Where Hope BeginsMarch 18, 2010
By Erin Townsend Leaverton, BA '04
Baylor graduates around the world know it is not uncommon at some point along the road of life to find themselves working alongside a fellow Bear. Long after the days of writing papers and taking exams are through, Baylor grads have a way of finding each other. This seems to be especially true when the work involves helping others in need.
David Nowell, PhD '91, and Harry Herzog, JD '82, are no exception. The two first crossed paths as undergrads at Houston Baptist University in 1978. Both men eventually came to Baylor, though at different times and for different reasons. One pursued a career in religion, the other in law. Both ended their time at Baylor with a degree in hand, but they walked away with something else of equal value. Both men left Baylor with not only an educational experience that had challenged their thinking, but also one that shaped both their character and the work God had in store. Today Nowell's and Herzog's paths have crossed again--this time in Brazil, where the two are working together with Hope Unlimited for Children to rescue street children half a world away.
From Baylor chaplain to Brazil's children
"I remember David as a multi-gifted scholar with a genuine love for people," says Hilburn. "David could research anything, but I saw something more in him. When he came to me requesting a mentor, I thought immediately of Dr. [W.J.] Wimpee. The two were a great fit because they both had an uncanny ability to love people well."
Wimpee, AB '40, professor of religion and university chaplain, took an immediate liking to his young assistant, providing him with multiple teaching opportunities and even insisting that he help run the University's Chapel program.
"Dr. Wimpee is one of the great influences of my life," says Nowell. "He gave me counsel and insight and challenged me as a believer. He even performed my wedding ceremony."
Wimpee, a Reinhold Niebuhr scholar and a premier authority on the subject of Christian ethics, challenged his students to see the needs in the world around them and encouraged them to live the Christian life as passionately as they articulated it.
When Wimpee announced his retirement in 1989, Baylor President Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds asked David to step in as interim chaplain during his final year of doctoral studies.
"I know Dr. Wimpee, Dr. Hilburn, and Dr. Bill Hillis, BS '53, [then vice president for student affairs] really lobbied President Reynolds on my behalf for the position of interim chaplain," Nowell recalls. "It was such a wonderful opportunity to carry on the tradition that Dr. Wimpee had established. As a campus, we dealt with some challenging issues and events that year, and it was very meaningful to be the 'students' minister' during that time."
Today, Nowell continues to show concern for the needs around him in his work as president of Hope Unlimited for Children, an organization founded in the early 1990s when Hope co-founder and CEO Philip Smith heard reports coming out of Brazil that local businessmen were hiring off-duty police to "exterminate" street children at night because they were "cluttering their sidewalks." Hope Unlimited exists for the purpose of rescuing and transforming the lives of Brazil's street children; the organization currently cares for more than 1,000 children.
"I often find that Americans are not familiar with the term 'street children,'" says Nowell. "The recent film 'Slumdog Millionaire' shed some light on the subject, and in Brazil, street children are, if anything, even more desperate." It is estimated that roughly 52 million people live in favelas (slums) across Brazil, and each year in these favelas, thousands of children are abandoned to the streets, some as young as 2 and 3 years old. Once abandoned, these children encounter sexual abuse, trafficking and exploitation. It is estimated that up to 500,000 girls are prostituted in Brazil each year. When a child is left to survive on the streets, his or her life expectancy is less than five years.
Today, the great majority of children at Hope Unlimited come from these streets. When a child arrives at one of Hope's three residential campuses, they are greeted by a "welcome committee" of other children. They have no trust of adults, so other children are the first to greet them and help them understand that they are coming to a place of safety.
"It is absolutely heart-wrenching to see the lives of these children," says Nowell. "Every one of them can tell stories of abuse and exploitation that are beyond anything we can begin to imagine. That is why the work we do is so critical."
Last month, a 6-year-old street boy named Jorge arrived at Hope with a terrible case of lice, an infected sore on his foot and a broken arm. A Hope case worker, Adriana, took him to the hospital for medical care and said that in the car on the way back to Hope, he told her he would never be able to repay her for helping him. She smiles through tears recalling her response to Jorge: "You will never have to repay us; what we do for you is a gift."
As Hope's president, Nowell travels around the United States as a spokesperson for the organization, sharing the stories of Hope's children with churches, private organizations, friends, associates and anyone who might be interested in becoming a part of God's work in Brazil.
