122 Small Children’s Homes Now Networked

Gringo leadership leads the way
BY: REN DRAKE HILL

About 6000 children in the Tijuana/Rosarito/Ensenada area have no dependable family.  These children, if lucky, reside in one of the 120+ registered hogars or casas that provide their most essential needs. Unlike the United States social services that are funded by taxpayers, Mexico does not provide funds for the care of these children, most of whom have been taken from their abusive or drug-addicted parents, or simply abandoned like an unwanted dog.

Most of the children come into the homes with nothing; no clothes, toothbrush, toys, or personal items of any kind. Sometimes they are eventually able to return to their homes and families, provided any necessary legal actions have been finalized. Many of the unfortunate, however, remain in these hogars through their teen years, unable to find a suitable family to take them in. These children are not available for adoption, as they do have families, even though they may be unsuitable. Some children are able to go home for weekends to be with their family, and then return to the hogar for a break from family strife and to be assured of going to school during the week.

Care, feeding, education, and medical attention falls on the administrators of these various homes, many of whom do not have the necessary expertise.

Coming to the rescue is the Hearts of Baja Children’s Homes Network led by Marilyn and Les Widd. The Widds have found an immense need for guidance, organization, support, education, and most of all, coordination between the local children’s homes of Rosarito and Tijuana. Hearts of Baja doesn’t want to manage the children’s homes, but to offer assistance in providing sustainable care.

Marilyn and Les Widd visited several of these homes after retiring to Rosarito. Their original goal, after touring a few hogars, was merely to offer food and clothing to the children they met. After visiting several more homes and finding the needs were basically the same everywhere, this determined couple deemed it necessary to create an organized network. In December 2015 they formed Hearts of Baja Children’s Homes Network.

DIF doesn’t offer funding for children’s homes, but will sometimes provide rice, beans, and powdered milk. The Widds met with DIF in January to obtain letters to ease border crossing with goods and donations. DIF also is helping with the creation of a comprehensive database so that no home is forgotten. The State of Baja California has only been regulating the hogars for one year. Within the next year all homes will come under DIF, which is a very political charity, sometimes on the ball, sometimes not. But the homes will be subjected to many regulations, which will cost money to enforce.

Administrative fees eat up a lot of the money these homes get, but the Hearts of Baja network does not charge fees. “It’s not about the money,” Marilyn explains.  Goods can be shared throughout the network. Directors of the homes can show less forceful directors how to ask for help and funding. “We have the heart, but we aren’t idiots,” adds Marilyn.  If a home is requesting funds, Hearts of Baja wants to know where that money is going.

The major goal of 2016 is to provide protein-rich food to the homes. Since its inception, Hearts of Baja has instituted several programs, the most popular being “Buy a Box of Chicken.” The Widds have worked a deal with local butcher shops to purchase 40 pound boxes of Tyson chicken at $14 to $16 each. Their network of volunteers deliver these boxes to the local hogars. Before this program, the only protein the children received was daily rations of beans.

One of the most valuable actions the HofB is doing is organizing a network of communication between area homes. Materials sitting unused at one home, (furniture, clothes, etc.), may be useful to another. Homes will be able to contact one another in the network to share their resources.  One home endowed with land is learning to become self-sustaining by growing some basic foods. Surplus will be sold or share with other homes in the network.

Their Holiday Toy Drive is a 365 days per year project. Whereas the Christmas drive ramps up to full speed in September, the Widds are seeking volunteers to host Christmas in July fetes to brighten up these children’s summer with toys, sporting equipment, educational materials, and games.

This summer Hearts of Baja wants to organize several “Parties with a Purpose” fundraisers in the Rosarito and Tijuana areas to assist in the Christmas in July celebrations. What’s needed are people who want to be of service by hosting a gathering of a few friends for the collection of toys, canned goods, bedding, and supplies. Or, invite your friends to a homemade chicken dinner, and ask them to bring a $20 bill so the local children may also enjoy a chicken dinner. Applications to host gatherings or to be of help in any way are available at the HofB website.

