Clare Whitney, a Schroon Lake teen, poses with students from the Chiquilistagua Publico school in Nicaragua. Whitney is planning a 5-kilometer run June 16 to raise lunch money for students at the school.
Clare Whitney has seen the face of poverty. It wasn’t pleasant.
Whitney, a student at Schroon Lake Central School, met many hungry children during a Mission of Hope visit to Nicaragua in February. She came home determined to help.
That’s the reason’s she’s planning a 5-kilometer race Saturday, June 16.
“I hope to raise a total of $10,000 by the end of 2012,” Whitney said. “At this race, I am hoping to get halfway to my overall goal.
“This money will pay for the lunches of a little more than 130 children for one school year,” she said. “In a school of 1,500 students, this is a small dent of less than 9 percent, but I believe that we can start small to make a huge difference.”
Hunger is rampant in Nicaragua. It is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere; only Haiti has worse poverty.
School lunch is important, Whitney said, because it is often the only food a child receives in day.
“If they don’t get lunch at school during the day, odds are they won’t get fed every night when they go home,” the Schroon Lake junior said. “It is so important that we sponsor these children to assure education and do what we can to assure better nutrition as well.
“I currently sponsor an 11 year-old girl attending Chiquilistagua Publico named Izayanna,” she said. “The lunch we can buy for the students will vary from meals such as tortilla bread and cheese, or soup, or oatmeal-like drinks. These meals are very simple and they emphasize fruit and protein, which is what most children lack most in their diets.”
Whitney considered asking for donations to support her lunch program, but decided to hold a race.
“I chose to hold a race rather than just ask for donations mostly because of the action it takes,” Whitney explained. “Mission of Hope is all about action. Sister Debbie (Blow, Mission of Hope director) always reminds us that ‘our mission truly starts when we get home.’ We all need to do what we can and getting up in the morning to push your body to run 5 kilometers for a great cause is a lot more satisfying than just handing someone 20 bucks.
“Also, Mission of Hope’s slogan has always been ‘corazones y manos’ which translates from Spanish to ‘hearts and hands’ to show that we care and we take action,” she added. “For the run, I have come up with the slogan ‘corazones y pies,’ which means ‘hearts and feet’ to symbolize the reason why we are running.”
The race will be held at Schroon Lake Central School on Main Street. There will be a children’s fun run at 9 a.m. with the 5K race at 9:30 a.m. The course will include the school’s athletic fields.
Runners can contact Whitney at 532-9222 or Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to register. Runners are asked to arrive between 8:30 and 9:15 a.m. to check in, receive a T-shirt and turn in their funds.
“I request that runners ask family, friends, neighbors, etc. for suggested pledges of $10,” Whitney said. “Any donation is important.
“My goal is to get 50 runners,” she said. “I know this is dreaming big, but this way, if each runner can get 10 people to donate $10 I can reach $5,000 by the run alone.”
Lee Silvernail, a physical education teacher at Schroon Lake, has been assisting Whitney in planning the race. The day of the race volunteers from the Mission of Hope and the school’s National Honor Society will be assisting.
Whitney is also planning a fundraising dinner the day of the race 4:30 to 8 p.m. at the Parish Hall of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. There will be rice, beans, chicken and taco meat, fruit and desserts.
Runners can get dinner tickets for $1. Tickets for others will be $10 for adults and $5 for students. Children age 5 and younger will be free.
A spiritually-based humanitarian organization, the North Country Mission of Hope is committed to fostering hope and empowering relationships with the people of Nicaragua through sustainable programs in education, health care, community and ecological development. It began in 1998 by responding to the devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch on the impoverished villages of Nicaragua.
Whitney learned about Mission of Hope when another Schroon Lake student, Mary Garcia, participated.
“While we were in Nicaragua, we did a lot,” Whitney said. “To start, there was maintenance to be done at the Mission of Hope compound in Chiquilistagua, Nicaragua, such as painting, cleaning, etc. But what is at the heart of the mission is what occurs off compound. One main project the MOH conducts is ‘rice and beans’ in which groups of missioners go out into the poorest barrios and distribute bags of rice and beans to houses. It isn’t much, but it is incredible how long people can make that amount of food last.
“Another is ‘home shelter,’ where groups of missioners team up with Nicaraguans to build shelters,” she continued. “To be honest, the shelter we provide is much smaller than my own bedroom, but when a family receives one, the gratefulness in their eyes becomes understandable when you see what an improvement it is from their prior situation. These shelters are built from corrugated metal and wood.”
Mission of Hope also supports a disability center, a children’s hospital, medical clinics and a program to enroll students in schools.
“My favorite part was playing with the children from the neighborhood every day in the evening,” Whitney said. “I have made so many bonds with so many people from the mission — children, adults and, of course, fellow missioners.”
The North Country Mission of Hope is successful, Whitney said, because of the support it receives from Adirondack residents.
“Mission of Hope is so incredibly thankful for the people in the North Country for all of their support,” Whitney said. “We realize that, especially in today’s economy, there are people who suffer from hunger even here in the United States. However, we are fortunate enough to have numerous programs and organizations that are dedicated to help our people, like the Salvation Army and food pantries.
“In Nicaragua, they rely on people like you and me to help mitigate their hunger, their pain,” she added. “It’s difficult sometimes to remind ourselves that we don’t really need the new iPhone, or that a bad grade on a math test isn’t the end of the world. But when we remember what is really important, we can open our hearts with generosity and make an unimaginable difference in the lives of people all around the world.”