From Our Executive Director
Update for January 2024
Celebrating 20 years ... 2004-2024
This new year represents a significant milestone for us. The year was 2004 when Ron Hicks was making his motorcycle trip through Central America and encountered a young girl begging for coins at the border crossing between Honduras and El Salvador. That encounter became Ron's motivation to create what would later become the Lunches for Learning program.
After that encounter early in 2004, Ron began to learn more about the poverty in Honduras, its impact on the children of the region, and what might be done to address the problem. Ron's initial efforts were to find a way to help this young girl whom he had just happened to meet in a random encounter. His initial goal was to find a way to get this one girl back in school so that she would not need to leave school just to find food to survive each day. As he worked to find a solution for her ... just this one little girl whose story had impacted him so strongly ... Ron began to realize that there were many more children in her community, and in her school, who needed help. After a great deal of research on his own, in addition to consultations with his pastor and his fellow church members and Rotary friends, an idea began to take hold. If we could find a way to provide school lunches to all of the children in that school, then all of the children would have hope for a better future.
The first full school year in which L4L provided daily school lunches was 2005. Once the program was established at that one school of 84 children in early 2005, Ron then began to dream big - a dream of helping more and more children in this rural region of southern Honduras, and he set out to turn this dream into a reality.
Fast forward to today, and the beginning of a new school year is only a few weeks away in early February. Once the 2024 school year begins, we will be in our 20th year of providing daily school lunches in the region. There is one primary reason why this program has succeeded for two decades now ... the financial support we have received from our sponsors and donors for the past two decades. We have an amazing staff, a dedicated Board of Directors, and more than 2,000 grateful children in Honduras, all of whom owe their thanks to the sponsors and donors who continue to make this program possible.
Phil Dodson, Executive Director
Update from December 2023
In mid-November, several L4L school sponsors traveled with us to celebrate graduations at their sponsored schools. We encourage all of our supporters to consider traveling with us to Honduras, but we understand that not everyone is able to make a trip with us. Each trip is only four days long, but it requires time away from family, school, and jobs. Some folks have health concerns, others are caring for aging or very young family members, so there are many reasons why a trip to Honduras might be difficult for some.
However, what makes the L4L program so special is that you can have a transformational impact on the lives of some desperately poor children ... and your presence is not required.
Please don't get me wrong. We want everyone to travel to Honduras and see the impact of the L4L program first-hand. But our sponsors and donors are making a positive impact on the children in Honduras every single day - regardless of whether they've ever made a trip with us.
If you have ever participated in a traditional Short-term Mission Trip to another country, then you recall all the steps you took to prepare for your trip. You applied for a passport, and you may have visited your doctor for some vaccinations. You may have worked to raise funds to cover your costs, and you may have even acquired materials for your trip. While you were in-country, you completed some hands-on work and that work may have been exceptional. However, as you were preparing for your trip in the months leading up to it, and after you trip ended and you had returned home, none of the work you prepared for was taking place at all. The work took place while you were there, but not before and probably not after.
The difference with L4L is that our supporters are making this transformational impact every school day from February to November each year. You are empowering a generation of children to learn their way to a better future ... and your presence is not required in order to continue having this impact year-round.
I would love for you to accompany me to Honduras, and I will continue to encourage our supporters to do just that. But we also want our supporters to know that the impact they are having on the kids in Honduras is real, it's continual, and it's powerful. We cannot thank you enough, but we plan to keep on trying!
Have you ever considered what it would be like if you had to walk for an hour each morning across a rugged mountain road just to attend school for the day, only to be faced with having to walk another hour at the end of the school day to get home? Or what if you had to send your kids to school on an empty stomach each morning because you had no food? For the kids of rural Honduras, this is their reality every day. Honduras is among the poorest nations in the world with much of the population living below the poverty level, earning less than $2 per day. However, statistics show that a child who earns at least a sixth grade education has hope for breaking the cycle of poverty because he or she will learn basic reading, writing and math skills that open future doors. This is the foundation of the Lunches for Learning mission.
Lunches for Learning exists to break the cycle of poverty in rural Honduras by providing a healthy lunch to school children every school day at their school; thereby allowing these children to stay in school so they can complete their education and enter the workforce as literate individuals.
If you would like to make a difference in the lives of these kids in Honduras, we invite you to consider becoming a school sponsor. Our School Sponsorship page will explain more, or you can contact us to discuss what a school sponsorship involves - including opportunities to support a specific group of kids and develop long-term, on-going partnerships with the community you - or your organization - support as a sponsor.
Lunches for Learning History
Sometimes, significant decisions are made when they are least expected. In 2004, Ron Hicks was presented with an extraordinary choice while on a trip through central America. Waiting for a border crossing between El Salvador and Honduras, Ron experienced first-hand a multitude of poverty stricken children. One little nine-year-old girl happened to make eye contact while begging for money and she became the catalyst of a series of choices made by Ron. It was a moment that created a movement.
Times were hard for this child, just as they continue to be for many children in this poor, rural region in Southern Honduras. When you come from a household of hungry people, you have to beg, and this little girl was begging at the border crossing into El Salvador for her and her family. There is not a lot of hope in this environment. Most people who travel this road are in a hurry to get somewhere else. Many become hardened by the poverty and suffering. Ron Hicks passed through, gave her a couple of coins, and moved on. But Ron was haunted by her memory.
Ron returned home to the United States, still struggling with his choice to turn this little girl away. He began to think about what to do and concluded that his only choice was to return to Honduras, cross the border in the same location and try to find this little girl. He didn't know yet how he could help her, but he was determined to find a way.
After a great deal of effort, he returned to Honduras and located this child and her family living in a small shack in El Amatillo, Honduras. This little girl's name is Anabel (pronounced "Annabelle"). He spoke with the family and Anabel herself through an interpreter and soon learned the families in this rural town were also faced with a choice – the choice to either send their children to the streets, begging for money so they could buy food, or to send them to school for an education and hope for the future, but with an empty stomach because there was no money to feed them.
With a sense of optimism and the help of Messiah Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama, Lunches for Learning began its mission to break the cycle of poverty in this forgotten part of Central America. Lunches for Learning helped Anabel find a way back to elementary school by providing her and her classmates a nourishing lunch at school. From this small act of encouragement, hope has grown.
Anabel's school was the first school to receive lunches through the Lunches for Learning program. Anabel, like hundreds of students since, completed her education - with the help of Lunches for Learning - and graduated. She is now an independent young woman, living and working in her home town of El Amatillo with a bright future ahead of her.
The Lunches for Learning program was created in 2004 and incorporated in 2005 as a 501(c)(3) and with it, a tradition of hope, empowerment and dignity arose. Today more than 2,000 children are fed a nutritious lunch at 46 rural kindergarten, elementary and middle schools in the Valle District of Honduras. With the strength of God and the support of strategic partners, Lunches for Learning hopes to continue breaking the cycle of poverty in rural Honduras.
Remembering Our Founder
It is with a profound sense of fondness and gratitude with which we remember our Founder, Ron Hicks. He died peacefully in his home in Montgomery, Alabama on February 8, 2019.
Board of Directors
Ron was a true visionary ... a man who saw suffering in the eyes of a young Honduran girl in 2004 and was driven by his generous heart and unwavering determination to create a ministry that continues to pursue his vision of breaking the cycle of poverty in that region of the world. He cared deeply for the people of Honduras. The entire Lunches for Learning family will miss Ron terribly.
Our prayers are with his wife Elise, daughters Krista and Sondra, and the entire Hicks family as we celebrate the life of a great man who impacted so many others' lives with his kind heart, determined nature, and generous spirit.
Read about Ron's Journey
"A life lived for others is a life worthwhile."
Kristi M. Holzimmer, Montgomery, Alabama (Chair)
Agency Manager, Fidelity National Title Insurance Company
Jeff Bohman, Montgomery, Alabama (Vice-Chair)
Retired, Former Vice President of Warren Averett Technology Group, LLC
Michael Picchi, Roswell, Georgia (Treasurer)
Chief Financial Officer of East West Manufacturing
Kay Love, Roswell, Georgia (Secretary)
Municipal Operations Consultant, Georgia Municipal Association (GMA)
Jim Coyle, Roswell, Georgia (Chair Emeritus)
Founder and CEO of MediStreams, Inc.
