“It wasn’t until we got there to meet and interact with the kids and hear their stories that I truly understood what this project could mean for them.”
Elissa Calhoun was one of six Penn State Altoona students who traveled to Guayaramerín, Bolivia, in partnership with Love in Action International Ministries (LIAIM). LIAIM is a non-profit organization located in Altoona that operates Andrea’s Home of Hope and Joy, dedicated to rescuing orphaned, abandoned, abused, and extremely poor children in Latin America.
Andrea’s Home hosts mission trips, which typically include construction projects, maintenance, daily chores, and playtime with the children. In March, Calhoun and her peers traveled to the orphanage through Enactus, Penn State Altoona’s student social entrepreneurship organization. Using their business and entrepreneurial skill sets developed through classes and Enactus, students engaged in a different type of work to benefit the orphanage.
Preparation for the trip began in the fall 2017 semester. Orphanage leaders were interested in building a coffee shop near the city center, and students were tasked with finding out if it would be feasible and sustainable. They began by researching everything from the target audience to marketing, cost, and traffic flow. They spoke with Altoona coffee shop owners for advice and insight and made list upon list of questions to be answered once they arrived in Guayaramerín. One glaring challenge they discovered through competitive analysis is that there are already five coffee shops within a six-minute walk of the proposed business site. Students wondered if it even made sense to open yet another one.
But once they laid eyes on the children living at Andrea’s Home, they were dedicated to figuring out how to make it work. “The kids just walk up to you and love you and accept you even though they’ve never met you before,” says Calhoun. “They immediately treat you as if you’re family.” “The student’s passion for the orphanage and project skyrocketed when they met the kids and saw how their lives would be impacted through the coffee shop,” states Cynthia Wood, Enactus adviser.
Most of the profit from the business will provide sustainable income for Andrea’s Home. Beyond that, it would give working-age children from the orphanage an opportunity to learn marketable skills and earn money through employment there.
Enactus students hit the ground running, meeting every day to conduct market research, analyze the landscape of the area, and hold interviews with locals. They did a break-even analysis and completed a SWOT and situation analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the business, then began building a marketing plan including financial information.
Calhoun says the work she and her peers conducted prior to and during the trip complemented her corporate innovation and entrepreneurship studies at Penn State Altoona. “We put to the test some of the skills that we’ve been learning in our classes. I had learned about a SWOT analysis and a situation analysis, but other than example problems, I didn’t grasp the concept as well as I did on the ground.”
Melissa Kohler, instructor in business administration who also traveled to Bolivia, adds, “Our students learn business theories and concepts in their classes, but this trip allowed them to apply that knowledge to a real-world project with real-world challenges. It offered a tremendous learning experience that will pay dividends for students in the future. In the process, they also are making a positive impact on our global community. It's a win-win.”
The group spent one full day doing a competitive analysis on the ground, scoping out what other local coffee shops offered on their menus. “None of them offer coffee,” deadpans Wood. “They call them coffee shops, but they really offer things like fruit drinks and milkshakes and snacks. So after a whole day, I asked the million-dollar question to the last coffee shop owner we spoke with, ‘doesn’t anybody here drink hot coffee?’ The answer was no, and I was thinking, ‘oh my word, now what?’” “So we had to shift our project a little bit,” chuckles Calhoun. “Now it will be more of a café with refreshing drinks, smoothies, and empanadas.”
It just so happens that there are fruit trees on the orphanage property that can be used for the smoothies. It is also convenient that the women who work at the orphanage are cooks and can make the empanadas. Enactus members would eventually like to see more products added to the menu that the Bolivian and Brazilian markets aren’t familiar with, including fruit empanadas, to round out a unique menu.
The team has several more ideas to unlock the potential of the café and benefit Andrea’s Home and the city of Guayaramerín. For example, the orphanage has a farm with six cows. Team members are already thinking about how to improve and increase milk production to use at the café and to sell around the city. There is also a natural spring on the land, so there is an opportunity for another market by developing a bottled water plant with the water from that natural spring. “Let’s bring some agriculture students in, bring more business students in,” says Wood about future projects and collaborations. “Let’s design milk machines and look at water purification. Let’s look at the economics of these opportunities. There are so many ways we can expand on what we’ve started.”
