LEFT: Tom Dana with OH Board of Directors Vice Chairman Mike Torrech
RIGHT: Jonathan, Claudia, and Wolcott
Two countries and more than 3,000 miles separate Chesapeake, Virginia, from San Salvador, El Salvador. Despite the distance — and cultural divide — Virginia resident Tom Dana doesn’t let it stop him from impacting lives.When Tom was visiting San Salvador with Orphan Helpers in 2007, he met Jonathan, who spoke only a little English. Through an interpreter, the two started talking.
Jonathan was physically abused by his stepfather and left to wander the streets from age seven until he was 14. That’s when he ended up at CISNA, a government center for boys who have been abandoned or abused.
“Obviously, he had anger issues because of the life he had lived,” Tom said.
For so many youth, the problems don’t stop just because the abuse does. They remain hurt by scars from the past. People like Tom, though thousands of miles away, have the power to offer youth like Jonathan hope with the promise of a second chance.
“I made it a point to see him every time I visited El Salvador,” Tom said.
Dana, a Chesapeake Rotarian and Thalhimer Real Estate vice president, remained in constant contact with Jonathan. He sent Jonathan emails, letters and the occasional phone call, offering Jonathan advice when hope seemed most distant to the young man.
“He is so appreciative of the little bit of advice and financial help I gave him over the years,” Tom said.
Today, Jonathan, 25, has finished high school and works for a water company in El Salvador, delivering water to homes and local businesses. He has taken extra classes on the weekends to learn how to do electrical work and plans to build additions to their house in the near future.
“I do not wish the years of suffering with my stepfather or living in the streets on anyone, but in spite of the violence I suffered, I’m alive and I have a family,” Jonathan said. “Even with the very long distance between Tom and me, I consider him part of my family.”
Jonathan and his wife Claudia have one son, who they named Wolcott, which is Tom’s middle name.
“Something very important is to have willpower,” Jonathan said. “If we want to do something, we can do it, and can succeed in life.”
Because of Orphan Helpers staff in El Salvador and Tom’s willingness to sponsor and mentor Jonathan, Orphan Helpers’ vision of empowering today’s youth to become tomorrow’s helpers was realized.
“It is awesome knowing that the personal connection that we have has, in some small way, helped him to become the fine young man he is today,” Tom said.