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More than 1,400 kids at school in Guatemala, started with a donation from a donor-advised fund, have found more than an education
In the middle of a crime-ridden, poverty-stricken slum in Jocotenango, Guatemala, in 2016, the first graduating class of the Scheel Center made its way to the modern, four-building campus that gave them back their futures. At home in Fargo, N.D., Bob Scheel was overcome with emotion as he watched video of the students receiving their diplomas. Many of them had once been homeless or involved in criminal gangs or juvenile prostitution.
"Oh boy," he said. "To see these kids from all these makeshift places, all dressed up … You know, it warms your heart to know of it. They’re getting somewhere in life. You could tell they were very proud."
Almost a decade earlier, Bob and his late wife, Joan, provided the funding for the Scheel Center—which was built and is overseen by the North Dakota-based charity God’s Child –with grants from their Fidelity Charitable donor-advised fund, or Giving Account. After visiting Guatemala on several occasions, Bob and Joan had been heartbroken by the number of children living on the streets who had no means to dream of a different life.
By then, the Scheels already had used their Giving Account to support God's Child in their work to build several homes for the poorest of Guatemala’s poor, including a family of seven orphans whom Bob continues to support. But they decided they could make another lasting difference through education.
Since its founding, the school has educated a total of 1,440 children—150 per year— from ages 6 through 20, starting with basic reading and writing and progressing to computer literacy and vocational skills such as carpentry.
In addition, students are provided with educational supplies, two nourishing meals a day, and health services—a holistic approach not common in Guatemala—and one that contributes to the center's equally unusual 96 percent graduation rate. (The drop-out rate nationally is 41 percent.) Many of the Scheel Center’s former students now are training to become teachers elsewhere in the region.
And the center has also expanded its services through the years to include medical, dental and mental health care services and family support programs for the community at large, aiding more than 25,000 local residents.
Bob set up his Giving Account by donating privately held stock from his family's sporting goods company, and he continues to contribute additional shares of this stock each year. He plans his charitable giving annually, earmarking about three-quarters of what he will donate, and to whom, at the beginning of each year. The rest of his giving budget is reserved for special projects he might become interested in, such as the grant he recommended to fund a state-of-the-art kitchen remodel at a local YWCA battered women’s shelter.
"Using a donor-advised fund is just so darn easy," said Bob, who estimates he supports 30 nonprofits each year from his Giving Account, including a one-of-a-kind school for the deaf in the Philippines that trains students for the workplace. "If a charity comes to mind that I want to check in with, I can go right on the computer and see when’s the last time I gave to them. And if I read in the paper that one of the charities that I give to has got some kind of a fundraiser going, it takes me less than three or four minutes on the computer; I can have a grant recommendation going with no more effort for myself at all. It takes a load off my mind."
For Bob, giving back is a fundamental family value.
"My dad was always generous in supporting the things he thought were important in our town," he said. "And my older brothers really believed in giving back. I'm sure they gave away a lot more than they ever lived on."
That's how Bob, who suffers from multiple myeloma, approaches life, too. Earlier this year, he visited the Scheel Center for the first time without his wife, who passed away in 2014. He stood in front of a group of students after an emotional day of shedding and witnessing tears—both his and the students—and listened as a young boy asked him a question through a translator.
"Why," he asked, "would you come way down here to build a school?"
Bob didn't hesitate. "You," he told him, "are exactly the reason. So you guys can all make something out of your life. That’s why I help."
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