Women of the Northwest

Rhonda Grudenic, Gina Andrews, Leslie Hernandez-Empowering Lives Through Unbound Sponsorship

August 02, 2023 Rhonda Grudenic, Gina Andrews, Leslie Hernandez Episode 74
Women of the Northwest
Rhonda Grudenic, Gina Andrews, Leslie Hernandez-Empowering Lives Through Unbound Sponsorship
Show Notes Transcript


Rhonda Grudenic, from Astoria, Oregon has sponsored children from Unbound for the past twenty years.
Gina Andrews from Battleground, Washington  is a new supporter and has sponsored children for the past two years.

Together, along with Leslie Hernandez, who works at the Kansas City office  as an experience integration coordinator of Unbound, we'll share our experiences visiting Guatemala and seeing our sponsored children.

00:30]  In today's episode, meet Rhonda Grudnic and Gina Andrews, two incredible women making an impact through Unbound sponsorship. Discover how they are transforming lives and communities in Guatemala and beyond.

[01:40] Rhonda shares her journey of reinventing herself in her fifties, from a struggling artist to a dental hygienist, and how Unbound sponsorship played a pivotal role in her life.

[02:54] Gina, a devoted mother and dental hygienist from a dental family, opens up about her profound experience meeting her sponsored child, Maria, and the emotional impact it had on her life.

[04:51] Learn about their heartwarming trip to San Luis Toleman in Guatemala, where they met their sponsored kids face-to-face, witnessing the real impact of Unbound's personalized sponsorship model.

[07:12] Discover the power of Unbound's Mother's Groups and how they empower mothers to uplift their families and communities, sharing knowledge and support.

[08:18] Explore Unbound's commitment to education through scholarships and how it transforms lives, creating a ripple effect of positive change in the community.

[13:28] Meet Leslie Herandez, an experience integration coordinator at Unbound, who shares her inspiring journey of working with the organization for over 13 years, touching the lives of countless families.

[20:37] Understand the innovative Entrepreneurship Program, which empowers individuals to start their own businesses and become self-reliant.

[25:27] Interested in becoming a sponsor and making a lasting impact? Visit Unbound.org to explore profiles of children and families in need from 17 countries and join the mission of transforming lives.

[26:44] Show your support by leaving a review for our podcast. Transcripts are available on our website at JanJohnson.com. Tune in next week for more inspiring stories of women making a difference.

Join us in empowering lives through Unbound sponsorship and witness the transformational power of love and support.


Subscribe to the Women of the Northwest podcast for inspiring stories and adventures.
Find me on my website: jan-johnson.com

[00:30] Jan: Welcome, everybody, to this episode of Women of the Northwest. Today I have some really fun guests. I have Rhonda Grudenic and Gina Andrews. Rhonda, hi. Hi, how are you doing? Well, Gina.

[00:46] Rhonda: Hello.

[00:47] Jan: Nice to have you here. So, Rhonda, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you do? You got a new, fairly new job? No, it's been a few years. Hasn't it, though? You've been fairly new.

[00:59] Rhonda: 2018. I got my dental hygiene license and have been working at Ten Point Chop Corps, but I did that after the crash and my paintings weren't selling, so I still have paintings occasionally selling at River Sea Gallery and working. With students cleaning their teeth and teaching them about how amazing our bodies are and how to cooperate with them a little bit to keep health, specifically oral health, in check.

[01:40] Jan: That sounds pretty interesting. And then this is a job that you started kind of later in life, right? Yes.

[01:46] Rhonda: I went back to school in my fifties, and that was pretty scary. And that's something I get to share with the students that whatever you start with, don't freak out about, oh my gosh, what if I don't like it? Because you can reinvent yourself. You can do new things anytime in life. And I'm proof that's one of the.

[02:11] Jan: Things that I like about this podcast, because a lot of the ordinary women that just start out things don't always go the way you think they're going to be, and something happens and you change careers, and it's okay to do that, right? Yeah. Gina, tell us a little about yourself.

