Interview with the Children of The Americas
Who are you?
Children of the Americas is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization made up mostly of volunteers, both those in the United States and those in Mexico.
We are a relatively small, grassroots organization working locally in Mexico and border areas in the United States, especially Southern California and central New Mexico. We work in neighborhoods over long periods of time, and our relationships with the children and their parents are deep, like extended families. Mothers in the neighborhoods in Mexico are fully empowered to manage their nutrition programs; we don’t micro manage, but simply provide the materials and support they lack. It’s beautiful to watch the neighborhoods grow in pride and connection with just a little support and input.
In 2009, Children of The Americas operated on revenue of just over $1,100,000, most of which came in the form of in-kind gifts (food, school supplies, construction materials, etc.); cash income was just over $200,000. Our work is accomplished with minimal overhead and staff. Most importantly, fundraising and administrative expenses in 2009 were only 4% of the total budget–among the lowest in the United States. We make sure contributions to our work go to the children where they belong.
What do you do?
What two basic ingredients are necessary for any child to lead a fulfilling life? If you come right to the point, they are: health and education. With these two assets in hand, a young adult from any background can make his or her way in this world. And these are exactly the two things that poverty strips away from children. Children of The Americas works to help underserved children find health by providing all the tools they need to compete, take their place in life, and help their children get the same opportunity.
Food, being the best medicine, gives kids their best shot at developing well and fully into young adults, and education is the foundation of a productive life in today’s world. If we can keep a child fed through his or her formative years and competitive in school, we can help break the cycle of poverty in one generation for the children we serve.
How we accomplish this twin mission takes us into many other areas of a child’s life, but the mission remains at our heart.
How do you do what you do for children?
We feed breakfast to over 500 children 6 days a week in the colonias and ejidos near Tijuana, Mexico through 5 nutrition programs—three located at public schools and two at neighborhood facilities. That’s over 180,000 breakfasts a year—breakfast that allow hungry kids to go to school fed and able to focus on their studies and not their hunger.
We are actively involved in construction projects to further our nutrition and education programs, having built multiple dining rooms, built and repaired school classrooms, and built-out, networked, and furnished computer labs at local elementary schools. We provide cooking equipment, commercial stoves and counter tops, plumbing, utensils, and food as needed to maintain all our programs. But as much as we do, local moms are the real stars—they direct and maintain each nutrition center, up at 5AM each day to prepare food and care for all their kids.
School supplies in the form of Rainbow Backpacks (containing enough school supplies for one child for one year) are also given to up to 700 children every year. We also provide computers and other educational equipment as needed to kids who move on to more advanced education. A scholarship program also helps worthy students in Tijuana and central Baja. At Christmas, over 1,000 children receive between 2 and 3 tons of toys and other special treats. And with our ears and hearts in the neighborhoods, we work with individual families and children when special needs arise: when a home or classroom burns down, we repair it; when a child needs medical attention, we help provide it—anything we can do to make children’s lives better.
How long have you been working with children?
In 1974, our work began in Tijuana, Mexico when Paul Weiss founded an organization to help the girls of Santa Teresita. The work grew, and by 1984, the dream was expanded into Children of The Americas to reach children throughout our hemisphere, including children in the United States. So it’s been over 35 years of loving children and watching them grow.
What children do you help?
As our name implies, Children of The Americas has always been envisioned to have a hemispheric reach throughout the Americas. And though we’ve worked in Central America, our focus has always been Mexico around the border city of Tijuana and south along the Baja peninsula. Though there are certainly underserved children in the U.S., Mexican children lack even the basic social safety net that the poorest U.S. children enjoy—so our work has centered there. But in the last 5 years or so, we’ve been increasingly focusing on children here in the U.S. as well. Instead of reinventing wheels, we’ve partnered with existing organizations in California to provide needed school supplies, clothing, food, toys, and other materials to underserved public schools in primarily Hispanic areas, foster children through major organizations like Olive Crest, small organizations working with inner city kids in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the corridor along the U.S.-Mexican border.
We’ve recently been working with another organization to get needed supplies to children living at the poverty line on U.S. military bases while one parent is deployed overseas, and with another that works with children who have one parent incarcerated in a U.S. prison. We’ve adopted a local public school, working with the teachers, children, and their families and have fostered the creation of a sister organization working with schools and children in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area.
What do you need?
We need help from everyone who cares about children—the humans who are always the most at risk among us. At this time of national and worldwide economic downturn, resources are tightening, and charitable organizations feel it first. We need cash, food, school supplies, building materials, and both skilled and unskilled labor. We need churches and other organizations to gather food and supplies and volunteers to help bring those supplies to the border or wherever they are needed.
We are eternally grateful to La Isla for reaching out and partnering with us through this new program of revenue sharing on each sale of their selected garments. This kind of creative thinking is more of what we need as people who want to give back to their communities and to needy children find ways within their own businesses and spheres of influence to make it happen. We need more people to see us as a partner in helping create the healthy communities on which our future depends.
You are invited to join us in our fourth decade as we work to expand our outreach to children on the borders/margins of life. Our strategy is not necessarily to reinvent wheels, certainly not to build large institutions, but to focus our time and resources squarely on our precious children; to move people and materials around to the places they are most needed; to identify good, existing organizations that are already helping children and help them get the resources they need to do a better job. We need you to help us continue to create hope, one child at a time.
We can always be reached here at La Isla, or at our website at americaschildren.org. Or by email at email@example.com and by telephone at 949-293-4259.