U.S. Senators visit Outreach Center that United a Community
By Jennifer Brookland
February 19, 2015
U.S. Senators John Cornyn, R-TX, and Tim Kaine, D-VA, joined U.S. Ambassador to Honduras James Nealon and the USAID Mission Director James Watson on a visit to the Suyapa, Chamelecón Outreach Center in San Pedro Sula—a place that has emerged from violence to unite a community.
“Suyapa is a very special neighborhood,” says Salvador Stadthagen, who directs Creative’s Alianza Joven-Honduras project. “Really violent—but getting better.”
He says the Youth Outreach Center there, part of Creative’s larger USAID-funded violence prevention working in the country’s most at-risk communities, was a paradigm of participatory development, and a major victory in bringing people together.
Stadthagen recalls one night when people came together to remodel and paint the center, and stayed until 3 a.m.
Everyone from the Catholic parish to the Community Board, local schools, community members old and young, the Municipality, the Office of Youth and even the Central Government were enthusiastically involved in creating and sustaining the center.
It now boasts 32 volunteers and includes a gym and, more generally, a space where young people can feel safe and productive.
The Senators met with staff, volunteers and the children who benefit from getting everything from computer classes and ping pong tournaments to homework help, vocational skills and a positive outlook on
“It was an excellent visit that I believe both Senators, the Ambassador and MD enjoyed,” Stadthagen says.
A violent beginning
Father Luis was lukewarm about the Suyapa Outreach Center at first, just as the neighborhood may have been lukewarm about him. The church’s credibility there had waned in recent years, and church activities had dwindles. Even the traditional anniversary of the Virgin, a national holiday in Honduras, had not been celebrated in Suyapa for years.
But just before the opening of the center in Oct., 2014, two prosecutors were murdered in San Pedro Sula. The police had information that the suspected killers were in Suyapa.
Police responded to the killings by surrounding the neighborhood and before long the town was at the center of a shoot-out. Two policemen were wounded and the gang they were up against was ready to keep fighting.
But instead, the gang’s leader picked up the phone.
He called the Coordinator of the Outreach Center, who is also the local leader of the Catholic community in Suyapa, and asked for the church to intervene. A call to Creative’s San Pedro Sula office manager and an emergency phone call to Father Luis brought the young priest to Suyapa to help mediate.
He successfully ended the standoff. The gang members surrendered.
That night put Father Luis on the path to being a valued, even heralded part of the Suyapa community. But it also showed the priest how essential it was for people to come together to address the violence that was making it impossible for neighborhoods to function and for young people to live meaningful lives.
Your second home
Now a huge proponent of the Outreach Center, Father Luis met with the Congressional Delegation during their Feb. 17, 2015 visit, and spoke in Spanish with Senator Kaine, who previously did a sabbatical in El Progresso, Honduras.
Both Senators were guided around the center by a boy who epitomizes what the Outreach Centers like the one in Suyapa can do for young people and their families.
Mired in the common economic and social challenges of single parenthood and poverty, 12-year-old Dennis practically lives at the Suyapa Outreach Center. But that’s okay. In fact, the Outreach Center motto is “Tu segunda casa!”—your second home. For Dennis, it’s practically his first.
Dennis helps out at the center by volunteering. His responsibility: to help maintain order when it comes to use of the coveted foosball table.
In a video by popular Honduran blogger Lipstick Fables, Dennis proudly spins around to show off his volunteer t-shirt before he wends through the Outreach Center corridors, excitedly showing off the new computer lab, classrooms and gym, and introducing other friends and volunteers.
During the Congressional Delegation to his Outreach Center, though, he got to play the even more coveted role of tour guide to those who could bring the message of the Outreach Centers’ significance back to the United States.