[02:29] Gina: I'm Gina, first and foremost, I am a mom. It's kind of what I feel like defines me the most. But I'm also a dental hygienist. Unlike Rhonda, I grew up in a dental family, so my mom was a hygienist, my dad was a dentist. And I felt like that was my calling, was, again, to help people realize how important dental health is and the effect it has on their body and quality of life.

[02:54] Jan: That's awesome. And then as your mom, how many kids do you have? I have two boys.

[02:59] Rhonda: They're in their twenties now.

[03:01] Jan: And you don't ever stop being a mom, right? No. Just because they move out doesn't mean that that's it, right? Well, the fun thing today is that we are sitting in San Luis Ptoleman in Guatemala, and we are with a program called Unbound, where we have some sponsored kids. We're fortunate today because we got to meet our sponsored kids. So because this is the end of that day and it was pretty exciting, I thought maybe we'd share about that. So, Rhonda, what happened? Who's your person? And tell us about how that was.

[03:39] Gina: Well, I sponsored two little girls and one's eleven, one's nine. And I been sponsoring them these two for about two, three years. I actually started sponsoring the early 90s or 89. And so I've had other young people. I had first a girl in Venezuela and then someone in India, so that was fun. But this was the first time I've ever visited one of my sponsored children. And I got to meet both of them. And I was just amazed at how much more personal it becomes, how much more real it is to meet someone face to face.

[04:41] Jan: Because we write letters back and forth and you have a photograph, but that's not I didn't realize how much not.

[04:48] Gina: The same it is, right?

[04:50] Jan: Yeah.

[04:51] Rhonda: What was the highlight of your day? Oh, there were so many. I just think just seeing their eyes, just looking into their eyes and how grateful they were, how overwhelmed they were just shot through my heart. Yeah. It won't be the same writing the.

[05:21] Jan: Letters anymore, receiving the letters.

[05:24] Rhonda: It's so much more personal. We danced, we played cards, we drew together. We picked flowers. I'm sorry.

[05:32] Jan: We picked lots of flowers.

[05:36] Rhonda: They found some kind of fruit tree.

[05:38] Jan: And were jumping and knocking the fruit.

[05:42] Rhonda: Down until unbound staff were doing the same thing. And then they were bringing me fruit to share and they just couldn't give me enough.

[05:52] Jan: Yeah.

[05:53] Rhonda: It was tremendous. Yeah.

[05:56] Jan: It is amazing when you get to meet your person. Yeah. It is a whole different. And for them, too, because their letters are going to be completely different as well. Yeah. How was it for you, Gina?

[06:09] Gina: I don't even know what to say. I'm new to our I was so focused on volunteer work and raising my children. And when the last one graduated from college, within that month when we were at church, somebody came and talked to us about unbound and brought us all of the dossiers on all the people that needed help.

[06:34] Jan: And you were empty nesting.

[06:39] Gina: We walked out to the foyer and I saw Maria's picture, and.

[06:47] Jan: I had.

[06:48]Gina: A picture of my grandmother in my head. I do not have a child. Maria is 90 years old. She just turned 90. She's not very certain of her age. Her mother died in childbirth and her father gave her to another family member to raise. And she basically passed around. And she does not know exactly when her birthday was, but it's just been estimated.

[07:09] Jan: Then you celebrate an unbirthday. Exactly.

[07:12] Gina: Yeah. It's super easy to write a check every month to write letters and receive letters and send pictures. It's very easy. And you feel like you're building a little bit of a bond with as much as you can do through letters.

[07:35] Gina: You come down here and I wasn't prepared emotionally.

[07:40] Jan: Yeah. I did some crying today. Oh, my gosh.

[07:44] Gina: Yeah. We walked on that stage and she walks up just right into my arms with the best hug and then we were all crying. Yeah. She's just a beautiful woman who's had a long, very hardworking life and has so much knowledge and history. And I think it's important to take care of our elders because they can pass, that all. If we're listening and willing to hear. They just have so much to share in their lives.

