There are so many meaningful reasons for being involved with Esperanza…for me, the most important one has been to help save (or change) a life. Yet there are numerous other reasons as well, and one which quickly comes to mind is the incredible people you meet along the way. Today I am thinking of Mrs. Ina Melen, an airline ambassador with American Airlines who generously volunteers her time transporting children for medical treatment, and over the past few years has become our admired friend.
Recently, I was scheduled to travel to Honduras to bring Noel to Boston for his annual cardiac evaluation. However, life took me on a different journey and I needed to be home with my family for a medical crisis. I quickly thought of Ina and hoped she would have the time to travel to Honduras to accompany Noel to Boston. I contacted Mrs. Margaret Whitehead (director of American Airlines’ Children’s Escort Program), explained our situation and inquired about Ina’s availability. She quickly reassured me that there were many volunteers available, but when she confirmed Ina would be the one to help, I was immediately reassured.
I cannot adequately describe what is involved with Ina’s journey to assist with a child’s trip to the United States. She is up at the crack of dawn to complete a round trip from Boston, MA to Tegucigalpa, Honduras….involving many hours, several connections and trips through Customs. It is never an easy process and there are always complications, yet Ina handles herself with grace and determination. The children in need are her motivation and we are her beneficiaries. We have always appreciated Ina’s service, but now in our time of special need, we realize her gift of “healing hearts.”
Bright and early this morning, little Jose boarded an American Airline flight to return to his home in Honduras. He was accompanied by Airline Ambassador, Ina Melen who volunteers her time escorting children traveling alone.
Jose had been hospitalized at Shriners Hospital in Boston after suffering burns from a container of hot molasses. Once again, Shriners transformed this little boy’s life in a matter of weeks. The first time we visited Jose, he was behind plastic on the acute care unit. Yesterday, we joined his going away celebration and delighted in watching Jose, full of giggles, running around the physical therapy room.
Recently, Jose has been living with the Sierra family in Boston. When children are ready for outpatient visits to the clinic and don’t have a place to stay locally, the Sierra family has offered their home. Second to receiving state-of-the-art medical care, the experience of living with a loving family is invaluable. Children have the opportunity to develop physically when they are not in the confines of a hospital setting. They also benefit emotionally by being embraced by people who care. Host families have the opportunity to share a bit of their cultures, as well as, offering new experiences that Honduran children never would have had. Often times, host families continue to be an integral part of the children’s lives, and keep the relationships strong by phone calls and visits. Certainly, the patient isn’t the only one who benefits, host families often comment that it is one of the most meaningful experiences in their lives.
Not everyone has the availability to be a host family but you can still be actively involved by visiting children who are hospitalized locally. Esperanza has an ongoing need of large size suitcases, duffle bags and small carry-on suitcases for the children traveling home. Other appreciated items include: new underwear, gently worn clothing, small toys, Spanish books and MP3 players.
Everyone has the chance to bring a smile to a child…and I guarantee it will do the same for you!
Many people work behind the scenes offering their assistance to Esperanza and many other organizations. Meet Margaret Whitehead (above), director of the Airline Ambassadors program which provides escorts for children coming to the United States for medical treatment. Margaret works enthusiastically and timely as she coordinates her ambassadors to accommodate the needs of the child.
American Airline employees volunteer their time by providing these needy children comfort and compassion, as they leave their families behind because their native countries cannot provide the medical care needed. One Ambassador who is especially adored by Esperanza is Ina Melen. Ina is home-based in the Boston area and has transported children from there, back home to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Ina’s love and commitment to helping children in need is evident as she devotes her day (and sometimes over night) to reuniting children with their families. Ina is pictured below with 9 year old, Noel who is a cardiac patient at Tufts Medical Center.