By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY, Kan., — The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging was founded in 1981 in Kansas City, Mo., as a grassroots organization to help support children and the elderly living in poverty in developing countries. Since then, people all over the U.S. have committed to sponsoring more than 650,000 children and aging people through CFCA, and contributing $15 – $30 monthly for their support. Now based in Kansas City, Kan., CFCA, one of Forbes Magazine’s 200 largest U.S. non-profits, reached a major milestone on April 2: they have distributed more than $1 billion in aid to benefit children, the elderly and their families in 22 countries.
“CFCA was founded as and remains a grassroots organization,” said Martin Krause, Director of Finance. “Our founders, Bud, Bob and Jim Hentzen, their sister Nadine Pearce, and their friend Jerry Tolle, worked to build and maintain an organization with high standards of accountability.” CFCA doesn’t depend on government or corporate funding to continue its mission, he added.
He said he spoke with Nadine Pearce shortly before her death in January to congratulate her on the organization’s upcoming accomplishment. “She said to me, ‘$1 billion, that’s great, but there’s still a lot to do. We’re not finished yet.’ And we’re not,” Krause said. “There are a lot of families in Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Africa that live in incredible poverty. CFCA works to help them help themselves out of poverty.”
Helping the poor and marginalized in developing countries was not a new idea for Bob Hentzen or Jerry Tolle. Hentzen, a former Christian Brother, had served as a missionary in Colombia from 1959 – 1963, and in Guatemala from 1967 – 1973. He later taught at the high school and university levels, but never forgot the experiences he’d had serving and living side by side with the poor.
A desire to return to those missionary roots and live in solidarity with the poor led him to found CFCA with three of his siblings and Jerry Tolle. After discussions, brainstorming and reflections on Catholic social teaching, they decided that a sponsorship program would benefit not only children and old people living in poverty, but benefits would also rebound on the sponsors. Monthly contributions would help provide food, education and medical care to children and the elderly and, through letters and photographs, connect sponsors to the families their contributions were helping, forming lasting friendships.
“CFCA started in a basement office in one of the Hentzen’s homes in November, 1981,” Krause said. “Our founders used a personal Christmas card list to start recruiting sponsors. Nadine once told me that when they started CFCA they didn’t know what they were doing.”
They must have figured it out quickly. “Hope for a Family” sponsorship program provides basic resources and encouragement to children, their families and the elderly. The sponsorship experience proved so powerful and gratifying that more and more individuals and families committed to sponsoring at least one child or older person. Loretta Shea Kline, CFCA Director of Communications, said that over the past 30 years, 628,000 people helped better the lives of approximately 650,000 children and old people.
CFCA believes that by empowering the poor, they can transform their lives and effect change in the world. Sponsorship helps children from preschool through high school, college or technical training, by providing for fees, books, school uniforms and supplies. It helps families put more nutritious food on the table and supplements a family’s income; making medical care and better living conditions more accessible.
Sponsorship is a powerful thing, Kline said. “CFCA sponsors have helped 650,000 kids complete school, have nourishment and other things they need like medical care. Their parents and families are able to improve their lives — through livelihood programs they become self-sustaining, empowered. They can begin to save a little bit, and through small business loans they can begin a business that will help make them able to meet day-to-day needs better.”
CFCA grew. In the 1980s, about $4 million was sent to help sponsored children and families in developing countries. In the 1990s, about $110 million was sent and, during the 2000s, $669 million was sent overseas to sponsored children and elderly in 22 countries. The remaining $217 million has been contributed and distributed since 2010, totaling $1 billion, Krause said. It is important to note, he added, that 94 percent of every dollar contributed goes to the programs supporting the families and children. The remaining 6 percent covers administrative expenses and fundraising costs.
Krause displayed a graph of CFCA’s growth, explaining that there has been steady growth since about 1998. He attributes that to the priests and ministers with CFCA sponsors in their parishes. “The presence of people you know goes a long way toward interesting you in becoming part of the effort,” he said.
Carlos Casas, CFCA’s Public Relations Manager, said, “Without the support of the Church and its social teaching, we wouldn’t be growing as much as we are.”
Krause said that in the Kansas City area, there are between 4,000 and 5,000 sponsors of children in the CFCA project countries. “Our sponsors really connect,” he said, “with the children and their parents. It’s been brought home to me again and again that in so many ways, they’re just like us. They have hopes and dreams of a better future for their children, very much like our dreams for our children. We find so much in common.”
Sponsorship, he said, is a practical and trustworthy way to live out the Gospel call.
CFCA staff members, both in the field and at the office, strive to tailor benefits to the children and elderly. “We work very hard to personalize our benefit programs to fit each child, older person and family,” Krause said.
Encouragement from sponsors is the other part of it, Kline said. “Sponsors’ letters, and photographs encourage children to stay in school and study hard. They begin to realize that somebody believes in them!”
Casas added, “It’s a ripple effect. Sponsors empower children, who in turn empower their families, which empowers the community and widens to benefit the nation.”
Krause said, “We would love to have more sponsors join us in the movement to help more people in more communities. Poverty is a huge issue. CFCA will continue to work at alleviating poverty, one child and one family at a time.”
Aware of the poverty, violence and discouragement that exists even in the U.S., Krause said, “Here in America, CFCA partners with local organizations and institutions like the Rose Brooks Center and Cristo Rey High School to help break the cycle of poverty and violence.”
Casas said the organization wants to continue growing. “Our next effort is a documentary about the programs, sponsors and the children. Rise and Dream premiers in Kansas City on June 30, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.”
Kline added, “Our hope is that by our sponsors and families sharing their stories on the big screen, more people will want to join us. The documentary is our invitation to them.”
Rise and Dream, a documentary about 13 teenagers and their families living in poverty in the Philippines, premiers at 7 p.m., June 30, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City. Admission is free.
To learn more about the sponsorship program and Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, visit www.hopeforafamily.org.