[08:18] Jan: I think that's one of the beautiful things about Unbound is because I don't think there are any other sponsored programs that have elderly there, right? Yeah, so we have a number of elderly as well. We had a sister of one of our girls who little sister who had been having seizures. And so my husband started sending extra money for medications and going to the doctor and having visits and stuff. But I didn't know the whole story until today when Mama started talking about and she couldn't even talk to begin with because she was just so emotional. But she said, this is our miracle girl. The doctor told us that she wasn't even going to walk and she wasn't going to be able to do much of anything. And this girl is running around. The last Cat scan showed no more things. Well, boy power, prayer.

[09:19] Gina: Yeah.

[09:20] Jan: Emotional is right. So how did you first find your sponsored kids that you did originally? Was that just through the church or through what?

[09:35] Rhonda: Yeah, similarly, there was a couple that came who evidently were sponsoring children, and they brought a bunch of dociers and they gave a presentation during Mass. And I took one at that time.

[09:54] Jan: Yeah.

[09:55] Rhonda: And I said, the family. So my children, my sons were aware. And when I said I was going to Guatemala, they're all adults and they're all concerned and say, you're going where? Mom, are you sure it's safe? Who's going with you? Is that a real place? Anyway, one of them finally said, wait a second, was that the same organization that you sponsored, Yosbriani? And I said, yeah, and it was like it changed everything. And they said, oh, because they remembered growing up with this sponsored sister. Yeah, but again, I thought we had a bond, but I realized that it was just a small thing compared to actually meeting a live person.

[10:47] Jan: Right. That's amazing. Yeah. And what about you? Yours was just through there, too. I think one of the things, and maybe you saw that too, is just how overwhelmingly grateful they are. I mean, for us, what is it, $40 a month for? $40 a month? Heck, that's a couple of cups of coffee. You can't even go out to lunch for two for that, practically. And it just totally changes their lives, their standard of living, what they can do. And when you provide the things for their education, it's just like they can't afford to keep going to school often or to have the things that they need to be able to do that, or mom needs them at home, or somebody's dad needs a man in the field. And I don't know. I don't really need to go to school longer than third grade, because if the dad didn't go, maybe they didn't need to go there. So that whole idea of raising that too, whatever other kind of things did you find interesting?

[12:05] Gina: For myself, Maria is very fortunate that she had two daughters, and one of them is very active in her life, and she spends quite a bit of time with her daughter, living with her daughter during the winters and then back into her village in the summers. But her having her daughter there all the time, still not being able to afford the medication that Maria needs, a little bit of our money goes so far down here. I couldn't afford the medication that she needs in the US. But we can afford to provide that for her down here. And it is a huge impact. It really is.

[12:52] Jan: And there's so many things that we can do, even extra, that it doesn't make a difference in our income. And you know what? Who's our provider? Whatever you give, it just keeps getting reaped back in. That's all we've seen over and over again.

[13:13] Gina: Right.

[13:14] Jan: I cannot out give God. So I also have another guest here. I have Leslie Herandez, and she is an employee of Unbound. Tell us about your role.

[13:28] Leslie: Yes, my name is Leslie Herandez, and I am an experience integration coordinator at Unbound.

[13:34] Jan: That's a fancy name.

[13:36] Leslie: Formerly known as the trip coordinator. Fancier version of that. But I actually celebrated my 13th year with the organization last month, July 13. So Unbound was founded in 1981.  So I am very blessed to be able to work for such an amazing organization for 13 years.

[14:02] Jan: And you didn't think that you were going to actually work for a long time, right?

[14:07] Leslie: No. So I came on in 2010 and I discovered unbound. I should say Unbound discovered me. I posted my resume online. And they were looking for someone bilingual, and they called me. I looked up the organization before my interview, and that's when I really became interested. I was like, this is a really cool place to work with while I'm in school. I wanted to be a DNA analyst at that point. I don't know if you guys are familiar with what they do, but they collect DNA at crime scenes.

[14:38] Jan: Okay.

[14:38] Leslie: Yeah. I was studying chemistry, and it was completely opposite than what I'm doing right now.

[14:43] Jan: Interesting.

