Happy Mother’s Day

Just as it is all over the world, Mother’s Day is a big deal in El Salvador! This special day is always celebrated on May 10th, so this year it was last Tuesday.


13262262_849307840231_1204889097_oWe’ve all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” At Love & Hope Children’s Home, we have found that to be very true. Our children have been under the loving care of so many amazing men and women, some who have been working at Love & Hope longer than some of the children have been alive! Naturally, our kids then come to see Rachel and the staff as mother and father figures.

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Rachel has been called “mami” by the kids practically since Love & Hope’s doors opened almost 13 years ago. She witnessed their first steps, first words and first days of school. Rachel remembers and loves to tell the kids what clothes they were wearing the first time they met. She helps with homework and goes to as many of their games, appointments, concerts and performances as possible. Rachel listens to them, advises them and cries with them. She is their mom in every sense of the word.

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Several of our “tias” have their own biological children, but that doesn’t stop them from stepping into Love & Hope Children’s Home and loving our children as their own. These women have become confidants, teachers, playmates, friends and authority figures to our kids. It is easy to see their the love and care they offer our children and teenagers is sincere and pure. They love and enjoy our children despite every difficult moment they encounter. The relationships our tias share with the kids really are special; because our children spend so much time with our caregivers, our staff knows our kids on a very deep level.

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We’ll finish with Michell’s message to Rachel on Mother’s Day. She said it perfectly! Mothers certainly are very special people, biological or not.

“Happy Mother’s Day. I couldn’t imagine my life without you. God gave me the best mother. I know that I never was in your belly but God had a plan with you and me. God made me come into your life. You are always going to be my mother because you saw me and you are going to keep watching me growing up and reaching my goals. You’ll always be by my side no matter what I do. Thanks for everything you do and for making me happy. I’m very thankful and happy with you. You are a blessing in my life. Thanks for supporting me and encouraging me. I want you to be there for all of my successes; you always give me strength and make me be a better person.”

Happy Mother’s Day!

(Most of photos from this blog were taken at the special events that the kids participated in at school to celebrate Mother’s Day and our own celebration with the staff at Love & Hope Children’s Home.)

Lessons from S

S seems to show up in our Instagram and Facebook feeds more than any other child here at Love & Hope Children’s Home. It is because of his wonderful and crazy personality, funny stories and great photos. S is so unique and special; he brings joy to all of our lives here.

S has friends all over the place. Here is a common scenario: we are walking through the grocery store with S. From behind us we hear, “Hi S!” We say “Hi!” S smiles. Then we (the adults) timidly ask, “Sorry, how do you know S?” They explain and we have an epiphany moment. Seriously, this has happened many times. Everywhere we go, S knows someone.


He also understands a lot of English. S will never respond in English, but we have to be careful about what we say in English in front of him. At times he has surprised us with his understanding.


S is a dancer. From the time he was little, he could pick out a good beat. And he isn’t ashamed to let loose and dance in front of anyone. We recently went to a wedding and S danced for about two hours straight. Really, he didn’t stop, and we were all wondering where all that energy came from. Even when it was time to eat, he sat in his seat, bouncing up and down. He didn’t care what everyone else thought, and he also got the other little boys dancing too.


One of our friends once said that S is Love & Hope’s “Welcoming Party.” So true. He is the first to greet and play with visitors, opening his heart to new people immediately. S puts up no walls, and his is the first name that our visitors learn. He loves the attention and loves to play.


Sometimes S gets upset. But, his bad mood only lasts minutes. Then, he comes up (many times without any prompting) to say sorry. “I need to ask you something. I need to ask for forgiveness.” Then S gives the sweetest hug and kiss you’ve ever had. The way that S can set aside his pride or stubbornness and ask for forgiveness with such sincere humility amazes us every time.


For the last year or so, S has been talking to us about a classmate at school. “G is my girlfriend.” “G did this or that.” “I’m going to marry G.” We teased S about G, listened to him talk about her, etc., but we had never met her. Then at a school talent show, S pointed her out to us. One thing he had never mentioned about G? She uses a wheelchair. We were astounded. Maybe S doesn’t notice the wheelchair at all, or to him, it just doesn’t matter, it isn’t even worth mentioning. S is too preoccupied with the beautiful person in the wheelchair to pay any attention to the wheelchair.

S teaches us a lot: forgiveness, inclusion, how to laugh, how to be a free spirit. He really is an amazing kid!

