Jenny Kast knows first-hand that old axiom, “when it rains, it pours.”
This fall, the Children’s Home Project – a nonprofit the Ahwatukee woman founded in 2012 – saw two of her projects in Honduras battered by back-to-back Category 4 hurricanes.
Water from a nearby river breached a levee inundating their Proniño property and leaving tons of mud in its wake.
Fortunately, the day before Hurricane Eta struck Oct. 31, all children living at the nine-building compound were evacuated by boat, finding shelter with Nebraska native Haley Janssen, Proniño’s director.
Even then, Kast and staff imagined the hurricane’s damage would be minimal and short-lived.
“Somehow, I doubted that we’d be affected. Some potential water damage? Sure. But nothing that a good scrub and some time in the sun couldn’t fix,” said Kast.
“I was incredibly wrong.”
She explained that Proniño, which means “for children,” is on a road that parallels the 150-mile long Ulua River. A large levee protects the road during the rainy season when the river is swollen.
“That levee broke directly in front of our property. This means that the river has essentially forked and is now free to run through Proniño when the water rises,” explained Kast.
Less than two weeks after Eta, Hurricane Iota hit and caused “extensive damage.”
“We know that all personal property left behind in the evacuation is lost. Once the water recedes, civil engineers will visit the property to assess the wisdom of rebuilding on this site,” Kast said.
Years of work, sweat and tears were washed away by the deluge and up to a foot of mud.
Another project under the umbrella of TCHP, called “Proyecto Crecer” or “Growth Project,” is a daytime prevention program that allows children to remain with their families while attending school in the mornings and spending afternoons working on homework, vocational training, mentoring and just being with their peers.
That too was damaged, though not as extensively, Kast said.
“The flooding also ruined many beds. Our focus with the Crecer community is to fix roofs and replace beds and other damaged necessities in the houses. We have budgeted $50,000 for this,” she said.
“At Proniño, we don’t yet know the dollar amount of what has been lost and what the cost will be to rebuild,” Kast continued.
“We’re praying that we’ll be able to rebuild on our land because we’ve looked at new land to purchase and the cost ranges between $300,000-$500,000.”
If prayers are answered and they can rebuild, it still requires a lot of funds to refurnishing and restock. Photographs show overturned washing machines and refrigerators planted in the mud, tables topped with eight inches of hardening mud atop them.
“Every material item will need to be replaced,” said Kast. “The kids left Proniño with the outfits they were wearing and one extra in a backpack. All beds, furniture, toiletries, shoes, clothes, school books and school supplies, office supplies, tools, toilets, etc. will need to be replaced. There’s roughly two feet of mud covering the five acres of our property that will need to be removed, as well as the eight inches of mud inside each building.”
Augmenting donations from supporters is a Hurricane Eta Disaster Relief for TCHP GoFundMe page.
Nearly half of the $400,000 goal has been raised for the registered nonprofit and Kast hopes the goal will be reached.
It was the 2008 downturn in the U.S. economy that prompted Jenny and Sean Kast to move and work in Honduras.
“The economy was so terrible and Sean lost his job and I was in a job I didn’t like and we talked about what we wanted to do. I always wanted to be a missionary, so we said, ‘Let’s try,’” recalled Kast.
The couple, who met while in AmeriCorps in South Carolina, volunteered at a government-run children’s home that had infants through teens in their care.
“Seeing what these kids endured daily left me feeling a deep commitment to do something to improve the lives of the children,” Kast said.
Though she’d started The Children’s Home Project earlier, calling on friends and family to come volunteer, she started her nonprofit in 2012, the same year Sean became a Mesa firefighter.
Even with two hurricanes and mud-encased buildings, tough times aren’t new to the nonprofit’s Ahwatukee founder.
The most difficult came three years ago.
“In 2017, the organization that funded Proniño was in the process of closing and the home was receiving less and less support each quarter. Our role in Proniño was to help from the sidelines. We raised funds for scholarships, helped provide access to mental healthcare and were deeply invested in our relationships with the kids, and we wanted to maintain that role,” she said.
“I prayed and prayed that another organization would step up and fill the role of primary funder. By the end of 2017, we knew that that organization needed to be us.”
Admitting that assuming the responsibilities for running a home for children “was far outside our expertise,” Kast said, “These were kids that we loved and to whom we were fully committed. So, we knew we had to try.”
“The following year was spent fundraising and preparing and we were amazed, terrified and ecstatic when in September 2018, we’d reached all of our goals and knew we would be able to move forward.”
She said she has faith God will provide donors to help with the mountain of needs this newest calamity brought.
Contributions and/or donations made to The Children’s Home Project are tax-deductible.