The four young men led Todd Guckenberger, Executive Director of Back2Back, around their home. For three of them, it was the first time they were giving a tour of what felt like their own space. The four Hope Program students in Haiti were animated as they showed Todd around, opening the doors to their rooms, and leading him to the table where they did homework and ate dinner each night.
One student has been in the home for over a year now, growing socially and emotionally. He attends high school during the day and a truck driving class each night, making himself marketable for the Haitian workforce. Three young men are new to the Hope Program and are adjusting to life outside of a partnering children’s home. All four boys once lived together and are now reunited under one roof.
They stood together after the tour, and Todd pulled out his phone to show the house parents and the boys a picture of a bright-eyed toddler “This is my granddaughter,” he explained. “20 years ago, my wife and I invited this (little) girl’s mom to consider something different than anything she’d known, and her choice changed everything.”
In 1997, Todd and Beth Guckenberger met twin sisters in Monterrey, Mexico. Marlen and Marilin immediately pulled the Guckenbergers’ focus whenever they were around. They developed a relationship with the girls, who were living in a partnering children’s home at the time. They crept closer and closer to aging out of the home, their future trajectories unknown. In 2001, the twins were invited to live with the Guckenberger family permanently. 20 years ago, no one could have known the implications of this decision for children all around the world.
The teen boys looked closely at the photo of Marlen’s baby, as Todd encouraged them. “You are not making decisions today just for you,” he said. “You are making decisions for the future generations of your own family. 20 years ago, one girl in Mexico made a decision different from what she knew, and today, you are part of the program she helped birth.”
Haiti’s Hope Program, like all Back2Back Hope Programs, help teens move toward three distinct objectives – dependency on Jesus, interdependency in their communities, and independence and financial sustainability. The four boys are already living out interdependence in their communities; the home where they live is part of a neighborhood – they speak with their neighbors, play with their peers, and help others out when it is needed. The markets they shop at and the schools they attend, are within walking or bus riding distance. Everyday, they are learning new life skills- making a grocery list, shopping for the items they need at the local market, driving a car, and following directions.
“When things get difficult, when you want to give in, remember this photo,” Todd told the teens. “Think how the choice of one teen girl 20 years ago led to this opportunity. My granddaughter, Marlen’s daughter, will never know what the inside of a children’s home looks like, because her mom chose something different for herself. You are choosing something different for yourselves today. What will this mean for your future family?”
Todd shook each young man’s hand, thanking them for the tour and taking in their excited chatter at all the new to come and challenges they’ll face. One young girl took a risk on herself- believing God had written a new chapter for her life. As a result, a cycle was broken and an idea/dream was born. Young adults could experience family, have access to education, and find healing in safe homes. Today, four young Haitian men are the recipients of the blessing thousands of people have now brought to life.