Shari Blindt began her journey with Common Hope as a Vision Team member in January of 2005. Little did she know when she arrived in Guatemala, that just a few months later, she would join the Common Hope team and in 2006, she would become Executive Director of the organization she believed in so whole-heartedly. Just this month, Shari celebrated her 15th anniversary at Common Hope by reflecting on the journey and accomplishments she’s been part of during that time.
What is something you’ve learned through leading Common Hope?
That to create hope and opportunity, and to combat poverty it requires all of us working together with these principles – a willingness to make a difference for others, the desire for a better life for your children and family, and a team of people who can put ideals into action. I began my journey with Common Hope with a heart for Guatemala and a head for building a business – and am continually amazed at the generosity and dedication of all of the people involved in Common Hope – those we serve, those who make it possible, and those who deliver on our mission every day. We are building a better, stronger Guatemala every day through the children and families we serve.
What are your top five favorite organizational accomplishments that you have been present to witness and contribute to?
- Beginning our work in San Rafael in 2007. We were expanding our reach for the first time since New Hope Village was started, and the opportunity to stretch ourselves and our staff as we began work in this beautiful, indigenous community was a good challenge for us. The poverty was stark – but walking down Main Street I was heartened when Bill Huebsch shared that it looked much like the Antigua communities did when we began working there 18 years before. It’s the norm to attend school now, to finish 6th grade, and we’ve had 70 high school and vocational school graduates there since the first student graduated in 2014.
- Our Partner School program is another favorite accomplishment, and was also a stretch for us as an organization. The students at New Hope School were progressing so well – and this was our first foray into leveraging what we had learned there into the public-school system. In Antigua we helped parents access education for their kids, but at New Hope we not only did that but provided a strong, quality education. Guatemala had just adopted a new national curriculum, so there was a unique opportunity for us to help schools implement it in communities where our families lived. We learned so much – and today our education support programs are more focused and effective as a result, and we have a strong collaboration with teachers, school directors and the Ministry of Education as well.
- Both a symbolic accomplishment and a huge milestone for Common Hope was building our Pathway of Dreams, when during our 25th anniversary year we reached 1,000 high school graduates. To honor them and their families we laid bricks from our Antigua gates to the newly renovated library. We invited all 1,000 grads to a special unveiling, and I’ll never forget their faces when they realized their names were engraved on the pathway. Two young men ran up to me afterwards, radiating with excitement – saying they felt like they were famous now, like in Hollywood! Every day there are young kids, or a mom, or a grandma that walk the path looking for names of their brother, sister, or neighbor – our graduates are truly an inspiration to so many others who follow in their footsteps.
- Affirming that our model for education is successful, through our initial study with the University of Chicago and then 6 years later renewing that research is an incredible tribute to the good work Common Hope has done over the past 3 decades. Knowing that our students graduate at 3 and 4 times the National average, in a country where only 18.6% of the population will graduate high school is a testament to the dedication, commitment and perseverance of those families, staff, volunteers, and donors who have made our work possible.
- Today, during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are achieving another organizational milestone –I am amazed by the innovation and ability to pivot by our staff both in Guatemala and here in the US. We asked ourselves in April how we could ensure we were stewarding the gifts so generously shared by our Sponsors and Donors during a time where most of our programs were mandated to be closed. I think we were even surprised at how much could still be done despite the restrictions on our normal programming. We shared with our Board in June how we are delivering our education, health care, housing and family development programs during this crisis and the breadth of what we continue to provide is something our team should be tremendously proud of – I certainly am!
What is your favorite memory about an interaction with an affiliated family/staff in Guatemala?
There are so many – holding hands with my Sponsored student and her family until the earthquake subsided, watching my son and the young man he sponsors play an intense game of soccer together, reading stories to kids in the park with our psychology team after the mudslides in 2010 and I could go on all day….but my favorite memory is of Mi Maestro de Español, Eduardo: I met Eduardo when he was in 4th grade at New Hope School, and he became my “Spanish Teacher” as he was always willing to correct my poor grammar, including making me repeat back to him until I had it exactly right. In high school he left home because of family issues, was at risk of not graduating and I lost track of him. Last year at graduation I saw him across the courtyard– in his cap and gown – not realizing he had returned to school and graduated! Our New Hope team persevered and so did Eduardo, never giving up. To share his graduation day with him was pure joy!
Thank you, Shari, for your leadership during the past 15 years!