Melissa, how did you find yourself running a home for at-risk children?
Shortly after moving to Puerto Vallarta in January of 2011, I witnessed some neighbor girls and their mother being physically abused by the father. On the advice of another neighbor, I knocked on the door of a nearby orphanage to get information on where to report child abuse as calling the local police hadn’t worked. When the orphanage door opened, I saw a sea of angels, struggling to get as close as possible, against the orders of the woman in charge… I was drawn to their outstretched souls, pleading for help.
Each time I visited the place I stayed longer, tearing myself away at the end of the day not knowing how I would ever really be able to help them. Their needs were so great yet I was limited in terms of how much I could do as a volunteer.
In the months that followed, the orphanage was investigated by Municipal and State Government officials. The investigation culminated in the decision to relocate the girls which left them with a pressing challenge — where to place them. They contacted me saying each one of the girls had given them my number and said if given the choice they wanted to live with Melissa.
My partner Juan and I met with the authorities and they laid out their dilemma, saying there were no other facilities for teenage girls in Puerto Vallarta. They would have no choice but to split them up and place them in a number of residential resources across Mexico. Could we take some of them in? We were aghast – “some of them?” These girls had come from devastating circumstances, many were sisters… now they would be separated?
First, we consulted with my mother, Sandra Nichol, as this was her home and clearly this would change her lifestyle and future plans. Her response was immediate. “Follow your heart.” Then we consulted with Juan’s family and they said “we are with you”. These gestures of faith and unconditional love made all this possible. Without their support we could not have taken this on.
Out for a seaside stroll in the Romantic Zone of Puerto Vallarta
And the rest is, well, history. That year, thirteen girls aged nine to twenty-one came to live in our home. Three years later (Feb 2015) we are a family of thirty-eight children — twenty-seven girls and eleven boys. And somehow, God knows how, we co-exist, happily and with much love.
Thanks to Juan, our children have a positive father figure for the first time in their lives – providing security and changing the course of history forever. All are experiencing a new-found level of self esteem meaning they will become women and men of substance.
This blessing has tested every ounce of our physical, emotional and spiritual strength… on this journey there lies no doubt, no fear, no regrets. To truly live one’s faith and make a difference in the lives of this many children is an opportunity, an experience, a gift for which we are eternally grateful.
For all of you who accompany Juan and I, sharing the vision and the commitment each in your own special way we thank you for paving the way, for making a difference and changing the course of history – one child at a time.
How have you managed all this, Melissa? It seems such a Herculéan task?
My mother taught me to live by the golden rule and help others. These are values that my grandmother, Adeline Peterson, continues to hold today at ninety-eight.
Each morning as life returns to Fundación Corazón de Niña, I am reminded of the Christian version of the old English nursery rhyme ‘There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’ :
There was an old woman
Who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children,
And loved them all, too.
She said, “Thank you Lord Jesus,
For sending them bread.”
Then kissed them all gladly
and sent them to bed.
I am not an old woman yet, but when I am, I shall still be surrounded by a house full of loving children. That is the way of my family. And it is a good life!