The future of Christian Foundation for Children and Aging is Unbound

Scott Wasserman, who took the reins of Unbound, formerly Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, just a few weeks ago, stands in front of a map showing the many developing countries around the world. Living in those countries are the more than 300,000 children, elderly and families supported by sponsors through the organization. Photos of some of the sponsored frame the map. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

Scott Wasserman, who took the reins of Unbound, formerly Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, just a few weeks ago, stands in front of a map showing the many developing countries around the world. Living in those countries are the more than 300,000 children, elderly and families supported by sponsors through the organization. Photos of some of the sponsored frame the map. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Shortly before his unexpected death in October 2013, Bob Hentzen, co-founder, president and CEO of Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, released a video announcing a name change for the largest non-profit organization in Kansas. The new name, Unbound, became official Jan. 1.

Founded as C.F.C.A. by Hentzen, his brother and sister and a friend in 1981, Unbound now supports more than 300,000 people — children, the elderly and their families — in developing countries around the world, with direct aid. That aid comes from nearly 270,000 sponsors, predominately in the United States. The average sponsor contributes $30 monthly (or about $1 a day) and in turn has the opportunity to get to know their sponsored child or elderly person and develop a personal relationship with them. The organization, whose revenue in 2013 was more than $110 million, also funds scholarships, disaster assistance, micro-financing, small business loans and water and sanitation projects in their sponsored communities. More than 93 percent of the monies it spends go to program support.

At the same time C.F.C.A. became Unbound, Scott Wasserman was named the new president and CEO, his duties to begin immediately. Interim CEO Paco Wertin continues his work with Unbound, but in another capacity.

Scott’s name wasn’t drawn out of a hat. The child advocate lawyer served 15 years on C.F.C.A.’s governing board, the last 13 years as chief governing officer. He serves as vice chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board, which works collaboratively to prevent sexual abuse of minors in this country by persons serving the church, and chairs an independent review board for Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Scott grew up on the Kansas side and graduated from Shawnee Mission South High School. Raised in the Judaic tradition, he was devout and dedicated to his faith. Out of curiosity, however, in high school Scott read the New Testament, particularly the gospels. “Most of my friends went to CCD classes because they had to; they were Catholics attending a public high school and the classes were their religious education. I went to CCD classes with them because I was drawn to the gospels.”

Following his graduation from the University of Kansas, he was accepted into Harvard University’s Law School, earning his law degree in 1985. An internship in corporate finance on Wall Street convinced Scott that he didn’t want to live in New York, so when he was offered a position with a San Francisco law firm, he headed west.

While he was settling into his new job and new city, Anabella Gonzales arrived in San Francisco. The Guatemalan native had come on a student visa to study graphic design.

To make a long story short, Scott and Anabella met through a mutual friend, and became friends, then fell in love. It wasn’t a story book match. Scott was a devout Jew and Anabella a devout Catholic.

Both sets of parents approved and, because Anabella would be leaving her family to live permanently in the U.S., the couple decided to get married in Guatemala. The downside to that was Anabella could not return to San Francisco on her student visa. Applying for a permanent residency permit took several months, but finally she was able to return to this country. The couple had discussed moving to Kansas to be closer to Scott’s family; now they finally could.

They rented an apartment while Anabella hunted for a house in a parish she felt welcomed in. She found it in Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa.

In the beginning, Scott and Anabella continued in their separate faiths, but as time passed, found common ground in the blending of the two traditions. Their three daughters were raised in that blended faith.

Scott’s teenaged curiosity and interest in Christianity sparked again and, although he had no intention of becoming Catholic, he admired a lot about it.

His first experiences attending Mass with Anabella amazed him. “I still remember my first impression,” he said. “First, here were people who were not descendants of Abraham worshipping the God of Abraham. The other thing was the sacrifice in the Temple. I had always thought the Temple had been destroyed in 70 A.D., but then I saw that the Temple sacrifice was still happening, in a transformed way.”

He went through the RCIA program at Holy Trinity Parish, and was eventually baptized in the same church in Guatemala City where his wife and daughters were baptized.

Scott’s family’s acceptance of Anabella had been without reservation. But when he embraced Catholicism, their reaction was bittersweet.

“They accepted it with some sadness,” he said, “but they accepted it. Anabella and I have maintained connections with the Jewish tradition because we believe in its value to us and to our daughters.”

In 1988, the Wassermans heard about C.F.C.A. and sponsored their first child. The phone rang one day; Bob Hentzen was on the line, Scott recalled. “Bob’s wife Christina is Guatemalan, and we got to know them and to know C.F.C.A.”

In 1994, Scott began to specialize in child advocacy law, especially serving neglected children and children with special needs.

In 1999, he began serving on C.F.C.A.’s governing board, and was elected chief governing officer two years later.

Bob Hentzen had begun talking about changing the name of the organization some time ago, Scott said. “You know, we walk side-by-side with people who dream of freeing themselves from poverty, as they strive to achieve self-sufficiency and build strong communities. Our new name sums up our work.”

Scott said he fully supported Bob Hentzen’s decision. “A bunch of initials doesn’t convey anything,” he said. “What Bob wanted was a single word capturing the essence of Catholic social teaching and empowering the poor. One word closely related to Catholic theological values, compelling and emotional: something people can ‘sign on to.’”

Scott said he wanted to reassure sponsors and others interested in learning more about Unbound. “We lost Bob just a few months ago. But we remain true to our charism of working through sponsors to help free children, families and the elderly from the binds of poverty. In a way, Unbound can be defined as freeing captives. That applies in a meaningful way to children, the elderly and their families in the developing world. Sponsors can also free themselves and live their baptismal call more fully. Jesus said, ‘The truth will set you free.’ When sponsors see the true gifts and talents of the poor, they will be set free — unbound.”

He added, “I want Unbound to be true to that charism, the charism of our founders, even as we improve and innovate our methods, as Bob would have if he was still with us. Unbound shares the same Christian values and our core, the relationship between the sponsors and the sponsored. That relationship is financial, of course, but even more, it’s personal. Kind of like marriage; the relationship doesn’t work so well if it’s only financial. We look to keep improving those personal relationships.”

Scott said he is forming some ideas for the future of the organization. “I want to move forward, while being true to our past. C.F.C.A. is our foundation. Our future is Unbound.”


February 19, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph