Every Tuesday, we’ve highlighted entrepreneurs and leaders that are not only making a name for their selves, but are also showing generosity in unique ways. With the sharing of our new giving model, “Choose Your Charity,” we decided we would break the mold this week and use this platform to highlight one of the charities we now allow you to give to through your purchase.
This week, we are happy to feature one our partner charities, Convoy of Hope. Convoy of Hope is a faith-based, international, humanitarian-relief organization strategically based in Springfield, Missouri, the crossroads of America. Their goal is to bring help and hope to those who are impoverished, hungry and hurting. We met with our friend and personal mentor Rick Zorehkey, who serves as Special Assistant to the Co-founder at Convoy of Hope, to get more details on this amazing organization. We’re proud to be able to give to Convoy of Hope and are excited to share with you more about their work.
What is Convoy of Hope?
Convoy of Hope is a 501c3, faith based non-profit that has a driving passion to feed the world, and we do that really in four ways. Maybe five or six ways now, but we do it through disaster response, children’s feeding initiatives, community outreaches, and partner resourcing others. Maybe I would additionally add agriculture and women’s empowerment now. I basically shared with you what our mission statement is– but really what we are is a movement of compassion. Everything I stated is how we move people’s hearts to compassion.
The things we do help, but it’s to instill hope and if we’re not instilling the hope then we’re just another humanitarian organization. Not a faith-based organization. So, it’s really to give people opportunities to move their hearts to compassion and closer relationship to God.
What is your role at Convoy of Hope?
My role is Special Assistant to the Co-founder and our department is responsible for strategic relationships. What that means is that we are geared to growing new relationships and going deeper with various denominations, organizations, government relations, individuals, and how we get deeper rooted for kingdom impact.
When did you start at Convoy of Hope?
I started with Convoy of Hope December 1st, 2009, a month before the tragic Haiti earthquake.
How did you first get involved with working at Convoy of Hope?
I first got involved with Convoy of Hope as a businessman. After I had come back from my first mission trip to Africa, I called them to see if the church I visited could get food because I knew they had food and the church needed it. Turns out they weren’t in Rwanda, where I was, but I met with the President and he took me through the three thousand square-foot world distribution center. I called about feeding the church and he cast his vision to feed the world. I met this Godly man and I went, “Wow, this vision’s huge. He has to be under attack with vision like that.” I started calling him about every four to six weeks. We’d talk and I’d ask him, “How can I pray for you?” He’d tell me and we’d pray together over the phone and that grew into a friendship over a couple years, into me starting to travel with them a couple times. I went to Cuba and Panama with them and helped pray. I didn’t really work out the relief aid– someone else did. These trips grew my heart from being a check writer to having a heart of compassion.
Can you tell more about your community outreaches and how that is reaching people for Christ?
A community outreach is where businesses, government agencies, and faith-based organizations get together to help the most needy in their community for a poverty-free day. They go home with free groceries. There are government services. There is usually free medical and dental care, a kid zone, entertainment, and there is a prayer/consultation. I say prayer/consultation tent depending on whom you’re talking to, but it’s really to offer prayer. They are asked two questions when they go there. They are asked “Did you have fun today?” and “Is there anything we can pray with you about?” Though there are volunteers in all the tents, people are trained from the church to work there specifically. We do see people coming to Christ in that and getting prayed for– it’s really non-offensive. If you’re not a believer, but you’re in a place of suffering or need they are still open to it. I think everyone wants to know somebody cares about them and we’ll pray with them or pray for them. “With them” is probably better than “for them.” It’s really welcomed. You talk about instilling hope- that’s really instilling hope. I mean, you give someone some groceries, and then when you take the time to pray with them you can give a lot of people a lot of stuff. When you spend the time, that’s a world of difference.
I would say that with the homeless, too. How many times do we have the tendency to walk past? Not that we don’t care. You have people giving them gift cards to get them out of sight, but to actually take the time and to stop- it’s like Peter. The beggar asked him for money and he said, “Well, I don’t have money or gold or silver, but what I do have I can give you” and he took time to pray with him. That’s a significant part of our community outreaches and our prayer/consultation tent.
Read more about one of Convoy of Hope’s recent outreaches.
Do you guys do the prayer/consultation tent in areas that have gone through disaster as well?
Oh sure, because in times of disaster, 95% of the time or more, our point of distribution is through a church in the community. So we want to partner with like-minded people and that’s where you want to be available also, so you’re fulfilling that immediate need of life or death. In disaster, you’re doing things for people, not with people. That’s immediate, so we want them to know where it’s coming from, so when that immediate need is filled they can go back and get more. There’s always that availability, but it’s not “Hey, we’ll pray with you and then take your stuff.” No it’s “Take your stuff.” That’s the immediate need. For example, when Sandy happened, Superstorm Sandy– I think this was on a CNN interview– they asked a women coming with some groceries from a church if this was her church. She said, “Well actually, to be honest, I had no idea this church existed before this, but it is now!” And I think that’s right. I think sometimes people don’t even know, but once that need is met and their belly is full, etc., and the warmth is given, they say “Wow! Who gave this to me?” And there lies the desire to get more and that is really important to us.
