- Jacob Cross Times correspondent
When the holidays arrive, one might wonder how they can bring positive change to their community, let alone the world.
The story of one empowered organization headquartered in Schererville proves a major contribution can start by helping one person.
“It was nothing incredible. It was totally by accident. … We’ve been blessed like crazy,” said Karen Scheeringa-Parra, executive director and founder of Hearts in Motion, a humanitarian aid organization serving the Region and beyond.
When Scheeringa-Parra adopted a young girl from Korea in 1982, she met a woman who helped sick children from around the world receive needed medical care.
“She really inspired me. I thought, ‘That was awesome. ... I can do that,’ Scheeringa-Parra said.
She began her own efforts to help children with a girl in Guatemala whom she brought to the U.S. for surgery to repair a bilateral cleft lip and palate.
“I was just doing this as a volunteer, and the Rotary (Club) here in the area helped me pay for the tickets for myself and the little girl,” she said.
Later, she found herself taking medical teams to countries in need. By 1990, she founded Hearts in Motion, later achieving nonprofit status.
“Now I’m doing 33 trips a year to different countries, primarily Central and South America,” she said.
In the same way that the Rotary Club helped her reach the Guatemalan girl, Scheeringa-Parra works with other local agencies and nonprofits to carry out the Hearts in Motion mission.
“My biggest satisfaction I think is the relationships that I have in the community and people that are doing good things for other people,” she said. “I know a ton of people that want to help, and they all have a specialty.”
Hearts in Motion is helping families in Lebanon after a bombing devastated the capital of Beirut in August. Hearts in Motion sent a container of furniture, food and clothes in cooperation with local thrift stores.
Indianapolis-based Pack Away Hunger, donated 20,000 meals to the Lebanon relief efforts.
Hearts in Motion touches lives around the world, but also in its own backyard.
Bill Timmer, chief of the Highland Fire Department, contacted Scheeringa-Parra after a family from New Chicago lost everything in a trailer fire.
As part of its New Directions program, Hearts in Motion furnished the home the family moved to, even finding volunteers to install furniture and other items.
New Directions links Hearts in Motion to 25 other agencies across Northwest Indiana, including shelters for women and the homeless and fire departments.
Agency representatives bring clients to the Hearts in Motion thrift store at 2210 U.S. Hwy. 41 in Schereville to pick out what they need at no cost.
Senior centers will also be receiving gifts this holiday season. Men’s and women’s socks, reading glasses, tea cups, small throw blankets and anything useful in a nursing home would be welcomed, Scheeringa-Parra said.
Donors are invited to bring these items, as well as toys for kids from birth to 17, to the Hearts in Motion thrift store.
“It’s great. A lot of donations are coming in. We just have to keep the word going that we are still here, that we’re alive, and we still need your help,” said Deputy Director Julie Stevens.
Stevens has a unique place at Hearts in Motion. She is the girl Scheeringa-Parra adopted from Korea from 1982. Now deputy director, Scheeringa-Parra said Stevens is in position to run the organization.
“(Julie) was my inspiration,” Scheeringa-Parra said, adding that her 11 other children also have a part to play with Hearts in Motion.
“It’s going to be some big footsteps to follow in. She is a visionary, and she has made this organization just grow so tremendously,” Stevens said of her mother.
Stevens said for her, her sisters and brothers, growing up with Hearts in Motion was the norm, making it hard to imagine doing anything else.
“It was a big adventure and a lot of fun,” Stevens said.
Stevens oversees many humanitarian programs, particularly international programs in Guatemala, where Hearts in Motion operates five schools as well as a 17-acre campus with an orphanage and nutrition center.
Stevens said weekly feeding initiatives are planned this holiday season at the nutrition center, where families can receive food baskets. This is part of Hearts in Motion 's effort to ensure sponsored children get food on the table this holiday season.
Children also will receive Christmas gifts from U.S. donors and sponsors as usual, Stevens said.
Sponsorships, available online at www.heartsinmotion.org/him-Sponsorship Programs-220.htm — provide a sponsored child an education, meals and/or health care.
Stevens said purchasing a sponsorship makes a great gift for the holidays for that someone who has everything.
“I’m excited for where it’s going and what I can do to help make it grow and just continue for many years,” Stevens said.
To help or for more information, visit www.heartsinmotion.org.