One story in particular that Nowell loves to share is about Nayana Reis, a girl who arrived at Hope Unlimited in 1996. Reis' childhood memories are filled with suffering, hunger and pain. By her eighth birthday, both her parents were dead, leaving her and her siblings to survive as orphans in the slums of São Paulo. Reis was the first female to enter Hope's program, graduating six years later as a beautiful, thriving young woman with big dreams and the support and the love of her family at Hope. She went on to study at Faculdade Integrada Metropolitana de Campinas (commonly known as Metrocamp University), where she also served as the events coordinator and special assistant to Silvia Coelho, wife of university founder and President Eduardo Coelho. Last spring, Reis received her bachelor's degree in public relations, an incredible accomplishment for a former child of the streets. Today, she is taking classes at the University of South Carolina preparing to enter the International MBA program there.
"The reality," says Nowell, "is that there are needs like Jorge's and Nayana's throughout our world, and we all must serve the needs to which we feel called. I feel a real sense of calling in our work. These kids go to sleep every night alone and at mortal risk on the streets. They are forced into illegal child labor, drug trafficking, prostitution and every imaginable form of exploitation. It is an amazing thing to watch the love of Christ transform a child. One of our kids said it best: after years of being prostituted by her mother, she spoke of her new life at Hope, 'Today I can walk with my head held high.'"
Law grad pays forward Jaworski's kindness
"After the Watergate hearings, Jaworski wrote The Right and The Power, but instead of pocketing the money, he donated the proceeds of the book to the Baylor Law Foundation, which paid my way to law school," says Herzog. "The only reason I got to go to law school was Leon Jaworski's selflessness." The day Herzog found out how his scholarship was funded, he bought Jaworski's book and wrote a letter to thank him for his generosity.
"I was shocked to receive a letter back from Jaworski a short time later, and that became the first of several correspondences between the two of us."
Herzog says what Jaworski did for him has largely inspired the work he is doing now with Hope Unlimited. "I like the idea that we are passing it on," says Herzog. "One guy's kindness made it possible for me to achieve my dreams at Baylor, and now I want to do the same thing for the street children of Brazil with Hope Unlimited."
Now a partner at the law firm of Herzog, Carp & McManus in Houston, Herzog serves on the board of directors for Hope Unlimited, a role he accepted in 2007 after a reunion with his old friend, David Nowell.
"Harry was one of the first people that came to my mind to serve on the board," says Nowell. "We met for lunch, and before the end of the meal, we were already planning Harry's trip to Brazil to meet the kids."
"I have vivid memories of that trip," recalls Herzog. "We flew to Vitória and got in a van with people I didn't know who didn't speak a word of English. As we neared the Hope Mountain campus, we saw a children's prison at the foot of the hill. And let me emphasize, this was not an American prison. There were hundreds of filthy kids being held there, 20 or 30 to a cell. It was ugly, brutal and dark. We are told that they average a child a week being murdered inside the prison. We drove past that horrible sight, up the mountain and through the gates of Hope Mountain, and it was like leaving hell and entering heaven. The kids at Hope, many of whom could have ended up in that prison, were instead clean, dressed, smiling, eating, learning and excited. Their eyes were bright. It was such an amazing contrast."
During Herzog's time at Hope, he had a chance to visit the classrooms and job training facilities on the campuses and meet several members of Hope's staff.
"I was immediately impressed with the quality of the staff at Hope. They provide much-needed emotional support and spiritual healing for the kids every day, but they also give them structure and order through loving discipline. It's the same balancing act that all parents have to find between love and respect."
Hope's structure requires that each child goes through an educational and vocational training program. When they complete the program, usually around the age of 18, they begin the process of re-entering society through a one-year internship. Each Hope student is guaranteed a job and is given ongoing support through the Graduate Center and its staff.
Before Herzog left Brazil, Nowell took him into the slums outside of Vitória where many of Hope's kids once lived as street children.
"The slums are a place where all hope seems lost," says Herzog. "When I saw the places where these kids lived, I realized that Hope Unlimited for Children is not just a catchy name--it is a literal description of what we are doing in Brazil. We are giving hope to hopeless children.
"One of the most amazing things is to see the heart these kids have for their families--the very families that abandoned or exploited them. Time after time, these kids look for the chance to share the love of Christ with family members who have so abused them."
As a member of Hope's board of directors, Herzog uses his extensive legal background to aid the organization. The board serves as Hope's governing body and assists Nowell in garnering financial support for the organization here in the U.S.
"This year, our first goal is to survive these tough economic times," says Herzog. "We have exceptional facilities, but there are lots of things we want to improve, some as simple as a fresh paint job. Other needs are larger in scope, like improving our classrooms and our job training facilities for the kids. Every improvement makes such a large and lasting impact."
"There are overwhelming needs in Brazil, but it only takes a little to make a big difference," says Nowell. "I like to think about it the way Dr. Wimpee put it: 'The call of the Christian life is to live what we confess by seeing the needs of the world around us, and responding to them with Christ's love, one need at a time.'"
To learn more about how you can get involved in the work of Hope Unlimited, visit www.hopeunlimited.org.