No More Violence

It is no secret that El Salvador is suffering from the effects of a violent gang culture. Rates of delinquency and violence are at or above the levels that this tiny country experienced during its 12-year civil war. Thankfully, Love & Hope Children’s Home is situated in an area that is safe. Still, our daily decisions and activities are all affected by the reality of the situation here.

For the last couple weeks, a group from the organization No Mas Violencia: Un Mensaje de Dios (No More Violence: A Message from God) has conducted a workshop for our children on Friday afternoons. The mission of this organization is to “influence individuals and communities by using concrete actions that express a message of peace, justice and love founded in God.” No Mas Violencia works in many countries in the Americas, including El Salvador and the United States, and was founded in Argentina.

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The leaders of our workshop do a great job at reaching all of our children, despite a big age gap. They use activities, funny videos and conversation to keep everyone involved and engaged. The workshop started off by talking about bullying. As in any other place, bullying is a huge problem amongst the youth of El Salvador, and we have even seen the effects of bullying amongst our children. Talking about bullying candidly allows everyone to reconsider their words and actions.

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We’ve talked about self-esteem. The leaders explained that having low self-esteem or high self-esteem are both unhealthy. A healthy level of self-esteem is best. We’ve also talked about being a good listener and an effective communicator.


While some of these topics could be seen as insignificant compared to the real situation of violence here in El Salvador, they are starting points. Bullying, unhealthy self esteem, and ineffective communication lead to more serious problems. Prevention is key!

Workshops and experiences like this one are so very important for our children. Our prayer is that the Love & Hope kids will grow up to be followers of Jesus, leaders in El Salvador, positive agents of change in their own country, fostering peace, justice and love rather than violence and hate. Please pray for our children as they choose friends at school and in their activities, and as they make daily decisions to follow God and strive to honor him. Please also pray for the government leaders of El Salvador as they search for the best methods to combat the gang culture.

Hasta Luego, Suzana!

At the beginning of 2014, Suzana entered Love & Hope Children’s Home for the first time. She had never been to Love & Hope, never been to El Salvador, and arrived with the intention of staying for just six months. Over two years later, Suzana has become an indelible part of the Love & Hope family and is deeply loved by all of our children and our staff. Sadly, Suzana’s “six months” have finally come to end. Last week, we had the difficult task of trying to say goodbye and properly thank her for all her time, energy, effort, and love.


Suzana graduated with a degree in social work, and prior to arriving in El Salvador she spent the previous two years teaching in Jerusalem. Her training and experience made her a perfect fit for Love & Hope, and she quickly poured herself into every part of life here in El Salvador. Suzana not only worked as an educator – coaching our kids through homework assignments, tutoring them in subjects where they struggled, and attending parent-teacher meetings – but she also stepped into other roles whenever needed, taking shifts as a caregiver and helping teach “Parent’s School” with the kids’ biological families. Most recently, Suzana became an “RA” for three of our oldest girls who moved into our new transition home (we’ll talk about that in another post!). Suzana has lived there with them for several months, guiding them and helping them learn to be independent young women. All this in addition to baking birthday cakes, accompanying kids to soccer practice, answering emails, keeping our supplies organized, and cooking us all a delicious Mexican meal every week!

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Suzana has invested countless hours into Love & Hope, and into each of the children who call it home. They adore her. Suzana has an engaging personality, her laugh is infectious, and she is great at listening. The kids flock to her for both fun and advice. We affectionately call our staff Tios and Tias (uncles and aunts), and like many of them, Suzana has become a true Tia to our kids.


Likewise, Suzana formed a bond with our staff like no one else. Her fluency in Spanish and her latin roots allowed her to build deep and lasting friendships. Suzana truly built a life in El Salvador, and so many people will miss her in so many different ways.

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We asked a few of the kids to share their well-wishes for Suzana. It really shows how much they love and appreciate her! Here is what they said:

Shelby: “We’ve done so many things! Thank you for everything. I’m going to miss you so much. Take care of yourself and I hope everything goes well with your family. I love you.

Linda: “I am going to miss you, but I hope to see you soon. I love you so much, Suzy. Thank you for everything, for your friendship and for listening to me. I love you and may it go well with you.”

Jacobo: “Thanks for everything, you are a great person. I’m going to miss you. Thanks for being my friend. Have fun with your family.”

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Suzana, we know this isn’t goodbye, but rather a “see you later!” Thank you for your incredible dedication to and tireless work at Love & Hope Children’s Home. There is no way to truly express all that you have done for us! We will miss you dearly.


