Many ideas start with just one person, but it takes the work of many to make them a reality. In this case the one person is Catherine Gillette. Now a sophomore at the College of Wooster in Ohio, Gillette went on two mission trips to Honduras during her sophomore and junior years of high school that left a lasting impression on her.
“The first trip I assisted a dentist in the group,” she said. “I helped him to clean teeth and just interacted with the children we were working with in the village of Chonco.”
On the second trip, Gillette and her group helped build a school in the same village.
“I carried bricks up the side of a mountain for a week,” she said. “On both trips I worked in the same community and I met some really wonderful people while I was there. All of the children were amazing.”
Thoughts of those amazing kids stayed with Gillette after she’d returned home, and specifically thoughts of what more she could do for them.
“I really love the community and the kids and I haven’t been able to forget them. I wouldn’t want to forget them and I just want to help them however I can,” she said.
After the second trip, Gillette organized a car wash and enlisted some of her friends from high school to help. The group raised $700 that was used to buy desks and chairs for the school she’d helped to build.
But she didn’t stop there. When the Center for Entrepreneurship at College of Wooster held an Idea Day “Pitch Off” to hear sustainable entrepreneurial ideas, Gillette had something in mind. The poverty she’d seen in Honduras concerned her. She knew the school she helped build and equip held the part of the answer to the problem but more was needed.
“For a lot of the kids, their families cannot afford to keep them in school for very many years,” she said. “They need them to go work in the fields to help support the family financially.”
Yet in the long term, Gillette felt the children and the families would benefit more from the education if they had the opportunity.
“Education is absolutely a solution [to poverty]. Education can solve all kinds of problems,” Gillette said. “It can solve poverty, it can solve gender inequalities, it can solve issues of violence. I really do believe education is the solution. I think if we give kids the opportunity to get that education, that can be so beneficial.”
Gillette contacted Tim and Gloria Wheeler, longtime mission workers in Honduras who have served both the PC(USA) and Heifer International, and whom Gillette met on her mission trips. She explained the College of Wooster program, and together they helped design C.A.R.E.S.
C.A.R.E.S. stands for Children Are Reading, Earning, Succeeding. C.A.R.E.S. buys books for the school in Chonco. For every book a child reads, they will be paid a small amount of money. The hope is that by paying the children to read books and encouraging them to stay in school, their families will keep them in school longer, ensuring they have more educational opportunities in the future.
The first measure of support Gillette received for the program was from College of Wooster in the form of a $300 prize for her idea. From there it only grew.
Ruth Farrell, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, worked with Gillette and the Wheelers to set up a PC(USA) account so that donations can be made online.
Gillette’s mother, Carolyn Gillette, who has led mission trips to Honduras, is also doing her part. A hymn writer, Carolyn wrote The Sermon on the Mount: A Service of Lessons and Songs, a service of readings and hymns based on Matthew 5-7 that fits the current lectionary but can be used by churches at any time of the year.
In exchange for using the service, Carolyn Gillette is asking that churches give to C.A.R.E.S.
Carolyn Gillette’s service was picked up by The Text This Week, a popular website for worship planners that provides links and resources for lectionary based materials, resulting in inquiries and donations from around the world.
Gillette has also received help from friends at college and at Johnsonburg, a PC(USA) camp in New Jersey where she works.
“I’ve gotten letters from so many people saying, ‘I think this is a great idea, I want to help however I can, is there anything you need me to do?’ It’s just been really encouraging that so many people just want to be involved,” she said.
Gillette has been both pleased and surprised with the response so far to C.A.R.E.S.
“It’s been really inspiring. I think a lot of people really want to make a difference in the world but they’re not entirely sure how they can and I think this is a really good opportunity for people to get involved,” she said, adding that she hopes to eventually expand the program to other towns in Honduras.
Gillette also stressed that any support, whether it is prayers or financial donations, is greatly appreciated in these early stages of her project.
Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she also serves as secretary for First Presbyterian Church.