Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Volunteering for the summer

      The children of Amigos de Jesús are always excited when visitors are expected to arrive. They peek their heads through the front gate and wait in anticipation to see who it will be that steps out of the big vans.
                  One summer, a group of summer volunteers came to visit the Hogar. Eager and excited, they jumped right into life with the children of Amigos de Jesús and set out to educate, entertain and love our children.
                  Six weeks may not seem like a long time in the grandness of life, but it certainly is enough to make a lasting impact. As soon as Kate* walked through the gates of Amigos de Jesus, Juan* was drawn to her. He grabbed her hand and began asking her questions in Spanish while staring at her long, blonde hair. A few days later, Juan found out that Kate would be his camp counselor for the summer and he let everyone that would listen, know.
                  “Kate is my teacher and she is going to teach me English,” he would tell me and everyone else. Juan sought out Kate that summer to eat with, to play with and to give many hugs. He adored his teacher and she adored him back. Not only did their love for one another grow that summer but so did Juan’s English. His Spanish phrases soon turned to English ones.
                  “Hello, how are you?” he would ask me.
                  “Wow, Juan! Where did you learn to speak English so well?” I would ask him.
                  “Miss Kate is teaching me,” he said. “She is my teacher and she is teaching me English.”
                  I remember the day Kate and the other summer volunteers had to leave. The children gathered around the vans that would take the volunteers to the airport and many hugs were given. When the vans pulled away, I noticed Juan coming toward me. He sat me down and crawled into my lap. He looked sad. I asked him what was wrong.
                  “I’m sad Miss Kate left,” he told me. I comforted him as best as I knew how. I told him that when he was feeling sad about Miss Kate, he could think about all of the fun times they had together and all of the English she taught him.
                  “But most importantly,” I reminded him, “Miss Kate will love you forever.”

Juan smiled. “I know she will,” he said. And he jumped off my lap and ran off to play.

*Names changed to protect privacy

Monday, March 28, 2016


     I remember hearing about Jaime* from one of the volunteers at Amigos long before I met him—something about it being impossible to avoid his hugs.  I’d also seen him walking around campus with Madrina Mirna, his arm linked with hers while taking purposeful, long strides.  It wasn’t until I encountered him myself that I understood how purposeful those strides really were and how tightly those arms were linked.  And it was a while after that before I realized that despite whatever cognitive or communicative limitations Jaime has, he can still express himself quite clearly.
     Jaime is nonverbal, yet he is able to communicate what he wants through looks and actions.  He is very deliberate in both, whether it’s crossing the comedor to steal a fork from you or staring you straight in the eye so you’ll share your juice with him.  Jaime also communicates his enthusiasm physically, by clapping his hands or slapping them against his thighs when he is excited about something, like snack time or a dance party.  He demonstrates his love of people by running up to them and forcefully hugging them around the waist.  Trying to extricate yourself from that hug is more than a little difficult and usually requires the assistance of at least one padrino, sometimes two. 
     When Jaime is anxious or agitated, one of the things that helps to calm him is to take a walk around the Amigos campus.  I’ve walked with him in a big circle behind the school, past the soccer field and the comedor, and down to the bottom of the hill where the cross stands.  We’ve also walked on the path past where the cows are milked and the horses graze, down to the edge of the property.  You can see him relax as his facial expressions soften and his grip on your arm lessens ever so slightly.  At times he even makes contented sounds as he walks along, still with heavy deliberate strides.  Jaime seems to know that this is what he needs to calm his anxiety; he is very strong and will literally use his physical strength to move you onto the path to make plain his intention of going for a walk.   
     Jaime came to Amigos a year ago, when he was fourteen years old; perhaps if he’d come to us earlier, we might have been able to help him develop his language skills.  However, thanks to the careful cultivation of the staff and volunteers here, Jaime still is able to communicate his needs and express his emotions. 
~ Genevieve Volpe, 2015-16 volunteer
*name changed to protect privacy

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

AMIGO OF THE WEEK ~ Kenji Kuniyoshi

Kenji is a dedicated, long-time staff member at Amigos de Jesus.  Currently, he is in charge of the kitchen and of "Agro," the farmland at Amigos.  Kenji's varied talents, energy, and sense of humor make him an integral part of the Amigos family and organization.  

Name: Kenji Kuniyoshi

Hometown: Lima, Peru

Occupation: Kitchen and Agro (Farm) Coordinator

1) How did you hear about Amigos de Jesus?

I returned from a trip to Peru and was looking for another position, and I happened to see an advertisement for a position at Amigos de Jesus in the newspaper.  I had always worked with children and young people before, and I wanted something similar.  I had worked in places like Tela and La Esperanza, and I had hoped to find something closer to where I was living in La Paz; however, when I saw the ad for Amigos, I applied and was offered the position. 

2) How long have you been a part of the Amigos de Jesus family?

Since December of 2011.

3) Where did you go to university?

La Escuela Agricola Panamericana (The Panamerican Agricultural School), more commonly known as El Zamorano.  It's located about 30 kilometers from Tegucigalpa.  (It is also considered the best Agricultural School in Latin America).

4) Tell us about the different jobs you've had at Amigos de Jesus.

I started out as a padrino (caregiver) with the jovenes at the end of 2011.  In August of 2012, Amigos de Jesus became interested in becoming more self-sustainable in terms of food resources.  My degree is in agricultural engineering, specifically related to socioeconomic and environmental development, so because of this I was well-equipped to become the Agro Coordinator at Amigos.  I began projects related to growing corn and beans, and we started raising chickens for eating and cows for milking.  I actually initiated the purchase of the first two cows here.  In July of 2015, Amigos was looking for someone to be in charge of the kitchen and to build a greater connection between Agro and the kitchen.  Since this time I have been the coordinator for both the kitchen and Agro. 

5) What is your favorite part of your job?

I've always enjoyed working with youth, and I really enjoy working with the jovenes (young people)here.  I also enjoy being able to do things related to my profession, so I like spending time in Agro.  My family in Peru is in the restaurant business, so I enjoy cooking and being in the kitchen.  It can get a little stressful in the kitchen here at Amigos, cooking for 160 to 170 people at a time.  I like cooking for smaller groups of people.  Agro is a little less stressful!

6) Do you have a favorite story/memory about a child or youth here at Amigos?

I've always tried to treat all the kids equally and not have favorites.  But there are a number of kids that I've spent a lot of time with in Agro, boys like Juan, Alejandro, Hugo, and Angel David.  They like being on the farm as much as I do, and I've been able to teach them things.  So obviously I have a lot of affection for them. 

7) What do you hope for the future of Amigos de Jesus?

I like the way we've been trying to have the dorms become more like homes, with kids of mixed ages living in the same home and eating meals together at the table like a family.  I would like to see us continue to work on having better structured households.  I also want us to continue to focus on helping the jovenes, especially in terms of helping them achieve success educationally so that they can go on to be successful working adults.  To me that has always been an indicator of success, that a youth graduates, goes out and finds a job, and moves forward through the door toward adulthood. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Herman* is full of energy. He has an excitement for life that spills over to all around him. It is rare to find him without a wide smile on his face. He is also curious. If we had to pick one defining phrase for Herman, it would probably be, "y por que?" He is constantly yearning to learn more about the world around him. It has been a joy to watch him grow during his time here from a hyper and mischievous 8 year old to the loving and happy 10 year old he is today. He is thriving in the 'Vencedores' (adapted education) program at the Amigos de Jesus school.
  1. Birthday: April 27th (age 11)
  2. Member of the Amigos family since: 2013
  3. What is your favorite class in school? English with Miss Keri
    1. Why? We watch videos and sing the "5 Little Monkeys" song.
  4. Who is your favorite teacher? Profe Miguel
    1. Why? He taught me how to play soccer.
  5. What is something interesting that you learned in school this week? In science class, we learned about amphibians.
  6. What do you like to do in your free time? Play soccer, draw, paint, and play goalie. I like to wear the goalie gloves. 
  7. What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to go to university (which he called 'universo,' the Spanish word for 'universe') and go to another country - like Honduras or Guatemala - to play soccer with the 'jovenes' (the teenage boys at Amigos). I also want to be an astronaut and go to space and travel around the planets.
  8. What is your favorite part of Amigos de Jesus? (1) my bed, (2) the volunteers
  9. Favorite color: Black
  10. Favorite movie: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ('Tortugas Adolescentes' in Spanish)
  11. Favorite food: Chicken with 'tajadas' (fried plantains)

