Find Your Joy by Volunteering

Hannah Doubles Down on Mentoring Kids

Hannah TownsendLast year we shared about Hannah Townsend (scroll below), who started a mentoring program at ER’s Fish Hoek Dream Center in South Africa. We’re thrilled she is continuing through 2022. She’s now 23 and a senior attending Toccoa Falls College, majoring in Counseling Psychology. Below, Hannah provides an update.

“It has been such a joy to help the Fish Hoek Dream Center establish a mentorship program. I’ve learned so much about myself and put my book knowledge into practice.

“Helping the kids has been amazing. I walked alongside them and watched them grow up for the past seven years. I am surprised daily with how open they are with me and how willing they are to seek advice, help, or just talk. Through my intake assessments, we have learned a lot about the kids that we would not have known. This allows for greater insight and impact.

“I love it when a child or a group of the kids come in and ask if they can talk. Recent topics are depression and faith. They often are  confused, but I love that they are asking tough questions, even if I don’t always have the answers.

“Mentoring has stretched my abilities and how much I know. My faith has grown a lot by having conversations about religion and Christ with the kids. I’d love to see my generation go into missions for a few weeks, months or years. Missions really broadens your perspective and deepen your relationship with others, with Christ and with yourself.  Serving others is challenging, but it is one of the most rewarding things you could ever do.”

Would you enjoy volunteering in Ecuador, South Africa, the Philippines or other countries where ER works? We’d love for you to benefit from such an experience. Learn how you can serve in a cross-cultural setting here or email us at


Hannah Pours Into Dream Center Kids

Hannah Townsend spent her formative years helping her family serve vulnerable kids at what is now the Fish Hoek Dream Center. Her parents, Ron and Amy Townsend, oversee the Center. After graduating high school in South Africa, she began an online program with Toccoa Falls College in Georgia

For the next year, Hannah will serve as a short-term volunteer in the Dream Center. She is working on a degree in counseling psychology and is using her book knowledge in a practical way to start a mentoring program at the Dream Center.

For the remainder of the 2021 school year, she will focus on the grade 6 learners. As the program progresses, she will add the grade 5 kids. So far, Hannah has led sessions on emotions, bullying and peer pressure.

“I want to figure out if working with children in a counseling setting is something I genuinely want to pursue as I look toward doing my Masters degree,” Hannah said.

“As for the Dream Center, I am offering my knowledge and support to the children. I want to be there as a mentor to answer their questions and help them prepare for their futures and life in general. I would love to see them grow and mature and be able to come to me with anything.”


Bethany Shoots Inspiring Videos on Two Continents in One Summer

It was a whirlwind summer for volunteer Bethany Johnson, who took her camera to South Africa and Ecuador during a hectic 10-week trip. A student at King’s College in NY, Bethany had previously served with ER through our partner Living Hope in South Africa.

Bethany focused on bringing us the sights, sounds and stories of the vulnerable people we serve. Her video assignments included everything from the Dream Centers in South Africa and Quito to a new functional fitness program to a Leadership Development program the Quito Women’s Program.

Because of COVID restrictions, Bethany had to overcome some rescheduling. She navigated the changes like a champ and we all benefited because she was able to shoot and produce eight full videos, plus numerous short clips and photos.

The trip turned out to be a great learning experience. Bethany said working cross-culturally strengthened her video skills and self-confidence, while God provided for her needs, safety and health.

Here are two of her videos from Quito, Ecuador, and Fish Hoek, South Africa.

See the rest of her videos and all other ER videos here. Thank you Bethany for your valuable contributions!


Jo Gains Insight into Her Life Purpose

Everyone should volunteer in a new culture to gain perspective for their lives. The results can be dramatic.

Jo Turner lives just an hour from our U.S. headquarters in Snellville, GA, but she traveled 8,000 miles to volunteer this summer working with kids at the Fish Hoek Dream Center in South Africa.  She said the experience was life-changing.

“It was a blessing to read with the Dream Center kids, play soccer with them, serve them meals and share Jesus.” Her experience brought her personal peace and inspiration.

“I learned silence is good and to slow down my pace of life. I was freed of my battle with depression. I also was given peace about going back to school and being involved with missions again.”

Jo even changed her major at school to include social work so she can help at-risk children living in difficult circumstances. One girl in particular captured her heart.

“A girl I connected with in 2016 when I went on a team to South Africa remembered me and wanted to meet. Her sister attends the Dream Center. But this girl is too old to attend. My supervisor, Amy Townsend, coordinated several fun outings allowing us to reconnect and rekindle our close bond. I was a safe place for her and her two sisters and was able to learn about their home life.

