In 2006, Alan Wilser, then a 26-year-old project engineer for a local construction company, quit his job, sold his house and car, and moved everything else he owned into a buddy’s barn.
He spent the next year volunteering in Nicaragua.
His decision was born out of a gnawing to “do something out of the box,” and sealed by an enthralling conversation with friend Josh Pease over pizza and beer about life in the Central American country.
In that year, more than any notable impact, Wilser and Pease learned “all things Nicaragua.”
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Both married in 2008, and the two couples founded SuNica, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people grow spiritually and economically, focusing on clean water, education and discipleship.
In 2013, they launched SuNica full time. Josh and his wife, Betty, a native of Chile, moved from North Carolina to Leon, Nicaragua, as local directors of SuNica’s headquarters. Wilser remained in Raleigh, but sold his landscaping business to work solely as the organization’s executive director, assisted by his wife, Casey.
This month, Raleigh’s Angel Oak Creative announced SuNica was the second highest fundraiser among nine nonprofits it assisted in year-end giving campaigns aligned with #GivingTuesday, the global day of giving fueled by social media and collaboration.
Each nonprofit set its own goal, and although SuNica has one of the smallest budgets of the nonprofits – $244,000 annually – it brought in more than $147,000.
Altogether, the nine nonprofits raised a total of $875,000 in the six-week campaign.
It’s about $21,000 shy of SuNica’s goal, but it’s sure to jumpstart the organization’s dream of building a community center in El Limonal, a trash dump community in the city of Chinandega, Wilser said.
In June, SuNica unveiled its first full-scale clean water project that left the El Porvenir community of 135 homes and 600 people – who once relied on river water and shallow, contaminated wells – with running water flowing from a deep-water well and an 8,000-gallon elevated tank, Wilser said.
As part of SuNica’s mission to coax the community toward self-sufficiency, the clean water project also zeroed in on residents getting bank accounts, hiring and training meter readers and maintenance workers, and the enforcement of paying water bills, which, so far, have been paid 100 percent, Wilser said.
“When we walk away, they own it, it’s totally their system, not ours,” he said.
He pointed out the organization’s name is symbolic. “Su” is a pronoun meaning “your,” “theirs,” “his,” or “her,” and “Nica” is short for Nicaragua.
The planned community center, he said, will “up the ante” on SuNica’s efforts to champion education in a community that “lives off trash” to include after-school and mentorship programs, as well as a place to play futsal – a mini version of soccer – or simply retreat to as a safe haven.
Wilser credits SuNica’s year-end success to The List, the organization’s Christmas wish list shared peer-to-peer-style among 20 “SuNica faithful,” Wilser said. Each adopted a piece of the project, including the boys’ bathroom or girls’ bathroom, the roof or the futsal court slab, the electrical system or the perimeter wall, and so on.
“They went and fundraised amongst their families and friends – and we raised over $145,000 in 40 days,” Wilser said.
Angel Oak Creative president Caitlin Clinard said it’s indicative of the Triangle’s “heartbeat for philanthropy.”
“It’s a great community to raise money in, because the community cares,” she said. “They will respond.”
Dan Sargent has watched the budget of his organization, Rebuilding Together, grow over the years. This year, it’s close to $1 million, he said.
This year, Rebuilding Together raised about $25,000 of its $30,000 year-end goal to continue rehabilitating homes of low-income residents toward improved function and safety.
“For us and a lot of nonprofits in the area, the connection is not one built around policy or government conversations,” Sargent said. “It’s about the connection you get in the community between people who need help and the people in the community who have the ability to help.
“People may want to change laws and regulations, but what really motivates them to give in a philanthropic sense is they get to be part of changing somebody’s life and see that happen right in front of you.”