*named changed to protect

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


    Olson* has an unfailingly positive attitude and is blessed with a kind heart and a gentle manner. However, his quiet kindness is often accompanied by a keen sense of fun that is surprising and delightful.    
     Olson regularly greets me with a welcoming smile and a polite, “Hola, Miss!”  He dutifully answers all my questions about his future school plans, and laughs good-naturedly at my attempts to play soccer with Jesuan and him.  Olson puts his whole self into playing soccer; he never gives up or stops putting forth a tremendous effort, even when his team is losing. 
     That positivity carries over into his interactions with the children here at Amigos.  I often see him sharing his breakfast with Alexander or another younger boy.  In addition, Olson is more than willing to help younger boys like Josecito wash their clothes when they are struggling to wring them out at the pila; Olson is a wonderful mentor and big brother figure. He also shares a noticeable camaraderie with the other jovenes (older boys) here at Amigos. Olson can often be found entertaining them at the pila on a Saturday morning by singing along to his favorite songs.  Although he sings quite well, he says he only sings on Saturdays when there are less people who can hear him sing.   
     In addition to singing, Olson has an affinity for dancing, which allows his playful nature to emerge.  At one point during a recent celebration, a suave-looking, sunglasses-clad Olson was grooving to Michael Jackson on the dance floor. At the celebration of the Three Kings this past January, Madrina Marta and I found ourselves doubled over laughing at Olson and Chango’s dance routine, which could best be described as an over-exuberant bachata in which Oscar almost ended up sprawled on the ground more than once. Rest assured he was smiling and laughing the whole time.  Olson’s kind, brotherly, willing, and generous heart—and his love of fun and ability to make people laugh—make him a true Amigo de Jesus.
~ Genevieve Volpe, 2015-16 volunteer
*name changed to protect privacy

Oscar and friends on Three Kings Day

Thursday, March 3, 2016

AMIGO OF THE WEEK ~ Patricio ('Pato')

Patricio ('Pato') is a spiritual rock for Amigos de Jesus. Originally from Argentina, he became a part of the Amigos de Jesus family in 2010 when he met Fr. Den and began working in our U.S. office. He developed a religious education curriculum in Spanish for our kids, which they still follow today in their weekly 'pastoral' sessions. Later this year, Pato will be ordained a priest in Argentina specifically to serve at Amigos de Jesus in Honduras. He then will split his time between Honduras, the U.S., and Argentina, working to spread the mission of Amigos. Pato is an amazing man and well-loved by the kids and staff. We can't wait for him to join us as a priest!

Name: Patricio Lynch Pueyrredon 

Occupation: I am in charge of the Pastoral program for Amigos de Jesus. I created one and this is the second year we are doing it here in different groups with the children. Every week I send the plan for each group.

Hometown: Buenos Aires, Argentina 

How did you hear about Amigos de Jesus?: The first time I heard about it was in 2009. I met a former volunteer and this person talked to me about Amigos and because of this person, I traveled to the U.S. in 2010 to meet Father Den. We became close friends. He invited me to come to Amigos in 2012 and I fell in love.

What is your role with Amigos de Jesus?: I will be ordained at the end of this year as a deacon and then between April and June, I will be ordained as a priest (in Argentina) for Amigos de Jesus in Honduras. Every time I come here I give retreats for everyone: teachers, padrinos, children, volunteers, etc.

How many years have you been a part of the Amigos family? About 5, since 2010 when I met Fr. Den.

How many times have you visited Amigos? 5 times. I have also spent some time in the U.S. office. In addition to doing office work, it was there that I first created the Pastoral program for ADJ.