[14:44] Leslie: Yes. 2012, I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica as a part of formation, and so I went. And during our trips, we often take our sponsors to do home visits, and that way people can really understand how organization helps everyone. It's very personalized program. Helping someone is not a one size fits all solution. And part of the home visit is helping the travelers understand. We did a visit in a rural area called Limon in Costa Rica. We were visiting a family who was the father, the mother, and the two adult sons. And in this area of Costa Rica, a lot of people in their forties at that time were born with a lot of disabilities. And the young adults that we were visiting had some sort of dwarfism. They were both blind. And it was later discovered that the pesticides that they were using in the communities were affecting pregnant women. It was very shocking to see the realities that these families were living. 

And I remember the happiness of families and how grateful they were just for our presence. Yeah. And so we're getting ready to leave after the home visit and I'm just feeling all kinds of emotions. Gratitude for being able to experience that, guilt, so many things. And the young men asked if they could give us something and I'm thinking, no, I don't need anything. Just thank you for having they insisted. And what they wanted to give to us was a song they wanted to sing to us.

[16:34] Jan: Yeah.

[16:35] Leslie: So it was wonderful. And I lost it. I had a step outside and I was just overwhelmed with emotions. And I had that moment where I was like, what am I doing with my life? And how blessed am I that I can work for an organization for a living that makes such a big impact on the world?

[16:55] Jan: 13 years later and here you're still here gathering stories.

[17:00] Leslie: I called my boss. You're never getting rid of me now.

[17:05] Jan: And where are you based? 

Leslie: In Kansas City. 

Jan: Okay, so tell us a little bit more about the program. What makes Unbound different than other sponsored programs?

[17:16] Leslie: So, as you had mentioned, which is great, that we sponsor and support others, we are the only sponsorship organization, but our model is very personalized. We allow the families to utilize the benefits that you all are sending to fit their specific. It's not like every month they get a basket of food because for your sponsor friend who needed medication, we're able to support that through the program as well. So, it's very multilayered. And these trips help sponsors really understand that and break it down so that you can understand the levels that comes.

[17:59] Jan: And because maybe some families are starting out and they're living way in the mountains, they don't have a lot of resources. So, their basic need is going to be food or maybe some clothing or some real basic needs. Maybe a new roof because their tin is rusted through, aluminum is rusted through or something. So unbalanced families get to make choices as to where that money goes.

[18:31] Leslie: The sponsorship isn't just for the child. As soon as the child is sponsored, the whole family benefits. The mothers get the proper speed of the mother's groups. If the father needs a tool for work, they're able to save those funds from their sponsorship to purchase what the father needs to help support the family's income. If the sibling needs shoes, we find ways to help the entire family.

[18:56] Jan: Tell us a little bit more about the mother's groups.

[19:00] Leslie: We support the mothers in forming groups and so they kind of become support with one another. They form a community and as we learned during the week, they have different chat labs which are like meetings where they talk about important topics, mental health, best ways to support your children for their education. They teach each other things. Maybe one knows how to make diligent, and they use it to sell for an income. So, then they teach all the moms. They're really supporting each other.

[19:35] Jan: And isn't there a component of teaching them like finances and how to start a bank account?

[19:41] Leslie: Yes, our families have received their benefits through bank account transfers. So that's another unique thing of our program. And it's something that we started working on a few years ago. And it took some time because a lot of people didn't have proper forms of identification that are needed to open account. So, there were many challenges with that. But that allows the benefit that to be even more personalized. Our scholarship students, they help us a lot with that. As we learned again this week, as part of their volunteer work in the program, they help track the expenses for each family.

[20:17] Jan: Okay. Right. So, with the scholarship program, that is a separate thing from the sponsoring students as well. That goes to education. But that also starts in middle school. Correct? Leslie: Right. 

Jan:So it's not just scholarships to college, but it can be as well.

[20:37] Leslie: It can help really any child who's in school that has that need. And it's a general fund. So a lot of people, they feel overwhelmed by the fact they would correspond with one person. And so they want to help the organization, but they want to keep it very general. And so a lot of people donate to the scholarship for that reason.

