History of Welcome Hand
by Robert C. Roylance, Chairman of the Board
Speaking at the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference
As the Chairman of Welcome Hand, I appreciate the opportunity to share some of the actions we have taken to be inclusive.
It all started in 1999 in Kenya, when my wife and I found ourselves sitting in front of around 300 young people that were essentially outcasts from their society. These were orphaned children that had been turned out on streets because they lost their parents, mostly to AIDS. Many, if not most, of these kids were from the streets, begging for money to buy glue so they could sniff their hunger pains away. We sat in front of these kids for about four hours, and their desperate faces were etched into our memory so we felt compelled to return and help these kids out. So, I retired early. My retirement party was on one day and we were flying to Africa the next day. We were able to create an environment in the communities where many of these orphans lived, so that they could be taken into the homes by various families. That experience turned on a switch that changed my life. It made me more aware of the plight that many people are facing, and increased my desire to help them out when necessary.
After four years of helping the people in Kenya, we returned home and found out that we had similar problems right here in our community. We became aware of the plight of the refugee youth that had just arrived from the refugee camps in western Thailand. These youth were born in refugee camps in Thailand to parents that were driven out of Burma (now called Myanmar). Our initial interaction with these people was trying to help their families with the basics of life, such as helping them understand their mail, helping them find jobs, assisting them with medical issues, and the list goes on. During this process we developed some very close ties with them and it was a joy to go into their homes and feel of their friendship. While assisting these families we became increasingly aware of the plight of their young people and found ourselves assisting their youth as they were processed at the juvenile courts. The new refugee kids would sit in school all day, without any idea what was going on, and then come home to gang-infested apartment complexes that were surrounded with pavement and concrete. These kids were used to the wide-open spaces of the jungle.
As a charitable organization, Welcome Hand decided to sponsor a boy scout troop in hopes that we could simulate some of the things they were used to – by taking them into the mountains and letting them run free. And, along the way, teach them the principles of scouting. This proved to be a lifesaver for them, because this small beginning turned out to be something extraordinary – to the point of receiving national recognition. The other presenters at this event will tell a compelling story of how these boy's and girl's lives were transformed, and how they have become contributing members of society. As you will learn today, it did not stop with the refugees from Burma. This undertaking has extended to youth from other cultures, from different countries. The initial efforts by Welcome Hand have expanded, and other sponsors are carrying on this important work.