“This allowed our staff to get better insight on what was going on and how to approach the family’s situation. This changed her life because we are now able to approach her and her family and help them in the best way.

“This also changed me because it opened my eyes to the heart I have for kids who have experienced trauma and how important it is for them to feel safe in their home and with their family. It was extremely difficult to see the situations she faces, but it opened my eyes to the pain these kids experience and how I can better pray for her and other families, as well as be more grateful for the life I get to live.”


Volunteers Arrive Ready to Serve


Jo Turner (left) and Bethany Johnson landed in South Africa ready to serve others.

(June 2, 2021)

We welcome two volunteers to Fish Hoek, South Africa.

Bethany Johnson, a Nashville, TN native, will spend six weeks shooting video and photos and writing updates on ER programs.

Joanna Turner, from Athens, GA, will pour into kids at our Dream Center. They join Mary Veltman who arrived after a long delay that we shared here.

Bethany shares: “I’m looking forward to hearing and filming the stories of ER staff members and Dream Center kids. People’s personal journeys are extremely powerful and inspiring, and I hope to soak in and learn as many new things as possible in the time that I’m here!”

Mary shares: “I will be working with Victory Kids and the Dream Center, learning and helping out as much as I can! I will be coaching volleyball and teaching the kids about that sport. It’s good to be back after six years,
seeing familiar faces and getting to love new ones as well.”


Laurel Lee Dreams Big with Quito Kids

“The kids light up when they they finally show you their dreams. It was moving.” – Laurel Lee, short-term volunteer at the Quito Dream Center.

Quito Dream CenterThe COVID-19 pandemic may have shortened Laurel Lee’s time helping the kids at the Dream Center, but she still left with heart-felt memories.

The recent Wofford College graduate returned to Ecuador in January to help serve vulnerable people. As a Spanish major Laurel had previously spent time as a foreign exchange student in Quito where she discovered the Dream Center. This time, as an ER short-term volunteer, Laurel served in two ways. She was a teacher’s assistant at ER partner Nuevos Amigos and also helped the kids at the Dream Center with their homework.

Laurel had planned to stay for six months before the pandemic forced her to return home in Florida in late March, followed by 14 days of quarantine.

Her time in Ecuador coincided with the transition of ER’s after-school program to becoming the Quito Dream Center. Among the first tasks was to invite each child to draw a picture to illustrate what they wanted their lives to look like once they were grown up.

“Each child was given a piece of paper. We showed them videos of Ecuadorians overcoming the odds to succeed. The videos showed that when you have a dream, you have to work hard to accomplish it,” Laurel said.

The kids, who are part of the Quito Dump community, were encouraged to dream big, but they struggled. As children of parents who glean recyclables from the trash to make a modest living, they had no experience  dreaming big dreams.

“When they decided, the kids would light up when they finally show you their dreams. It was moving. It took time for the kids to realize you were really interested in their dreams and would support them.

“Right now, many of the children study with their motivation being that they do not want to be recyclers or sell gum in the streets. We want to help change the motivation behind why they study. During our workshops this week, the children focused on their dreams. They want to be anything from veterinarians to YouTube stars.

Quito Dream Center“I know God has big plans for them and I can see the way He is working in their hearts today and preparing them for the future. I believe it is important that the children know their dreams and futures are important to God and the staff at ER believes in them.”

As often happens, one girl in particular grabbed Laurel’s attention – and heart. Olivia* is 11 years old and in 7th grade. Laurel spent a lot of one-on-one time with Olivia helping her study for mid-term exams, quizzing her on her English vocabulary and tutoring her in math.

“I really enjoyed helping the kids dream. The children learned about the importance of positive motivation for pursuing their dreams and the importance of hard work. Sharing their dreams with one another helped to push each child outside of their comfort zones. Many struggled to share their dreams, possibly because to them, it seemed impossible.”

Time in Quito Dream Center Well Invested

“Without a doubt, I really enjoyed this experience. I’m a little more comfortable speaking Spanish. You learn so much in a different culture,” Laurel said.

“Ecuadorians are really caring. The parents of the kids showed their gratitude. I felt needed and helpful to people. God’s love and joy are very present in the Dream Center. Even the kids with difficult home lives still were filled with joy.”

What’s next? Laurel said she hopes to pursue a career in Latin America, possibly working with a non-profit organization.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

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