2016 Women’s Team

Over the years, Love & Hope Children’s Home has received hundreds of visitors and teams. Some come to Love & Hope specifically, others are just passing through. Some stay for a week, others stay for a few months. One group that we always look forward to every year is the “Women’s Team.” While the women who come has changed year-to-year, one thing hasn’t changed: these women bless us in countless ways every time they visit El Salvador together. This year, the team came right in time for two big events at Love & Hope: Linda’s quinceañera and back-to-school.


Our dear Mama Kathy led the team again this year. Kathy, lovingly called Mama Kathy by the kids (and staff!), is Rachel’s mom. She has known our children since they were infants and considers them to be her grandchildren. Along with Mama Kathy came a great team of women: Melissa, Suzanne, Karen, Sandy and Lauren, most of whom had already been to El Salvador. They brought a great variety of experience and skills with them. One thing they all had in common was awesome work ethic!

We started the women out on book and notebook detail. This is a huge back-to-school job for Love & Hope every year. Each notebook and book that the kids will use during the school year must be labeled and covered in plastic. Some of the notebooks even have to be color-coded. It is hard to count up exactly how many books and notebooks they covered all together but we estimate that well over 300 items need to be covered with contact paper or plastic. Needless-to-say, it is time consuming!


The women also helped greatly with preparations for Linda’s quinceañera. They brought and made decorations, cooked food, and helped set-up and tear down. We couldn’t have made Linda’s party so special without them! Suzanne even handmade Linda’s jewelry. It was beautiful!

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Many of our visiting teams opt to take a trip to a near-by community, with which Love & Hope Children’s Home has a growing relationship. The women’s team visited this community, taking a snack, craft and lots of love for the precious children there.

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Probably the best thing these special women did was build relationships with our children. They took us out for pupusas, played games, did karaoke, and engaged the kids in conversation. Sandy, a physical education teacher, taught and left us with an awesome maze game that gets the kids moving. The women even took time to love on our staff a bit, giving every staff member a gift during our Wednesday morning meeting.

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Thank you Mama Kathy, Karen, Suzanne, Sandy, Melissa and Lauren for working so hard and blessing Love & Hope Children’s Home so deeply. We can’t wait to see you again next year!

Linda’s Quinceañera

There was a time at Love & Hope Children’s Home when all of the children were under 10-years-old; over one-third of the kids were in diapers or being toilet trained. One day having a house full of teenagers was a reality that seemed so far away, it wasn’t even worth thinking about. Guess what? It is now a reality! Our youngest child is in first grade, we have two young women in university, and we just celebrated our fifth quinceañera, or 15th birthday party. Linda turned 15 in January, and we celebrated this important milestone with a traditional “fiesta rosa” or “rose party,” which marked Linda’s entrance into adulthood.

Preparation for Linda’s quinceañera started weeks in advance. We reserved the church, planned a menu, bought a dress, made a photo slide show, and the like. There were decorations to be created, music to be chosen and invitations to be printed and handed out.

A few days before Linda’s big day, several visitors arrived! Along with a women’s team, our good friends Mandy and Jodi came to El Salvador. Linda’s long-time sponsor, Josh, came for the party too. Linda had already asked him if he would walk her down the isle.

On the day of the party, Linda went with Rachel to have her hair and make-up done by our friends at Sevens Salon. Alma and her staff have always been so generous with our girls on their 15th birthdays, treating them like princesses. Meanwhile, the women’s team cooked a special dinner, and another group did set-up at the church.

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Guests began arriving right on time. In addition to Linda’s out-of-country visitors, all of the children from Love & Hope, many staff members (current and former), and friends of Love & Hope were in attendance. Linda’s little brother walked in first as the ring-bearer. As Linda was escorted down the isle by Josh, she was nervous, but looked so happy.


Our quinceañeras at Love & Hope have always begun with a church service. During this service, Linda received several symbolic gifts. She was given a Bible, to make reading the Word of God a lifelong habit. Linda was also given a bracelet to represent God’s unending love and promises. A ring was placed on Linda’s finger to represent her commitment to purity.

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The service also included worship, a sermon, prayer and special words spoken by one of Linda’s caregivers.

After the service, it was time to party! We went all out with Linda’s color choices of lime green and aqua: decorations, cake, centerpieces.

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Linda was our first young lady to choose to do a waltz at her quinceañera. She choose to do the dance with her sponsor, Josh. Josh, on his own accord, even took dance lessons before coming to El Salvador! Days before the party, Linda and Josh practiced and practiced the waltz. They looked confident during the entire dance and Linda’s smile was a mile wide!


