Have you ever seen something that was wrong or unjust and wanted to do something about it? How many times have we all seen homeless people, or people without enough to eat or without work? How many of us have visited a foreign country and enjoyed the resort where we stayed, but also saw the poverty of the local people? The VAMOS! story begins in that place, the space between the need of some and the resources of others. It is in this space of great opportunity that VAMOS! was born.
In 1986 retired diplomat Ike Patch visited Mexico to see the monarch butterflies. About the same time, Bill and Patty Coleman, authors and publishers, went to Cuernavaca in central Mexico to make a retreat with the Benedictine Sisters. Since all three lived in the little town of Weston, Vermont (Population 500) it was inevitable that they would compare notes on their trips. Over coffee, they all lamented the poverty they had seen – the hungry little children, the twisted limbs, the depressed and hopeless women. All wished they could do something about it.
And so they did! Patty suggested that they form a non-profit corporation to help the Mexican poor. She said, “Let’s do something even if it is something small. Better to help a few children than to simply complain about the poverty.” Bill and Ike agreed and VAMOS! was born. Friends, family and neighbors joined in the effort and donated money and gave it to programs that were operating in Cuernavaca at the time. However the group became frustrated with the way some of these organizations were working with the poor and after much prayer and discernment Bill and Patty sold their house and business and went to live in Cuernavaca, Mexico to supervise the VAMOS! projects that VAMOS! would begin.
The first thing that Patty and Bill learned was how to listen to the poor. They spent time sharing with the local streetsellers in downtown Cuernavaca and got to know them and some of their struggles. Only then did they ask, “How can we help?” The group of mostly women said that they could use a bathroom because at the time there was no place to go and shop owners did not allow them inside their stores. And so VAMOS! was able to do that. The mothers also wanted food and classes for their children. “If we don’t sell enough then we don’t eat. And our children are with us all day and so cannot attend school” And so VAMOS! was able to rent a small space and work with some of the mothers to cook a simple meal every day and Patty and Bill began to teach some children. Quickly the space was too small as more and more families learned of the opportunities that were available with this small group who called themselves VAMOS! – “Let’s Go!”
Back home in Weston, friends were working on the fundraising and support activities for this growing non profit. The banking, accounting, and administration was handled primarily by Richard and Agnes Dougherty. Friends formed a board and together a set of values was agreed upon. VAMOS! board members would pay for all administration costs here in the U.S. so that all donations would be used for direct services to the poor. VAMOS! would work with a group of people in need, only after listening to them and partnering with them for six to nine months, making sure that the community was united, organized and able to articulate their own needs before entering into a new VAMOS! program. VAMOS! also made a commitment to train and hire local people to work in the programs, growing community leaders in the process.
From this humble start VAMOS! grew to the organization it is today. Sadly Bill Coleman and Dick Dougherty have passed away and Patty has moved backed to the U.S. However the work that VAMOS! has started has never slowed down. In 2003 VAMOS! hired Alejandro Lopez as our Director of Operations in Mexico and he has helped to expand and develop VAMOS! into a leader in the non profit community in Cuernavaca. We now have 10 different community centers in some of the poorest neighborhoods in and around the city. VAMOS! programs serve the poorest of the poor – children, women and mothers who struggle for survival in an extremely tough economic climate. Our programs provide meals, classes, medical, dental and psychological services to any and all who show up at our doors – all free of charge. We also have music lessons and computer classes. Since our beginning VAMOS! has trained and hired over 150 people, the vast majority of them women, to work in, supervise and manage the VAMOS! projects.
All of the work that VAMOS! has been able to do is due to the people, churches and foundations who support us. We are so thankful for their trust and support over the years. Our donors are the people who have filled in that space between the overwhelming need that is here, and the opportunity to help, that our founders saw in 1986. Patty and Bill, Ike, Dick and Agnes, the Dwyers, Bells and other long time supporters and board members have worked hard to live up to the belief that we are all brothers and sisters in this world, and sharing what we have with others is what we are called to do.
In October 2013 VAMOS! made the decision to hire our first employee here in the U.S. The work of managing VAMOS! has become more than a volunteer board could effectively manage. In order for our organization to continue to grow, to fundraise, to expand and implement our educational, medical and life skills programs, the board moved to create the position of Executive Director and hired Sean Dougherty. Sean served for 8 years as Director of Operations for Hopeworks, a non-profit located in Camden, NJ and has served on the VAMOS! board since 1999. As a board vice- president he has been a part of the growth of VAMOS! and knows the values and philosophy that serve as it’s foundation. VAMOS! remains incorporated in Weston, VT. Sean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.