Niagara University students are committed to making a difference in the lives of others, whenever and - the operative term here - wherever they are needed.
That explains why seniors Ryan Hanley, Denae James, James Mackey, Stephanie Soos and Mickayla Williams have launched an online fundraising campaign for the Caritas Felices orphanage while studying abroad in Peru.
Caritas Felices is a private, nongovernment-funded orphanage in Pachacamac, Peru, for girls under age 18 who have been sexually abused and/or are living in extreme poverty. There are currently 25 girls sharing three bedrooms and three bathrooms in the home, which also contains a small library, tutoring area and chapel.
The women who run the orphanage rely on donations as well as income derived from selling homemade bracelets, pillows and cookies made by the residents.
The NU students have visited the girls a few times since arriving in Peru May 19. Each time, they brought lunch and clothing and spent time engaging in fellowship.
"Within moments of being there, we were captivated by the warm and happy spirits of all the girls. We got to spend time with them and soon they were showing us their rooms and opening up to us," said James, of Sanborn. "As we talked with the founder of the orphanage, we began to learn what all of these girls had been through. All of us were touched by our visit and the girls stayed in our thoughts and hearts."
On May 30, the tech-savvy Soos, a Niagara Falls native, established a page on the popular crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com. The students are getting word out primarily via social media - they created a Facebook page explaining the campaign - and through offline contact with family, friends, churches and professors. Immanuel United Methodist Church, a Syracuse-area church attended by Williams, donated $500.
To date, more than 30 donations have been made, totaling $1,910. Every donor receives a printed photo of one of the girls who lives at Caritas Felices. The first 25 also got a bracelet.
Gifts can be made at www.gofundme.com/caritasfelicesNU and will be used where they are most needed, especially to pay the water bill and buy food for the girls. Contributions are being accepted through June 13, one day before the NU students depart Lima for Cusco.
"The more money we raise, the more areas we will be able to cover and, of course, that is the ultimate goal: To help as much as we possibly can and make the girls feel as secure as possible," Williams said.
The students are in Peru as part of an 11-week cultural immersion experience offered through Niagara University's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management. So far, they've taken part in culinary classes at Lima's Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola, interned at The Country Club Hotel in San Isidro, visited tourist hotspots such as the Magic Water Circuit, and went whitewater rafting and zip lining.
The group will soon take Spanish and Incan civilization classes at USIL's Cusco campus and intern at Palacio del Inka, a five-star Luxury Collection Hotel.
True to Niagara's Catholic and Vincentian mission, Hanley, James, Mackey, Soos and Williams planted grass and taught an activity at the Colegio José Granda school, gardened at the Habla Bateria NGO community home and offered their services to Caritas Felices, which means "little happy faces" in Spanish.
"We visit this orphanage every year," said Kathryn A. DeCecco, director of experiential opportunities in NU's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management. "The girls have absolutely nothing and yet they always have smiles on their faces. It is a very special place that gets no assistance at all from the Peruvian government and operates solely on donations. I am so proud of our students for setting up this donation site and already surpassing their goal of $1,000."
To learn more about Niagara University's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, visit www.niagara.edu/hospitality.