What is one of your favorite memories about Amigos de Jesus: One of the first things I loved when I came the first time was prayer circle. To listen to the prayers that the children always say—they are giving thanks, they are thankful. That was a huge question for me. To think how I was raised or how much gratitude I have in my prayers—I  didn't have a childhood like them. In my prayers I wasn't grateful at all. So I think the children teach me how to pray. How to be thankful. Not just to ask things from God but actually be thankful for the things I have. 

What is one of your favorite thing about Amigos de Jesus? My favorite thing about this place is that you can feel the presence of love here. It's really easy to feel loved. Just looking at the children in their daily life you can see the presence of love between us, which means that God is between us. That is the identity of God; God is love. 

In Argentina: When I went back after my time in the office, we started some programs in Argentina. One program is we help at a day care center. Another one is we are working in a place where extremely poor people live, we are giving scholarships to a group of teenagers to help them to study and hopefully to send them to college through this program. Finally we are helping three young people; They are studying in college through scholarships we have provided. It’s a small beginning but it’s something. 

What are you looking forward to in regards to Amigos de Jesus? I am excited about the potential growth for Amigos de Jesus. I think that God is trying to show us that ADJ is not just for Honduras. That he wants to bring Amigos to more countries and we need to pray about it. We need prayers and support. 

Fr. Den and Pato

In January, the Bishop of our diocese in Honduras held a special mass for Pato at the site of the future Amigos de Jesus chapel:

Monday, February 29, 2016



     Blanca is an energetic little girl.  She has a mind of her own, an independent spirit, and a feistypersonality—with a silly side—that cannot fail to endear her to those who meet her.
     Blanca and I ended up on the same soccer team for the Torneo Navideno this past holiday season.  However, I could never convince her to actually play a game with us.  Towards the beginning of the tournament, we were standing at the door to the comedor looking at the game schedule.  “Blanca”, I asked her, “Are you going to play this week?”  “No!” she answered.  “Why not?”  I asked.  “We need you!”  “You weren’t here last week when we played!” she said accusingly.  And she was right.  I had been on retreat the weekend before and missed a game.  I tried to explain to her that I had been out of town and hadn’t missed the game deliberately, but it was to no avail.  Blanca had made up her mind, and that was it.  Later I would see her happily running around on the field before the start of a game and call out to her, “Blanca!  Are you playing?”  “No!!!!”  she would answer emphatically.  Blanca plays on her terms and on her terms only.
     Blanca’s spunkiness is apparent in her interactions with the other children at Amigos.  One evening I was eating dinner in Blanca’s hogar.  We went outside behind the hogar to wash our plates at the pila. One of the boys from the neighboring dorm, Oscar Omar, had climbed a tree.  Once he spotted Blanca, he began calling down to her in a teasing voice, “Blanca Nieve!  Donde están los enanos?” which means, “Snow White!” Where are the dwarves?”  Blanca promptly and succinctly informed Oscar that she did not appreciate being called Snow White, nor did she know where the dwarves could be located.  I think she did manage to forgive Oscar, though—I saw her hugging him good night after prayer circle one evening. 
     Another of Blanca’s charming qualities is the silly, goofy side to her personality, which often appears in the company of her twin brother, Jose Alexis.  On a recent walk to Posas Verdes, the village down the road from Amigos, the twins could be found laughing and giggling at everything.  From their sneaky sprint ahead of the adults in the group to the hilarity that ensued after someone knocked over the (luckily closed) bottle of refresco, Blanca and Alexis were thoroughly enjoying being chiflado (wacky) together.   
     Further evidence that Blanca is truly a livewire exists in the following anecdote.  After a rather enthusiastic prayer service, Blanca got so excited during the last song that she stood up on the bench she’d been sitting on and began to dance animatedly to the delight of those sitting near her.  Blanca is a bold, bright, young girl who will without a doubt become a vivacious, self-assured young woman. 
~ Genevieve Volpe, 2015-16 volunteer

Blanca and her twin brother, Jose Alexis

Blanca with her siblings (and friend Fernanda) during October vacations.
Left to right: Blanca, Fernanda, Jose Alexis, Keila, Reina

This series of photos perfectly sums up Blanca's personality: