Robert Froom holds a cardboard sign with “Cary Rotary,” scrawled on it in La Garcia village in Belize. Children around him old up new books and supplies for a picture, thanking people they don’t know 1,400 miles away.
The Rotary club’s $3,000 donation will stock the school in La Garcia and another village for two years, said Froom, a Garner resident and founder of 4 the World.
Froom’s charity has gained significant ground in fundraising in the past year, but now it looks to do more than build and stock elementary schools; it has announced a new scholarship program to get more students in Belize into high school.
High school costs money in Belize, a prohibitive cost for most poor rural villagers. Froom’s organization has built at least a dozen schools in Belize and another half-dozen in neighboring Guatemala, stocking them with books and computers. Now donors get the chance to help students take the next step.
“Since we’re improving schools and helping kids get a better education, it would fit in with our mission,” Froom said.
Froom is working through paperwork with the IRS. Once the agency is approved, $40 pays for a textbook and a $411 donation pays tuition for a year. A $1,944 gift gives a full scholarship to a student, which Froom says often proves a life-changing gift. The scholarship will be awarded to applicants by a part of his charity in the U.S. to avoid the emotional connections of himself and others that travel and meet the students in the villages.
He said his charity has helped students that never thought they could get to high school land good careers after getting a diploma, and some have even come back to home villages to teach and help 4 the World with its mission.
Starting in relief
He started the charity because during his visit to help in the country after Hurricane Keith in 2000, he fell in love with the people and actively asked villagers what they needed most. Education was the answer.
The former professional motorcycle racer, he sold several possessions for seed money to start his charity. He would later relocate to Garner from Southern California, and has developed a presence at North Carolina State University.
Earlier this year, the North Carolina Peace Corps awarded 4 the World a peace prize. Froom had hoped the award would raise his organization’s profile and cash, and it has.
“We’re definitely getting a lot more people interested and more donations. Everything has been picking back up,” Froom said.
Froom said in his good years he raised $40,000 a year in California, but that slipped below $10,000 initially when he moved farther from his closest funding contacts. But a new pipeline of companies and individuals has grown and he said he’s getting back close to the pace from those peak years.
One donor paid for flights, housing and meals for everyone on a group’s trip to Belize this year, a contribution worth roughly $10,000, according to Froom. Another donor joined on a trip himself. After the experience, the donor said he plans to get more involved and increase contributions.
“The donor said it really felt good to help with the project and not just sign a check,” Froom said.
Froom takes pains to make every donated dollar count. The organization pays no salaries, and volunteers typically either raise money or fund their own trips. A full time worker’s salary would build a school, reasons Froom, who works as a handyman to raise money.
Recruiting workers, too
N.C. State’s chapter started early this year. He’s attracted about 100 students, and while some graduated, many plan to stay involved. New crops of recruits, of course, arrive in the fall. He targets teachers in global literacy programs, in particular.
Froom finds help beyond the state’s borders as well. A group of doctors and nurses from Oklahoma found out about his work, and plans to go twice a year to set up clinics that support the villages served starting in September. A group of Canadians, one of which had traveled with him as a photographer, also has a trip planned in July.
And local groups will return to Belize and Guatemala as well. Froom, in fact, left for Guatemala and Belize on May 23. They will help with whatever they can; this year at Calla Creek, they even installed a basketball court, a treat for kids used to playing only soccer.
“The kids were thrilled about having a chance to play basketball,” Froom said. “It was a whole new world of sports to them.”