Just a Typical Family
Paul and Carolene Cook were parents of a large American family. Paul was a businessman and Carolene was a stay-at-home mom of five boys and one little girl. They always wished that they could give their daughter a sister, but that biological possibility had sadly come and gone. However, since Carolene grew up with an adopted brother of her own, the possibility of adoption was not foreign to her.
While going back and forth on the idea of adopting, they met an acquaintance of one of their sons who had recently adopted a little girl from China. After talking to her about the experience, they made up their minds to adopt from China as well. On July 21st, 1997, they officially adopted Megan.
Five years later, Wes Whatcott, the owner of West Sands Adoption Agency (the agency through which Paul and Carolene adopted Megan) reached back out to them asking if they would be interested in adopting again. Now having seven children, they respectfully declined; but in order to support future adoptions, they accepted Wes’ invitation to donate to an orphanage in Haiti where thirty children were living in an 800-square-foot room. After a few months of donating, they were then invited to go visit the orphanage they had been supporting. “It was only then, when I saw the desperate plight of orphans in Haiti, that I knew that I needed to do more than just donate money. I needed to personally get to work on this problem and help save the lives of these kids,” said Paul.
After returning from his trip, he shared his experiences and passion with Carolene and their kids. They felt very much in over their heads, especially with the extremely limited international travel experience they had, and yet they dove in headfirst. Over the next several months, Paul and Carolene coordinated with their local Boy Scouts of America troop as well as their friends, family and church congregation to organize volunteers who would go down to Haiti and help build a larger complex for those children. They created a nonprofit called H.E.L.P International (Humanitarian Efforts for Little People) through which they organized more service trips. Seven months later, the organization was renamed A Child’s Hope Foundation.
It was during these early stages that the purpose of ACHF changed from building a larger orphanage in Haiti to caring for abandoned and orphaned children under the age of six. That was when the organization’s slogan became “Lifting Orphans from Surviving to Thriving.” Paul said, “We renamed our charity A Child’s Hope Foundation because we believe it is every orphan’s hope to belong to a loving family.” The organization continued to flourish and from 2002-2007 they had nearly 500 volunteers, including all of Paul and Carolene’s children, make service trips to Haiti.
Persistence in the Face of Adversity
A few years later, three specific events forced ACHF to adapt: political instability within Haiti, the ratification of the 2004 Hague Convention on International Adoption (which made adoption much more expensive and time consuming), and the 2008 economic recession. During these challenging times, ACHF was forced to cancel four of the five service trips to Haiti and Paul considered backing out of the organization altogether.
Despite their best efforts and intentions, they worked with various individuals who took advantage of their charitable endeavors. They often felt like they were taking one step forward and two steps back. This drove them to give even more of their resources and time, and “it became a struggle to find the balance between ACHF and our other responsibilities,” said Carolene.
In the end, the ACHF board decided to move their focus to Mexico, where they could develop and assist adoption orphanages while at the same time making the service trips more easily accessible to volunteers. Since then, ACHF has been able to partner with four other orphanages in Mexico and continues to support the orphanage in Haiti. Paul and Carolene’s efforts have impacted hundreds of children throughout Mexico and Haiti, and ACHF continues to grow.
When people ask why Paul originally donated to an orphanage in Haiti, he responds, “I didn’t choose Haiti, Haiti chose me.” Although Carolene wasn’t initially as “bought in” as Paul was, she doesn’t regret a single decision they made. Those experiences helped them and their children to think outside of themselves and realize there was a bigger world around them. Their family’s gratitude for the blessings they have grew exponentially. Carolene said, “We will forever cherish the people we met, the relationships we made, the new perspectives we developed and the experiences we had. They caused us to grow and improve as individuals in ways that nothing else could.”
An Example to be Followed
Like the Cooks, many individuals have a strong desire to help those in need and teach their children about the gifts of service. Although Paul and Carolene went above and beyond, every family can make a difference. Every contribution helps, no matter how small. Whether it’s bringing your family on a life-changing service trip, donating to help one of the orphanages with which ACHF partners, or sharing our mission and stories with friends and family, we encourage you to find the best way for you and your family to help lift children’s lives from surviving to thriving!