Nonprofit organization touches thousands — one life at a time

By Cecily Markland

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 6 2011 3:57 p.m. MDT

“That’s 800 more missionaries, and who knows how many more lives they have touched,” he said. “And, because it is a ‘hand up,’ not a ‘hand out,’ they appreciate it so much more and are eager and willing to give back.”

Next, to help returning missionaries and others break the cycle of poverty, OLAAT started the Business Institute of Technology (BIT), where young men and women acquire the skills they need to be employable. In these countries, where a 30 to 40 percent unemployment rate is common, BIT provides specific training in computers, English, accounting and marketing and other practices and principles required for success in the marketplace and life.

BIT students also attend seminars on interviewing, paying tithes and offerings and creating a five-year realistic life plan. OLAAT currently has three schools in Central America. The schools are tailored particularly to ensure missionaries who return from honorable missions can attend a school with like-minded students who want to climb out of poverty.

Aguilera sees the difference it has made in his life as he went from having no job to a prestigious position as a business adviser.

“What I learned in BIT helped me tremendously in my current job … and not only that, when applying for a job I put on my resume that had an intensive program of courses taught to me, and this helped me to open the doors at work,” Aguilera said.

OLAAT also offers a 12-month entrepreneurship course, developed by Steve Gibson, which includes classroom lectures, case studies, team projects, seminars and service projects. “Students are taught how to find micro-enterprise opportunities within their own communities,” the OLAAT website says.

The organization has grown to include a five-member volunteer board of directors and an executive team made up of 10 active members. As the success stories have increased, so have opportunities for participation.

U.S. families can volunteer for “service vacations,” and donations are welcome.

“We will always need help and resources,” Farnsworth said. “The model is now tested and is ready for replication into many other countries. It is now a matter of money, and we won’t rest until thousands each year are trained and prepared for life or for transitioning to the PEF.”

Recently, volunteers and members of the executive team visited the three schools in Central America for “three days of planning, training, supporting and listening.”

At an area church leadership meeting, Farnsworth said a number of leaders “came up to us and reminded us of their beginnings at our schools. One handsome young man approached me to say that he had studied at BIT in the second year. At that time he was selling bread on the streets to survive with his wife and new baby. As he stood in front of me with his beautiful gray suit and his pink monochrome tie, he humbly said, in English, that he is a bishop and has 40 employees in his telecom-related business.”

“We don't claim to make the man successful,” Farnsworth continued. “We simply provide him a hopeful start in life.”

For Lily Estrada and many others, that hopeful start is making all the difference.

“I am so grateful for having this great opportunity,” she said. “Things can happen, our goals can become true and the doors will be opened unto to us.”

To learn about family service vacations, benefit events and simple ways to join OLAAT in breaking the cycle of poverty, visit www.olaat.org.

Cecily Markland is a freelance writer, book editor, publicist and author of "Hope: One Mile Ahead" and the children’s book, "If I Made a Bug." She owns Inglestone Publishing and produces a calendar of LDS events in Arizona (www.cecilymarkland.com).

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