Later, we did a ceremony called “15 Candles.” During this ceremony, Linda chose 15 special people in her life who lit a candle, then were allowed to say a few words especially for Linda.



We finished off the quinceañera with piñatas. How else would you end a party in El Salvador? After cleaning up and heading home, Linda excitedly opened her presents and cards.

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The next morning at church, we noticed something different about Linda: confidence, poise and radiance. We recognize Linda’s caring, sensitive, and loving heart for others, the way she takes care of her brother, her academic focus and dedication, her great sense of humor, and her contagious bouts of happiness and laughing. She really is becoming a beautiful young woman, inside and out.

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Thank you to everyone who made Linda’s quinceañera so special! It took many people and many hours to make this event happen: Josh Bradley, Kelly Moore, Kathy Sanson, Suzana Gomez, Kirsten Zimmerman, Justin and Rachel Klubnik, Julio Ramirez, Eric and Mandy Elkins, Alma Reyes, Sevens Salon, Alex Perez, The Union Church of San Salvador, Lauren Balata, Sandy Bstic, Suzanne Rulitski, Melissa Mullet, Angelica Rosales, Karen Vana, Nate Migal, Kayli Plotner, Orestes, Carmen, Herberth, and the caregivers and staff at Love & Hope Children’s Home.

Celebrating Succeses

As Love & Hope Children’s Home gears up for a new school year in 2016, we wanted to share some of the successes we celebrated with them at the end of last year!

Shelby graduated from high school! Shelby hasn’t lived with us at Love & Hope for quite some time now, but she visited often and we made sure that she was able to get a quality education close to her home. We couldn’t be prouder of the young lady she has become, overcoming many obstacles to achieve her high school diploma. This year, we support Shelby as she begins her university career! Shelby is going to study English with a focus in tourism.

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We also recognized another very special achievement. Our youngest graduated from kindergarten! He even won a pin for “excellence,” an honor that only a few of his classmates received. We can’t believe that Love & Hope Children’s Home is finished with kindergarten; it is bittersweet. Needless-to-say, we are so very proud of our little guy. This year he will be in first grade!



Besides graduations, we had other things to celebrate. Moises won first place in his class at school. He even exonerated a few final exams because of his excellent grades and wonderful behavior. Moises loves his school and we have enjoyed watching him become a leader there.

Salvador learned reading basics and swimming in 2015. If you know Salvador, you know this is big for him! He diligently and enthusiastically practiced his reading every week, so proud to read the syllables out loud. Salvador also receives swimming class at school. Many of us didn’t even realize how well he could swim until we spent a day at the lake. Salvador had no problem swimming in the deep water without a life jacket! This year Salvador will continue at the same school. We are excited to see the advances he will make!

The highlights are endless! Michell won third place in her class for the year. Our kids participated in robotics and science fairs, recitals and talent shows; others represented their school in athletics. Brenda is an active member of the honor society at her school. Jocelyn finished her first year of university. All of our children will move on to the next grade, and we anticipate an even better year in 2016.


IMG_2410All of this- quality education, safety, caring teachers, extra-curricular activities, field trips, special education, higher education- all of this is possible because of the generosity of our donors. THANK YOU.

Many of our children have already begun school this year. They are excited to be back and optimistic! Education is a gift that can never be taken away from our children. A solid education can make the difference between a life of sustenance and a life of success. Our kids have amazing goals and with your help, we want to give them the opportunity to reach them!

To offer our children the best education possible, we need your support. Please consider giving the gift of education this year! Visit our website to give and learn more.

2nd Annual Family Retreat

Last week, after months of planning, the entire Love & Hope Children’s Home family embarked on a two-day retreat to the mountains. This was our second annual retreat!


Preparations for the retreat started months ago as Tio Julio took charge and separated responsibilities among the staff. We planned the theme, devotions, music, food, games, t-shirts, teams, location, etc. Tio Julio decided once again to have the retreat in the beautiful mountains of the department of Chalatenango, El Salvador.

A few days before the retreat, Julio called a meeting to announce teams, talk about rules and pass out t-shirts. The following day, each team got together to pick a team name and make headbands, bracelets and flags. Each team also had to be ready to leave, with their bags packed the afternoon before the retreat. Everything counted for points!

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On the morning of the retreat, everyone was ready by 7:00 am to make the 3 hour drive to Chalatenango. After praying, we loaded into the cars, pumped up the music, and headed north. Once at the campsite, the kids worked together to put up their tents while waiting for lunch. It was quite the campsite!

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Later, it was game time! The games all counted for points for each team. The favorite game seemed to be “Human Anatomy.” Each team separated into partners. A caller would yell two body parts, “Nose to nose!” Each pair of players had to put their noses together as fast as possible. We started out easy, then mixed things up with calls like, “Tongue to big toe!” Needless to say, we laughed a lot and the most extreme pair won!

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DSC_0320 After games, it was time for dinner, then the first devotion. The theme for the retreat was based on Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Julio and Rachel planned devotions for the teenagers, and Gloria and René planned devotions for the younger kids. Both devotional times (a second was held the next day) were wonderful. The kids were responsive and interactive!

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In the evening, our friends Bobby and Britney Hibbs, Alex Perez and Chris Huovinen arrived to lead a chapel time. Bobby preached about how to shine before others: telling the truth instead of lying, using edifying words rather than ugly language, giving over stealing, and living with joy rather than anger. Alex and Chris led the kids in some great worship time!

The first day ended with a bonfire, s’mores and a sky full of stars!

After breakfast and devotions on the second day, it was time for some more extreme activities. We could choose between three challenges: the pendulum, high ropes course, and zip-line. The kids (and adults) were so brave and supportive of each other.

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Before heading home, we cleaned up, prayed and announced the winners of the retreat. The blue team won first place and a pizza dinner, but every team was awarded with some kind of prize! Everyone agreed that the retreat was a success. The cars were pretty quiet on the way home, as everyone was exhausted.

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We treasure opportunities like this to spend time with our family. The retreat was a great way to reconnect with God and each other, play and explore together. Events like the retreat are only possible because of the generosity of our donors and sponsors. Thank you for helping us to provide experiences like this for our children!

Children’s Day!

October 1st is Children’s Day in El Salvador and many other parts of the world. We at Love & Hope Children’s Home try to make it a special day for our kids. This year, we were helped by PGS 360, local branch of a California based company. We were already very familiar with PGS 360, as they provide us with weekly karate lessons with one of their employees, Jose.

On Wednesday morning, to prepare for Children’s Day on Thursday, our staff took the time to make cards for each child. We tried to make the cards appeal to each child’s interests. Then every staff member signed each card.

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Later, we prepared goody bags with some of their favorite treats: Coca Cola, Ramen noodles, Pringles and candy. On Thursday morning, while the kids were at school, the cards and goody bags were placed on each child’s bed: a fun surprise to return home to.

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Our children were also treated to fun at school on Thursday or Friday. They had parties, ate special food and played games with their classmates. Needless to say, they were too full to eat lunch when they came home from school!

After homework hour on Thursday, PGS 360 arrived with awesome decorations, a clown, music, soda, pizza, piñatas, face painting and games! Love & Hope also hosted another children’s home, Mi Casa, who joined us for the fun. The kids loved it!

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The clown was interactive and fun. One of the games he had the kids play was to simply have them make a pile of as many “things” they could. The kids started collecting shoes and keys, then getting really into the game, finished by collecting people and chairs! In another game, the participants had to make a line of shoes as fast as possible!

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We were excited to see Mike, the owner of PGS 360, in El Salvador on October 1st. He even stopped by the party to say, “Hello!” In addressing the kids and adults in attendance, he said something important: “To me, everyday is Children’s Day!” How true. We at Love & Hope Children’s Home do our best to make our children feel special, loved and safe every single day. We are so grateful to have the support of PGS 360 and the schools in this mission. We are also so blessed by the generosity of donors who make it possible to send our children to wonderful schools where they are valued and celebrated. Thank you!

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“How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.”- Mother Theresa

Tienda las Chiquititas

The “little girls” at Love & Hope Children’s Home recently became entrepreneurs! For the last few weeks, the little girls gave up 25 cents of their snack money everyday to save up to buy supplies for a “venta,” or sale, of chips with all the fixings (we’ll explain below). Once the girls had saved enough money, they bought individual bags of chips, as well as mango, paterna, limes, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and salt.

When they were ready to open their “venta,” the girls and their caregiver posted a sign on the door to their room: “Little Girls’ Store,” “Sale of prepared chips for only $0.25.”


Prepared chips with “everything” are doused with lime juice, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and salt. The girls also had mango and paterna (a large seed that is boiled until soft) for sale, also eaten with all of the previously mentioned ingredients.


The girls sold out of chips on the first day, then bought more later in the week and sold out again! The older boys admired their business savy, we heard one of them saying they were going to start selling soda.

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Great job, girls! We admire your initiative, teamwork and responsibility!