In a land where 85 percent of the men are unemployed, many families live in structures made from scavenged materials, and where 400,000 school-aged children are unable to attend public schools because they can’t afford the required shoes, clothing or books, Chaffee is trying to make a difference.
It’s an uphill battle. Coffee bean growing has been the backbone of the Nicaraguan economy but over the past decade, larger coffee-producing countries have flooded the market and driven the prices down, effectively driving many farmers out of business. In order to scratch out a living, farmers employ all of their family members to work in the fields, including children who would otherwise be in school. On top of that, a new Nicaraguan government came into power this year, and according to Chaffee, “doubled the price of everything.”
CHAFFEE'S BACKGROUNDChaffee, who was trained as a refrigeration and cryogenics specialist by the Air Force, returned to his native Michigan in 1988 when he found work at Dependable Refrigeration, a local refrigeration company in Port Huron. His jobs took him and his wife Deborah all over the United States but he eventually landed back at Dependable in 1998. He continued to work for the company after it was sold to Finnie Enterprises and was made the company’s service manager, handling all the day-to-day operations of the company.
As Chaffee grew with the refrigeration industry, his heart began growing in a different direction. Since visiting his wife’s family in her native Nicaragua in 1993, he had fallen in love with the country and its rural people and could not get them out of his mind. He was moved by the generosity he had been shown despite their severe poverty. He was haunted by the faces and needs of the children especially.
After much prayer and meeting with his church’s missionary board, his church in Michigan joined in his vision to construct a building for a congregation there that had been meeting in a bedroom. Since then, Chaffee and his family have returned to live in Nicaragua for extended periods to oversee building a school and four medical clinics. Although the school has been built, it needs money to maintain its modest budget. It has a staff of eight teachers and the highest paid earns $120 per month. Chaffee has returned to Port Huron to continue looking for support for the school but unfortunately, the Michigan community is facing tough economic times with a 17 percent unemployment rate casting a gloomy shadow.
SQUIRES MAKES AN OFFERChaffee has been a longtime friend of Dave Squires, local HVAC contractor and founder of Online-Access, a Website development company that was recently featured in The NEWS (Oct. 1, 2007). Squires is coordinating a fund-raising effort for the school, with the goal of $20,000. He is adding an incentive for people who make a $100 tax-free donation. Squires will send a special DVD with simple marketing strategies for HVACR contractors. He said, “Features include how to get customers to visit your Website or make your phone ring, teaching people how to get Websites high up on search engines, and in general, making their Website a proactive weapon.”
Squires said that anyone who doesn’t believe the DVD has a value of at least $100 will get their money refunded - and the donation will still go to the school.
Chaffee and Squires believe it is a win-win for everyone, especially in light of how much the money will mean to the children. Chaffee shared an excerpt from a letter he received from a young man who spent five years at the school. “Don Tim, thank you for bringing the school to us. I did not have a future, or any hope until you and Dona Deborah came to our community, now I can go to High School and later I want to study to learn to be an electrician. Thank you Don Tim, and God bless you.”
To make a donation to the Escuela Las Colinas school and receive a free marketing DVD from Online-Access, visit www.online-access.com or call Dave Squires at 810-985-6603. To learn more about the school, visit www.hillkids.org.