[20:57] Jan: And then the scholars as well then will tutor some of the young other kids as well.  What other aspects? There's the entrepreneurship with that with helping to start businesses.

[21:11] Leslie: Yes. So, it's still in the pilot phase right now. But the idea is that Unbound provides some funding for a person to establish their own business. And if they need help with training, they help them find the proper training. We met moms this week who had their own stands to sell typical plates, meat and tortilla and stuff, and that was their main source of income. We met moms that learned how to make popsicles and popsicle stand. So Unbound supports them to really establish

their own businesses and the supplies that they need.

The idea is for them to eventually not need us, right? If we don't exist tomorrow, are they going to be okay?

[21:55] Jan: That's what's important, right? What other kind of things did you see with your families or maybe with somebody else's?

[22:05] Rhonda: There was something that came to mind, and I can't remember what it was. The home visit that we made for a scholarship student. The living conditions were just only what I would think of when I wanted to go camping. Basically, there was two rooms off of almost like a carport open at both ends, and that was their kitchen and dining room. A little curtained off space that looked like it might have been a toilet. And yet he's studying to be a nurse and wants to go on to become a doctor and with ambition to provide medical care to those who can't afford to pay for it.

[23:00] Jan: And isn't that one of the wonderful things about sponsoring somebody, is you're not just sponsoring that kid, they're going to grow up and affect how many others because of their education or the things they've learned. Right? Yeah. And that was a nice house.

[23:19] Rhonda: That's what I was wondering about, what percentage of the houses are like that? And looking at the towns and everything, I was wondering, how do you find something better? Even the need is so tremendous and.

[23:41] Jan: So broad because that one had cinder blocks and a cement floor and a kitchen.

[23:47] Rhonda: I was really pleased to learn how many of the past sponsored children are now working with Unbound. They continued their education and now have jobs that will help take care of their community and their families and kind of have found their calling. And so, like you said, it circles back.

[24:12] Jan: Well, and because if you think 81, that's like 40 years ago. So some of those people are even in their 50s or olders or whatever, but because of that, their kids and the effect on theirs or others in the community and what they've learned, and very far reaching.

[24:32] Leslie: I just want to add to that because I think that's something unique also for our program. I think that when you see me as a staff member, when I come and I see how much love and care the local staff puts into their daily work and how much they really believe in our mission, it makes me feel more connected to my work. And I just feel like as a sponsor also, it builds that trust more. I trust the team here. They're evolving the program, and they're growing it with care and careful consideration. And it makes me really trust the work that we do. I can see when I see how they work that they love this work. They make these families, and they're building an amazing relationship.

[25:19] Jan: Right. Tell us a little bit of the practical things. So if there was a listener that was interested in becoming a sponsor, what would they do?

[25:27] Leslie: So they would just go to our website Unbound.org. and we have a list of profiles on our website, and we rotate those regularly. So if they go online and they see someone they want to sponsor, I encourage them to write down the child's number, which is a ch number, because those profiles get rotated out regularly. Or they can give us a call, or they can give me a call, or I can give you my information.

[26:01] Jan: Okay. And again, how much per month is it?

[26:04] Leslie: It's $40 a month.

[26:05] Jan: And how many countries? 17 countries?

[26:10] Leslie: Yeah.

[26:11] Jan: So that's pretty neat. It doesn't have to just be just here in Guatemala.

[26:16] Leslie: You don't have to sponsor to travel with us. So, if you want to see the work that we do in action before you decide or maybe decide on a trip because we can decide to sponsor during a trip, you can travel with us even if you don't sponsor.


[26:31] Jan: Very good. Okay, well, thank you so much for joining us and sharing what your stories were for today. This is really interesting, and I think people are going to enjoy this episode. Thank you.

[26:44] Leslie: Thank you.

[26:48] Jan: If you enjoyed this or any other of my podcast episodes, it would be amazing if you would take a few minutes to leave a review so others can find it. Transcripts are available on my website at Jan johnson.com. Please join me again next week.