Once back on campus, members finished and polished their plan, which included a diagram laid out in a computer-aided design and manufacturing program by an engineering student on the Enactus team. The detailed floor plan included tables, chairs, coolers, storage space, doors, windows, and traffic flow. The team also made recommendations with regard to a name and a logo. They presented it to the LIAIM board on April 16. The plan was accepted and the ground is scheduled to break in July.
A few days after that meeting, Enactus members made a discovery and a decision that would immediately influence the project and spur it toward fruition.
In 2016-17, Enactus received a $10,000 gift from Steve Sheetz, a long-time philanthropic supporter of Penn State Altoona and its business and entrepreneurship programs. Enactus members had been discussing how best to use this gift, wanting to invest it in a project that would make a sustainable impact. Wood happened to be reading through the business/marketing plan shortly after the presentation to LIAIM, when a number jumped out at her—$9,750. That’s what it costs to build the café. The gift from Sheetz would cover the entire construction, with a bit left over. When presented with the opportunity, the Enactus executive board quickly voted to use the Sheetz gift for the café and presented Gary and Jerri Zimmerman, LIAIM founders and executive directors, with the check during a meeting that same week. The Zimmerman’s were surprised and overwhelmed.
“When we first started building the orphanage, I would say, ‘can you hear the children laughing and playing’ long before we had kids,” states Gary Zimmerman. “Now we have 66, we’re going to open another house for 20 more, and we are going to make the concept of a café a reality. Now I say, ‘you’re going to see our children serving their community and raising money.’”
Wood says Enactus will continue its involvement with Andrea’s House as long as it makes sense. She doesn’t want to prop the café or the orphanage up, but rather make recommendations and plans, help implement them, then step back and let the Bolivians nurture success. “It’s so satisfying to see our students apply what they’re learning in the classroom in a way that’s making a sustainable difference for them and their world. With this project, they are leaving a mark that won’t soon be forgotten.”
In addition to their research and work on the cafe, the students spent time each day with children at the orphanage. They witnessed the arrival of two new children and attended a quinceañera. “It was a really good experience, beyond my expectations,” says Jay-an Yang, a sophomore from Taiwan studying finance. “The kids are just so lovely. They hug you, they want to take pictures with you and to play with you. They reminded me that life is pretty simple. Love is simple, and we shouldn’t be influenced by so many material things around us.”
Dalton Godfrey, a business major from Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, agrees. “Through this trip, I learned that I was put on this earth to help people. It was eye-opening and better than any spring break or vacation I could have taken. I’m so grateful that I was given the opportunity to help others while doing something I love.”
Although the students develop their business, teamwork, communication, and project management skills, the trip and the project extend well beyond the application of business concepts. Students are also exposed to culture and learn flexibility, problem-solving, and how to adjust to a different society. “Students are out there doing some great, great things through the framework of the Enactus student organization. I think it changes the way they see the world and equips them to be more successful when they graduate,” says Wood.
Calhoun thinks that someday, she would like to own her own social entrepreneurship business or run a similar organization. This trip allowed her to see what the business world is all about and how she can make a difference through her career. But maybe more importantly, it showed her the power of personal connection. “Before we traveled to Bolivia, we knew we were doing something good, but it wasn’t until we got there to meet the kids and learn their stories that it hit home for me.” She says later, after returning to Altoona, she was looking through photos of the trip. She loved recognizing the faces and knowing the names of the children. “I got to meet them and know them, and I feel so much more connected to them by traveling to Bolivia than had we just done the work from Pennsylvania. It is so impactful then to know that someday the kids will get to go on and do what they want to do because we have helped in this way.”
The Zimmerman’s are heading to Guayaramerín in July with a mission trip. They have plenty of exciting news to share with the orphanage and plenty of work to begin. “The kids in our orphanage come from dirt floors and thatched roofed houses infested with bugs. They’ve been abandoned by mothers and fathers. Through the cafe, they will feel like they have a purpose and can have dreams. Enactus members made a difference in the lives of these precious children, and all I can do is thank them for their commitment and work and contributions.”