LeROY — Guatemala is an extremely long bicycle ride from LeRoy, but Central Illinois cyclists have a way to help orphans who live there.
Todd and Amy West Block, formerly of Chenoa and Bloomington, adopted two children from Guatemala, and became engaged in helping children there. They moved to Guatemala and started an orphanage called Hope Village for children with HIV/AIDS.
“She asked us to help raise funds for the new orphanage,” said her father, Dick West of LeRoy, formerly of Chenoa. “Her heart is for the handicapped and children with HIV/AIDS. One of their nine children is HIV positive.”
Their family includes four children of their own, two from Guatemala, one from Ethiopia and two from Texas.
West’s first Hop on for Hope ride last year raised $7,000. He hopes to match that this year; the second annual event is Saturday at Moraine View State Park.
West’s granddaughter Addie, 17, is among the participants. Her 75-year-old grandpa will ride the 25-mile route so he can visit with other participants and helpers. Other options include a 50-mile bike route, and 10- and 2-mile walk-ride routes.
West remembers praying that God give her good people to help. “He gave me 10,” he said. Among them was long-time
friend Michael Sulzberger of Normal, who traveled to Guatemala with his son.
The Sulzbergers traveled to Eagle’s Nest Orphanage, where the Blocks initially helped. Students and staff from Cornerstone Christian Academy in Bloomington also have volunteered there.
“We got to know what they were doing for a ministry. It’s a Third
World country but we had a sense it’s close to home,” Sulzberger said. “My kid never saw anything like that before.”
The Village of Hope — also supported by other local Central Illinois organizations, including Lifesong for Orphans, based in Gridley — isn’t a traditional orphanage. It is arranged more like a family than a traditional larger institution, with many children and some staff, West said.
It seeks to provide “family, faith and a future to children” with HIV/AIDS by providing physical, emotional, spiritual and educational care. Each home has house parents who oversee six to eight children. “Our hope is to create a family unit as God intended — a family to support as well as to teach the children to have life values,” the Blocks said in a report of their goals.
The goal is to avoid institutional living and prevent children from being sent back into the streets at age 18. Because adoptions are closed in Guatemala, there is little hope of children ever being adopted into families of their own.