Help is needed in many areas, such as retired teachers who can tutor children in such subjects as English, math, computer skills, and manual trades.  Volunteers do not need to be fluent in Spanish, but it helps. Marilyn tries to be sure non-Spanish speakers are paired with those who speak Spanish. Teams are being organized from the programs listed here and on the HofB website. Some homes are in need of basic repairs, so those knowledgeable in basic carpentry and home-repair skills are welcome to volunteer to help around the hogar or teach building skills.

Jody Soto Schneider leads volunteers teaching basic English reading and writing skills to children aged 2 to 18 through an accredited ESL (English as a Second Language) program. In order to expand the ESL program many more volunteers are needed.

Art and craft items such as craft paper, crayons, colored pencils, children’s scissors and craft supplies are needed to promote the therapeutic Art Bus Program, managed by Jayna Nickirt. This traveling craft project will visit homes. A comprehensive list of craft items is available at the group website.

The local demand for seamstresses and garment workers, (no, I’m not talking about sweat shops!) has precipitated Hearts of Baja to add “Let’s Sew!” a basic sewing course offered to older children and teens. Thread, fabrics, and other notions are needed, in addition to sewing machines and volunteer teachers.

Do you have a laptop or computer no longer being used? Volunteers would like to offer a Microsoft Office skills course to give them skills for the job force.

The HofB Projects page contains a complete lists of projects, necessities, and volunteers needed. If you have a talent you wish to share, and don’t see the opportunity listed on the website, Hearts of Baja would love to hear from you!

Hearts of Baja is not in possession of their 501(c)(3) tax status yet, but the group is gathering the necessary documentation.

Six non-profit organizations based in the United States have reached out to Hearts of Baja, wanting to partner in their endeavor.  This month, “Unity 4 Orphans,” a San Diego non-profit joined with HofB, and is helping the local homes through their “Grains of Love” rice-soy vitamin-enhanced food packages and educational aid.

A future goal of the HofB is to establish a thrift store in the United States, to sell goods, and send the money across the border.

Those wishing to donate goods, money, time, or just want more information, may visit www.heartsofbaja.com and www.facebook.com/Hearts of Baja Children’s Homes Network. These websites are diligently administered by Mickie Kornhardt.  Email: heartsofbaja@gmail.com, or MKWidd@hotmail.com.  For those who may feel uncomfortable visiting the homes, but still want to help, you can sign up to bake goodies for events, such as Christmas in July or a chicken BBQ. The volunteer opportunities are endless!

 

A Force Behind Children’s Homes

If ever there was a perfect accident of fate, it was when Marilyn and Les Widd moved to Rosarito from the Salton Sea area in California when they retired,

Marilyn was a high school special education teacher for 23 years and loved it.  Neither Marilyn nor Les had ever had any personal contact with creating a charity. They had heard about the poverty in Mexico but never imagined how abandoned children could be so left out of the main stream.

What they did know and felt strongly about when they met and married 18 years ago was character and family, but now that involves not only their little family, but many thousands of children in need, from healthy to severely disabled and from just months old to age 19. They live scattered about  in very humble facilities, many with no heat, electricity, refrigeration, adequate food or medical supplies.

They had been here for six months when Marilyn saw the poor conditions some children lived in and was told there were thousands of children living with very little support. This was the inspiration for Hearts of Baja which Marilyn started. 

Hearts is now six months old and has already delivered more than a ton of chicken which was donated by the good people of Baja just because Marilyn asked them. She has provided the leadership for a network that is transforming these children’s lives.

Last Christmas they asked the community for presents for the kids and in two weeks they had 100 sponsors and thousands of dollars in gifts. The toys and clothing were delivered but the next day the electricity was turned off. At that moment the Widds realized that priorities had to change. Their entire focus changed, with Hearts of Baja becoming more business oriented and so more successful in helping the children.

The Widds now have a data base of all 122 children’s facilities, a list of what they truly need and what they already have. She also has organized other charities to pitch in for the children.