By Greg Garrett, EO Southeast Virginia member and President of Greg Garrett Realty.com
The year was 1999. The Internet was still pretty new, and I was just learning how to “search the Web.” My wife and I were coming up on our 20th wedding anniversary, and it was my job to fi nd a great deal on a romantic cruise.
As usual, I had gotten sidetracked.
I sat before the computer, searching not for “cruise” or “cruise ship,” but for “orphan” and “orphanage.” For many years, I had felt an internal need to help orphans and abandoned children around the world. An intense feeling swells in my chest when I think about how parents could desert their children, or why neighbors wouldn’t welcome lost children into their homes and care for them.
I was crushed by the helplessness of so many children in the world, specifically Central America. The more I searched online, the more devastated I was. At the time, I had recently discovered the vast global network of EOers, so I decided to test Member Exchange. I sent a request for information from anyone in Central America who had personal knowledge of orphanages in their region. I received a response from a member in EO El Salvador. He thought he might know of a local orphanage, and he was willing to help me. I was encouraged by this response. But I still had to confess to my wife that my late nights on the Internet had not been spent planning a romantic getaway on an elegant resort. Instead, I told her that I had a “hot lead” on an orphanage in El Salvador. It didn’t take long for her heart to understand that we could make a very real difference.
In the first week of March 2000, we showed up at Delores Susa Orphanage in the city of San Miguel. We were shocked to learn that only six adults were struggling to care for 250 children. The poverty, the need— the entire scene was overwhelming. We promised to return, and we came back four months later with 17 US volunteers and a team of 40 Salvadoreans. In an attempt to exercise all of our options, we founded Orphan Helpers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of the world’s orphans.
Since we founded the organization, it has accomplished a lot. We conducted a vacation Bible school and a sports camp for the kids, and we mounted a huge plumbing and construction project, since none of their commodes were operational. Over the years, we established libraries, training centers and dormitories, brought in medical teams and sent dozens of orphans to schools and colleges.
The response from the orphans was tremendous. You rarely see gratitude like that, especially when it comes to business. Still, things weren’t always rosy. Running the organization is often arduous and confusing, and the planning can be very tiring. We have employee-related problems, misunderstandings and conflicts with government offi cials, but they blow over.
Along the way, we’ve had our share of naysayers. But when I hear “don’t” or “can’t,” my entrepreneurial DNA kicks in and I strive to prove people wrong. Here are three things I have learned during this unexpected journey:
What folks call “conventional wisdom” is almost always wrong. Oftentimes, the world agrees that there is one right way to do something. Most people listen, and they don’t think to look for another solution. Entrepreneurs have it in them to doubt convention.
When things look bad, keep going. Things worth doing are usually hard to do. Entrepreneurs dig in and prepare for the long haul.
Dreams are contagious, so dream well and dream often. If a dream is meaningful, people will want to be part of it.
We now work with 1,300 orphaned, abused or incarcerated children in El Salvador and Honduras, and our dream is to reach a million kids in 100 nations. I continue my mission because I see myself and my children in their faces. l know that for every orphan l help, they may go on to help a thousand more. There’s something richly rewarding about fulfi lling a dream. After all, entrepreneurs dream, and they inspire others to dream, too.