Convoy seems to have had a lot of growth within the last decade or even a smaller span. What are some of the new programs that have come up?
Our core has always been children’s feeding initiatives, disaster response, community outreach, and resourcing others. That’s been our core, but with the children’s feeding initiatives, there are five levels of intervention. It’s food, clean water, healthy living environments, education, and agriculture. So when we say feeding, it’s really all those things. Where we have grown and new things have come up has been agriculture, which has grown dramatically over the past two years. That’s really exciting because that has empowered people to grown their own crops, which is absolutely leading towards sustainability. It really grew a lot in Haiti and now we’re taking it to other countries. We’re in eleven countries right now feeding about 145,000 kids.
The other initiative that has really grown is women’s empowerment. This grew in Ethiopia. We have put 1,700 women through this program already. This is where they are trained with a skill. These are the poorest of the poor, having only some basic education- an education of about a twelve year old. In a 90-day program, they’re taught to cook, sew, raise chickens, or something like that. We finance their business venture, so it’s not a loan. We actually grant them the money, $150 to $200, and then they start their own business. Over 95% of them are still in business today. They’ve gone from making zero to maybe fifty cents a day, to middle income in a 90-day training program. It’s unbelievable and the training program costs us just about under a thousand dollars each woman. So it’s incredible!
I was just there in February and there was one woman I visited who just finished the program. She produces about two hundred to three hundred injera a day. Injera is almost like a crepe, but it’s thicker, like bread. Two hundred of those a day she produces and sells, but she also takes care of her two kids and her paraplegic sister. She was doing that before she had any of that. I have no idea how she was surviving and now here she is. She can take care of her two kids and her sister after a 90-day training program. More importantly than that, her dignity is restored. These women have literally told us that they felt they were less than human. The exact words have been “less than human.”
Agriculture and women’s empowerment have been huge and we’re going to look at growing both of those internationally in the future.
We’d love to hear about another new program you’ve started, Feed One.
Feed One is another new initiative from Convoy of Hope. It was originally designed to reach into universities and young adults. Mother Theresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred, feed one” and we are literally feeding a child now for ten dollars a month, which is incredible. We felt there was a void on university campuses and with young adults, as you know, voids don’t stay empty. They get filled with something and we think even a young adult can feed a child for ten dollars a month. You can check it out online, Feed One. You can also be an ambassador in Feed One and invite other people to participate. It’s now grown to churches also even though it wasn’t set up for that originally and businesses are starting to do Feed One, as well. Employers are saying, “Well, if you want to feed one, we’ll take five dollars per paycheck out and feed one.” A lot of people are jumping on that bandwagon. It easy and it’s really cool!
Sometimes lack of transparency or high overhead can cause distrust with large charities. How does Convoy of Hope compare?
At Convoy of Hope, 90% of what comes in goes right back out to human need. I should mention that with Convoy of Hope for the past 11 years we’ve also been rated four stars with Charity Navigator, which is a very reputable charitable rating authority online.
When you’re growing so much and reach the scale Convoy of Hope is at, how do you stick with your roots?
That is a real good question and something we constantly ask ourselves. One, we have chapel every Wednesday morning at Convoy of Hope. There’s some worship and a fifteen-minute word of encouragement from someone, then we take prayer requests and pray together. I think that’s important to stay grounded- to realize, you know, that everything we do is to glorify God. Every meeting, we pray. The “God quotient” is there. Quarterly, we have what we call a “Home Week” as well. If you live outside the area, you fly in, if you work in the area, you stay. So we’re together and we share collectively what we’re doing. In those days, there’s individual department meetings and reports on what we’re doing; the impact, the encouragement, the stories. I think that’s really critical, to keep sight of the “why” behind what you’re doing. And when we hire people, we make sure we’re looking for people like-minded; same heart, same passions. Really the main thing for how we stay true while we grow is keeping that “God quotient.” Chapel, Home Week, and speakers, like our founders, Hal and Dave Donaldson, reminding people we’re a movement of compassion. We are not just a program. We’re not just disaster response. We are not just about feeding one more child. The child will definitely be fed, but we want to see people’s hearts compassionately moved. You can’t measure that return on investment with dollars.
What can people reading this do to get involved or help out with Convoy of Hope?
If you’d like, you can go to our website and look at the different venues and ways they can partner with us. You can also contact us or become an advocate and simply promote what Convoy of Hope is doing. Raising awareness is a huge thing. If you live in the Springfield, MO area, you can come to our warehouse on Tuesday nights at 6PM for “Hands of Hope,” a volunteer night.
What would you say to people who want to get more involved in charity work or social enterprise?
I would say that sometimes we’re passionate about different things at different times in our lives.Move forward, be available, and do it. You don’t have to go far, either. If you have something locally, get out there and do it. Also, if you’re someone that just wants to go deeper, look around and see who’s already doing it in your community and partner with them. I’ll go back to the Feed One program, as well. You can sponsor a kid, or you can go further and become an advocate and encourage others to be a part. In conclusion- move, take action, do something. You can think about it, think about it, think about it, but make sure you actually participate.