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Difference Maker

Bob Hentzen walks to help poor children across Latin America

Bob Hentzen is walking nearly 8,000 miles across Latin America to find sponsors for needy kids and the elderly.

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For the Ventura Alarcon family, the food provided by a CFCA sponsorship means that the children could work less outside the home. School supplies, uniforms, and shoes purchased by the program mean the children could go to school ready to learn.

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In addition, mothers of sponsored children meet every week to learn skills such as how to cook nutritious meals and how to make handicrafts to sell. Sponsored children meet every Friday night at the church to talk about school, family, and the challenges they face in a city where youth crime and alcoholism are rampant.

Today CFCA works in 22 countries. But in 1981 it was just an idea cooked up by a single family. Hentzen was born on a Kansas farm. Later the family moved to Kansas City. After his mother's death, the 12 siblings gathered and decided to start a nonprofit that would honor their parents.

Hentzen, who had worked as a teacher in Latin America for years, accepted the challenge. "We didn't know what we were getting into," he says.

Visits from sponsors to meet the families they help are a big part of the CFCA experience. "It means that we are serious about the human relationship," Hentzen says. "We are there saying 'Look, we don't pretend to be perfect, and we don't pretend that these families are perfect.' "

Getting close proved to be an extraordinary experience for Rich Swan and his family, who sponsored a girl in Guatemala after hearing about CFCA at a meeting at their church in Denver.

In 2003, Mr. Swan, his wife, and two teenage children got on a plane, wondering what they would find in Guatemala. "It was one of the best things my family has ever done," Swan says.

The family was surprised to see how far the money they gave to CFCA could go and was warmed by the bond they formed with the child they sponsored. The trip influenced the course of his children's lives.

"My son, who did not want to go, is now living and working in Guatemala," he says. The family now sponsors five children abroad and has made seven visits.

Hentzen expects to end his walk in June. Along the route local staff and sponsored families walk with him, providing cold drinks on sweltering days and hot coffee on freezing nights, sharing their stories.

From the steaming jungles of Central America to the chilly high-altitude Chilean desert, it has been a rugged path.

"Sure it's hard, but people are very loving," Hentzen says. "Down deep we all crave love; we all need it. And I feel as though I am personally one of the most fortunate people."

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Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated Mr. Hentzen's location in the photo caption.


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