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In the early 1990s, one of our founding board members, Bob Miller, took a volunteer vacation to Guadalajara, Mexico, where he volunteered a week of labor to an orphanage, Casa de Protección al Niño, in Tlaquepaque, a suburb of Guadalajara.

With that emotional connection to 120 children stealing his heart, it was inevitable that more trips were in his future. About two years and five trips later, due to the death of one of the owners of the private orphanage, it was being closed and the children put into other orphanages throughout Mexico. Two of the children asked Bob to adopt them.

While it was not in his conscious list of life goals, after checking into the legalities and the process, he agreed to become the adopted father to the two children. It took almost five years to go through the adoption process, getting passports in their new names and obtaining the “green cards” (immigration cards), but finally it was done.

During and after this time, the new father was able to see the difference between children raised in an orphanage and those being raised in a family. It is this distinction that became the seed for this project to make it possible for more orphan children to be raised in families.

Four years later, with the question, “How can we get more children out of orphanages and into real families?” continuing to nag him, he quit his job to work full time to find an answer. A nonprofit was formed, Our Family Orphan Communities, Inc. (O.F.O.C.) and the design team gathered.

The team found that every orphan-care facility they looked at was dependent, at least in part, on donations or government subsidies. They saw that when donations went down or subsidies lost, childcare suffered or the facilities would close. It was decided that a key goal of the design was to be economically self-sustaining.

With the goals of creating families for orphans and making it economically self-sustaining, the team set to work. Two years later, the generic design was done. For-profit, commercial sized businesses would be the economic engine that would create the profits that would make the Community financially independent. Ten family homes, each having two (surrogate) parents and two grandparents would take in permanently placed or adopted children.

With the generic design in hand, it was necessary to do a Needs and Wants Analysis. Through connections from his previous work as an international management trainer, speaker and consultant, he was soon meeting with the Director and Staff of the Vietnamese Aid Society for Disabled Children (VASDC) and the model was presented. Within months, it was clear the President of Vietnam liked the model, as did the Vice-President, Prime Minister and others. There was no question that the need was there and the O.F.O.C. solution was wanted. Meetings were held and agreements signed. Ninh Binh province donated the land, VASDC found funders who would assist and Bob appeared on national television with the Vice-President of Vietnam thanking him for what O.F.O.C. was doing for the children and people of Vietnam. Everything appeared to signal forward progress was imminent until the BBC News announced that “inflation in Vietnam has passed 27% annually and is continuing to rise.” That high inflation put the funding on hold. After a year, when it was evident that funding would continue to be postponed indefinitely, the board of directors of O.F.O.C. turned the focus to Mexico.

All during the time we were working with Vietnam, the design for the Sustainable Orphan/Adoption Community continued to be refined. Our research continued and our Need and Want Analysis trips to Mexico found that the majority of the children in orphanages are not orphans. They are there due to the effects of poverty –little or no family income, inability to care for the children, abuse, neglect and abandonment. Suddenly our board realized that we were not only working to get children out of orphanages into families, but with the design of our Communities, we could also help to keep them from being put into orphanages by helping parents to reduce their poverty.

This is when the name of the initiative was changed to Sustainable Family Communities. Soon it was not only economically self-sustaining, but also designed to have a sustainable environment, food-supply and society. We are now helping to “prevent orphans” by reducing the extreme poverty in urban slums, which is where many of the children begin their lives as orphans, as well as helping families that want to adopt children from orphanages.

You can help us to help more children to stay in their families (by helping to improve family stability) or to be adopted into families by supporting our Families for Orphans™ and Sustainable Family Communities ® initiatives.