Jack Graham, Montgomery, Alabama
Retired Senior Director, GlaxoSmithKline
Steve Gulledge, Montgomery, Alabama
Founder, Continental Brokerage Corporation
Theo Keyserling, Roswell, Georgia
Founder and Managing Director, Meridian Group Partners
Joe Murphey, Marietta, Georgia
Attorney and Founder, Murphey's Law Firm, LLC
Ace Necaise, Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Retired Engineer, Singing River Electric Cooperative
Bill Rivers, Canton, Georgia
Craig Simons, Roswell, Georgia
Retired Electrical Engineer and Entrepreneur
Lunches for Learning Staff
Phil Dodson, Executive Director
Phil Dodson joined the Lunches for Learning team as Executive Director in 2016. His previous experience included serving as Development Director for North Georgia United Methodist Camp & Retreat Ministries in Atlanta from 2006 to 2016. As a 1986 graduate of LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia, Phil began his career in higher education, serving three different colleges in the Admission and Financial Aid arena. In 1997, he transitioned to the credit and financial services industry where he served in Client Relations roles with Total System Services in Columbus, Georgia, and Transunion in Atlanta before returning to the nonprofit sector in 2006 with North Georgia Camp & Retreat Ministries. Phil and his wife Tracy live in Cleveland, Georgia. They have three adult children: Megan, age 26; Mia, age 24; and Jimmy, age 21.
Mary Lou Monaghan, Operations Administrator
Mary Lou (ML) joined the Lunches for Learning team as Operations Administrator in 2015 after serving as a Senior Manager, Government Affairs, and Association Manager at National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) for 16 years. ML earned her Business Management degree from the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and the University of West Florida in Pensacola. She is originally from Buffalo, NY, and now resides in Alpharetta, GA. She can be contacted directly at 678.232.7941 or click on her photo to send her an email. ML is pictured with her family; son DJ, daughter-in-law Megan (center), grandson Logan, daughter Amanda (left), and daughter Kaitlin (right). ML also has a new granddaughter Elizabeth Rose (not pictured yet).
Ramón Romero, Manager of Honduran Operations
Ramón currently serves as general manager of the Honduras operations. He is a teacher by profession and even spent 15 years as a teacher at a Lunches for Learning school, Romulo Alvarado in the El Caragual community. He also serves as an English professor at the National Pedagogical University in Nacaome during the evenings each week. Ramón holds a Master's degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua. After serving as a teacher in an L4L-sponsored school, Ramón has seen the impact of the L4L program first-hand. He was already teaching at Romulo Alvarado when the L4L program came to the school in 2013, so he witnessed the increased enrollment, improved health, and enhanced learning ability of the students there as they began receiving daily nutritious lunches. The increased enrollment allowed the school to eventually add 7th, 8th and 9th grades, which dramatically expanded the students' educational opportunities.
Ramón and his wife Angie are pictured here with their three children Stefania (15), Heysel (6), and Ian (20 months).
Jessica Gonzalez, Manager of External Relations, Honduras
Jessica studied at Jose Cecilio del Valle University in Tegucigalpa. Jessica attended elementary school at the Andrea Gonzalez Elementary School in El Amatillo, which is the very first school in the Lunches for Learning school lunch program. Jessica has worked with Lunches for Learning over the years in a variety of capacities, which include translating during business appointments and administrative assistant duties. Jessica understands first-hand how important Lunches for Learning is for the children in Honduras and is so proud to be part of this amazing program that is helping the children of Honduras to have a better future.
This photo shows Jessica with her husband Cesar and their three children Cesar Issac (18), Daniela Ivonne (15), and Angely Gabriela (11).
Juniors Ortiz, Honduran Operations Supervisor
Juniors (pronounced "Junior") was born in Tegucigalpa and moved with his parents to Nacaome, in the Valle Department, at the age of two. He continues to live in Nacaome as do his mother and younger siblings. He received his primary education in a bilingual school, Jose Trinidad Cabañas. He studied through ninth grade in the Technical department of the Terencio Sierra school in Nacaome, then obtained his Technical Bachelor's degree in Computing in Choluteca. Juniors is proud to be a part of this incredible program that is providing a better future for his fellow citizens in the Valle region of Honduras.
Juniors is pictured here with his fiancée Isis and their 1-year-old son Lucas.
The Lunches for Learning Team
June of 2019 was the first time our entire team had been together in Honduras in quite a while.
It seemed an appropriate time for a team photo.
Front row, left to right, are Juniors Ortiz, Mary Lou Monaghan, and Phil Dodson.
Back row, left to right, are Jessica Gonzalez and Ramón Romero.