Back in 2008, Huenemoerder and Fitzsimons ran into a redneck Christian pastor from Texas and his wife on the dirt road leading to the village. Leonard and Marie Jones had been "called" to Honduras a few years earlier to take care of abandoned children and, after impressive effort, established what would commonly be called an orphanage, Casa Cielo. It was actually much more. They had almost 30 kids, many infants at the time and were renting a bank-foreclosed hotel for their facility.
As it happened, the Huenemoerder/Fitzsimons project had purchased a number of acres at a very favorable price with the idea they would sell portions of it at cost to other charities. After a number of years involving clearing of land, construction and, of course, raising money, Casa Cielo moved into their permanent home next to the smaller Huenemoerder/Fitzsimons project in 2014.
The children under Leonard and Marie's care came from some of the most horrific situations that can be imagined. Their vision was not just to take care of them, but also to make them part of their own family, which consisted of two daughters and a son, the youngest being under 10, and they did just that. To the kids they were "Mama" and "Papa," and they didn't just grow up with good custodial care, but thrived, to include being fully bilingual in Spanish and English. Over the years there were both unfortunate and very happy occurrences, a few kids were returned to their dysfunctional families on the order of the Honduran version of children's social services, some were adopted by loving families, and two girls were transferred to another (and thankfully, similar) place. Presently there are 11 children in the Casa Cielo family, ranging in ages from 5 to 15, with Casa Cielo being the only home they have ever known.
About four years ago, Papa (Leonard Jones) began to feel some weakness in his legs that slowly progressed and became debilitating. As a Marine Corps veteran, he went to a Dallas VA hospital and was told he has a rare and progressive form of adult muscular dystrophy. By 2018, he was confined to a wheelchair and within a year he had also lost the use of his arms, making him a quadriplegic. In October of 2019 he traveled again to Texas for further evaluation and was informed that he also had the incurable neuro-muscular condition known commonly as Lou Gerhig's disease. He greatest desire is to return to his home and family, Casa Cielo near the village of El Cacao, Honduras. According to Fitzsimons, he is in incredibly good spirits and looks forward to the end of the corona virus restrictions so his dream of returning can come true.
It should be noted that Casa Cielo has not been an isolated place, but part of the village community. Their presence led, for example, to the arrival of Pastor Jeronimo Garcia in 2012. Fitzsimons, though a self-described religious agnostic, explains that he and Jeronimo quickly became friends and that he (Fitzsimons) and his wife have supported the development of his local church. He describes Jeronimo as a "walk the walk" type of pastor who directly works with the least advantaged people in the village to enhance their lives. Also owing to the presence of Casa Cielo, the group Compassion International, working through Pastor Garcia's church, established their program in the village and helps supplement nutrition and other needs of 100's of the poorest residents. Several weeks ago, Fitzsimons reports, Compassion was able to make a large delivery of rice and beans to the village, despite the virus related restrictions.
While in Honduras, Fitzsimons is not "connected" but is kept updated on US and world events via phone calls with his wife, which lately were largely limited to the corona virus. She had mentioned the idea that all Americans were going to receive $1,200 as part of a relief bill, and indeed they found an automatic deposit in a bank account soon after he returned to the US. The couple's income in retirement derives from two stable pensions and a routine social security deposit for Huenemoerder, so they have experienced no loss of income and no pressing need for any supplemental income. Having just returned from Honduras, and spending time with the kids at Casa Cielo, Fitzsimons asked his wife what she thought about donating $1,200 to Casa Cielo. She responded she was thinking the same, and it was decided. Curiously, Honduras is one of the countries less affected by the corona virus but the measures the government implemented are quite stringent, essentially shutting down the economy, disallowing travel and routine daily activities, and even making obtaining basic food and supplies difficult.
Fitzsimons talked with Leonard recently and asked how Casa Cielo was doing financially during these unusual times. Leonard "Papa" Jones replied using the phrase, "by the skin of our teeth." Huenemoerder and Fitzsimons realize that for many Americans the relief money is essential, but those who have the same good fortune they do, experiencing no loss of income and otherwise having no new acute financial pressures, might consider donating at least a portion of the relief money to organizations such as Casa Cielo or other meaningful charities.
Anyone who would like to learn more about Casa Cielo and other such organizations in Honduras are welcome to contact Reid Fitzsimons at: firstname.lastname@example.org.