Immediately following Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Bobbi Updegraff, of Linden, went to Honduras with her family to help with the recovery.
Later, she convinced a nurse friend, Kathy Temple, of Trout Run, to go with her so she, too, could use her skills to help. They were housed at an orphanage called Hogar Renacer, which means Home of Rebirth.
"Bobbi and I looked at each (and said), 'A lot of work needs to be done,' " Temple said.
Bobbi Updegraff, of Linden.
It became the beginning of Friends of Renacer, an ecumenical support network for the orphanage and the connected Christian school in the central part of the country.
Swedish missionary Elisabeth Johannson "had the vision" for Hogar Renacer, said Temple, group co-founder. "There was no place for kids to play."
The orphanage was started and had housed missionaries previously, but Temple said no one had ever interacted with the children like they did. Normally, they would do what they were there to do, eat and go to bed.
"We love these kids," she said.
They brought construction paper, puppets and other toys for the children.
Twice a year, a group of workers return to Hogar Renacer, Tegucigalpa, to help with various projects, such as replacing asbestos roofs with sheet metal and building a chicken processing center to allow the orphanage to become self-sustaining through selling excess eggs and meat from its 350 to 400 chickens.
Because the group only goes for a few weeks at a time, it often cannot finish projects and hires local labor to complete them.
"We try to help the community," co-leader Pete Heilman said.
"If we start a project, we make sure it finishes," Temple said. "We do it the Honduran way."
Some people who have come in to help have tried "Americanizing" the projects, but Temple explained the Hondurans know what to do so money isn't wasted.
However, they are a submissive group of people who do not want to seem unappreciative of the help because they do not want to embarrass themselves or those offering.
In addition to giving work to the local people, Friends of Renacer has been giving scholarship money for the last five years to completely pay for college tuition, books and transportation.
"They have to come back and spend so many hours (at the orphanage)," Heilman said.
Volunteers will return to Honduras Jan. 12 to 20. When they go depends on ticket availability and when people can get vacation time or unpaid time since many in the group work. They try to go early in the year and near the Fourth of July because workers already have holiday time they can use.
While there, they lead Bible studies with as many as 120 participants, and do crafts, where even mothers participate because they never did anything like it when they were younger, Temple said.
The term "orphanage" is broad because of the children who use the services. Some parents are dead, but others cannot properly take care of their children, so they give them away to make a better life. Some parents tried to illegally enter the U.S. without their children knowing whether they are alive.
Temple has been asked to help some of the children illegally enter the U.S., but she tells them to stay where they are and make their country a better place. Without any skills, and being illegal immigrants, life would be much worse in America.
Some parents put their children in the orphanage because of the many services that are given to them. They receive medical care, which includes psychological treatment and dentist visits.
And those who do not have family still have God as their father, Temple said.
Those who volunteer in Honduras represent America.
"These kinds of relationships cement the USA in other people's minds," Temple said. "We're not only representing God, but also ambassadors of the USA."
In the past, they have driven both a short bus and a regular bus to Honduras, packed with supplies for children.
Every few years, Temple takes the older children to some Mayan ruins, where two state universities still are excavating.
A mud slide delayed their return for a day, Heilman said. While there, they stayed in a hotel.
"It was not a good hotel," Temple said. "They considered it five-star."
The children look forward to the return visits of their friends.
"We're the only thing consistent in their lives," Temple said.
Heilman is called "abuelo" or grandfather by the children.
Because the children do not have many male figures in their lives, they attach themselves to the men in the group - sometimes literally. Temple said on two occasions kids refused to give up their spots on the men's laps, even if they had to use the bathroom.
The first two years when the group left, the children "sobbed and bawled," Temple said.
"Before it was 'Will you be back?' and now the children have learned it is 'When will you be back?' "
"Some still cry," she said. "It's nothing like it used to be. There's that assurance that we're going back.
For more information, visit friendsofrenacer.com. Donations can be directed to specific causes on the website.