melinda Gordon, who continues to work with us. They have all done an amazing job of connecting us to Ecuadorian social-service groups and helping us to raise funds. They were the dedicated team who helped us to serve more than 2,000 children, families, elderly and disabled in Azuay Province since 2011.
Now, Hearts of Gold Foundation-Ecuador moves to Stage Two of Growth. We are more prepared than ever to fulfill our vision to help break the cycle of poverty in Azuay province.
Stay tuned for more of our story.
Photo caption: Hearts of Gold volunteer Melinda Gordon (front center) with pre-school children.
Note: If you would like to get involved in a Hearts of Gold project, please go to the website, http://heartsofgoldfoundation.org, for more information.