Carlos Nunez is an employee at Food for the Hungry (FH) who works as a field liaison for the Dominican Republic and Haiti. But before he worked for FH, child sponsorship changed his life. Carlos was about 9 years old when he found out he had a sponsor. He was living in Los Boeados, Dominican Republic with his family and they didn’t have much.
He shortly found out that he didn’t just have one sponsor; he had two: Vicki Hellenbrand and her son who was about the same age as him. Vicki and her family found out about FH through their church. Each of her kids decided they wanted to sponsor a child and let the money come out of their allowance.
Vicki’s son (left) stands with Carlos’ family in the Dominican republic.
The Beginning of a New Friendship
The letters started on both ends. Vicki and her son would write to Carlos, and Carlos would write back. They prayed for one another and grew closer.
“Through the partnership and sponsorship, I had someone to send letters to and that was praying for me,” Carlos said. “It was a good point of motivation for me. It helped get me through school and encouraged me to go to college. And it helped me grow closer to God.”
This wasn’t just beneficial for Carlos, though.
“It opened up a whole other world for my children to see that someone in another country was just like them,” Vicki said. “He didn’t have the bedroom or house they did, but he liked the same things. And he liked them! There was an instant bond. It gave them something to live for, someone that mattered to them. It was someone they could write to and get something from him saying hi. We’d get something at least twice a year where they could hear from him. They were proud of it. They’d say they had a brother in the Dominican Republic.”
Meeting in Real Life
Two years into their sponsorship relationship, Vicki and her children took a trip to the Dominican Republic with their church and were able to meet Carlos for the first time.
Vicki’s son with Carlos and his brother.
“I have pictures of my son and [Carlos] on the back of this open truck with an iPod kind of thing,” Vicki said. “Each of them has one ear bud in their ear, standing next to each other. There were lots of moments like that. We watched him grow up and went back every year.”
When Carlos was around 12 years old, Vicki and her son gave him a Bible.
“I would read it because I knew they’d come back to visit and I wanted to be able to answer them with a yes when they asked if I read it,” Carlos said. “Then I accepted Jesus for myself when I was 15!”
Vicki and her family did keep visiting. They went every year to the Dominican Republic and spent time with Carlos. Unfortunately, they lost contact briefly when Carlos graduated out of the program and went to college in Santo Domingo in 2008, but in 2012 after he graduated, they reconnected.
“Back then, when we reconnected in 2012, there was a good friendship, Carlos said. “She was very proud of who I have become. We kept talking and sharing about life. They kept coming to visit. I visit them. We have dinner together.”
Friends Like Family
In the time since then, they have truly become like family. Vicki traveled to attend Carlos’ wedding in early 2017.
Vicki (right) poses with Carlos at his wedding in the Dominican Republic alongside his bride and other family members.
“It really was one of the most important people to have at my wedding,” Carlos said. “She means a lot to me.”
He even traveled to the U.S. to attend Vicki’s daughter’s wedding!
“When my daughter got married last year, she was very clear that she wanted her brother there, meaning Carlos,” Vicki said. “We very much consider him a family member.”
This experience has transformed both of their lives.
“This has been one of the most important things I have had happen in my life and for my family as well,” Carlos said. “She has cared for all of us. And now my wife and her are really good friends. It’s a friendship that has continued to develop.”
“Do it today! And write letters!” Vicki said. “Let them know you’re thinking about them. They just need to know someone is thinking about them and cares about them from a continent away. My message would be, do it today because it matters. There are few things in life that matter so profoundly that you can touch a person’s life and make a difference in it just by letting them know you care about them.”
Carlos (left) poses with Vicki’s family at her daughter’s wedding.
Now, 20 years after Vicki first sponsored Carlos, she has started her own sponsorship organization in the Dominican Republic as well to help other kids experience what they did. (Click here to read about her organization.)
“In the past two years, I’ve been helping my sponsor mom with her organization in the Dominican,” Carlos said. “I have been able to be an advisor to her and a translator for her. I feel like I’m helping pay back all she did, but it’s just a part of friendship.”