“I think one of the greatest calls in life is to serve.”
I didn’t find Leanna. Leanna found me. And boy am I glad that she did. During my last year at Westminster College, I worked as the Service Chair of the student body, organizing and promoting different service events throughout the campus and community. I was frequently approached by outside organizations looking for support.
I was able to bring Leanna in to speak to a group of students from my campus and I was thrilled with the response. Not only was Leanna a joy to listen to, but she also really piqued the interest of a bunch of tired college kids. We were able to do some fundraising for her organization and I have stayed in touch with her ever since.
I actually began this interview with her back in May, but have held off on posting as I wanted to wait for her new website to be released. Check it out here.
I could talk about Leanna’s goodness for hours, but I think I will let that speak for itself.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce Leanna.
Organization: AGAPE House
Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion: give me a “Happiness is!”
Leanna: Happiness is serving others. I know that sounds simple but that’s happiness to me.
Liz: Tell me a little bit about your organization.
Leanna: I’ve been going on mission trips for about 20 years - different countries all over the world. About a year and a half ago, my daughter and I went on vacation together to the Dominican Republic and we just fell in love with it, the culture, the food, the natural beauty, everything. But most importantly, we fell in love with the people.
We were only there for ten days but we became close with some of the folks we met. We found that unemployment there is about 60%. So these wonderful people we met had to choose - even the employed people had to choose - between clean water, basic home repairs, clothes for their children, food, etc. Just looking at the living situation: They used plastic bags to fix leaks in their roofs. They had dirt floors that would fill with mud when it rained. It’s the kind of thing that stays with you.
So my daughter and I talked about it so much when we got home and shortly thereafter, she went back to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip.
The more we talked, the more we thought, there has to be some way to maximize the benefit of the funds that organizations receive to help those living in poverty.
Within a short time after, I decided to take early retirement and start my own nonprofit. So that’s what I did. On December 31st of 2015, I stopped working for a paycheck.
On January 5th, 2016, I became full time. It’s 100% volunteer run and 100% of donations go to help those who are living in poverty.
Our mission statement reads, “The mission of ‘Agape House for Humanity’ is to conduct and provide needs assessments for mission groups and organizations throughout the world. This will be done in an effort to better allocate resources to children, families, and communities in need. The organization will seek to foster collaborative efforts between individuals, corporations, governments, foundations and other non-profit organizations. Throughout all interactions, both with those in need, and with collaborators, our primary mission is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
So basically our primary goal is to conduct and provide needs assessment. That being said, we never go empty handed. Whether it’s in the United States or the world - we never go empty handed. I always have hygiene packs, Bibles, etc. We’ve provided emergency basic humanitarian aid to about 56 families to date so far this year (as of July 17 2016). It could be everything from basic clean water, rice, protein sources, baby formula, cereal, fruit. Every family is different, as is every country.
The areas that we look at when we’re doing the assessment are construction, home repair, medical, clean safe drinking water (that’s a big one), education, spiritual development, and conditions of natural environment. Those are the seven areas that are assessed. It’s not limited to that, but those seven areas are primarily what we’re looking for.
Once we have the needs assessment, we start collaborating with other groups - nonprofits, foundations, personal donations and so on - to get the needs met. We do very detailed needs assessments and we figure out what the need is, what the approximate cost would be, where the best place for volunteers to stay is, etc. We itemize everything for that specific country so when they go into the country they are really being as efficient with their funds as possible.
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?
Leanna: I know this is going to sound so simple again, but I’m just answering a calling. I wake up happy every day because I know that I’m going to be able to serve someone in some way. I hear that quiet voice speaking to me and that’s the driving force. So, I guess love. That’s the Holy Spirit. That’s what it is.
Liz: What does “service” mean to you?
Leanna: It means unselfishly helping someone by meeting a need they have without any expectation of any benefit for myself. But, at the same time saying that, I think service can be one of the most selfish things we can do because there’s nothing that feels better.
Liz: Do you have a favorite quote?
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Liz: How can people get involved?
Liz: Anything else you’d like to add?
We prayed about this for a while, so I would like to include it:
We began with our work in the Dominican Republic and other developing nations because of the mission trips I’d been on around the world but we also felt it was really important to include the United States. We’ve been through several areas of Appalachia. Need exists both the US and in developing nations.
We have poverty right here in America. In the end, I provided more humanitarian aid to families in one week in Appalachia than in four weeks in developing nations. It was shocking to me. There was one county in Kentucky that has 596 children. Every single child qualifies for free lunch and a large percentage of them go on little to nothing to eat for the entire weekend after school. It’s the poorest county in America.
I’d never seen that kind of poverty and there it was in the United States.
We are currently working to pack an entire U-Haul to deliver there, to Owsley County. The truck will be filled with food items and backpacks to provide to school-aged children who would typically go from Friday lunch to Monday lunch with little to no food.
Yes, we began in the Dominican Republic - but there is need everywhere. And just because there will always be need doesn’t mean we can ignore it. It means we have to act and we have to make a difference.
Our next mission trips will take us to Costa Rica, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic (again). Costa Rica and Guatemala will be needs assessment trips. If anyone is interested in getting more information or volunteering for one of these potential trips, please email me: AgapeHouseForHumanity@gmail.com
This concludes another #ServiceSunday. Thanks for allowing me to share another impactful organization with you. Make sure to check out what Leanna and her team are doing by following them on the new website. If you’re interested in how you can directly support AGAPE - don’t hesitate to reach out to Leanna. She is always eager to talk to other world shakers.
As for me, I’ll see you next Sunday as I highlight another phenomenal example of humankind.
Looking to nominate an individual or organization that you know? Reach out to The Smile Project on social media or by filling out the contact form here.
Liz: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Leanna: My grandfather. He said: Love first. Think second.
If you think too much, you let fear creep in. But if you just love to the best of your ability, amazing things can happen.
And the world isn’t perfect so sometimes you get burned. But the sting of getting burned is so minimal when compared with the joy of helping people.