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Jerry and Clara Monks Dedicate More Than 40 Years to the Guatemala Mission

By Donna Connell and Julianne Connell Sachs

Jerry and Clara Monks Dedicate More Than 40 Years to the Guatemala Mission

Photo:  Jerry and Clara Monks with Adela Tambriz, on-site director for Family-to-Family, on a hike to a coffee plantation.

Altruistic. Empathetic. Generous. Visionary. High-achieving. Brilliant. Humble. These are a few of the words used to describe Guatemala Mission volunteers Jerry and Clara Monks.

After more than 40 years of involvement in the mission, Jerry and Clara continue to be active members of the Guatemala Commission and the board of directors of Family-to-Family (FTF). They have lost track of how many trips they’ve made to the mission! Their contributions have had a lasting effect on thousands of residents of the Guatemalan highlands, and they have been recognized with the Bishop’s Medal in 2009 and the Msgr. Van Ommeren Service Award in 2013.

The Monks were introduced to the mission while fostering children in the Heal the Children program. Jerry and Clara were escorting their first foster child home to Guatemala when they met the pastor of Santa Catarina Church in Ixtahuacan and visited the Guatemala Mission with him. Jerry said: “That first trip was definitely an eye opener, especially visiting our foster child’s home in Guatemala City. Her family lived in a crude, single room, dirt-floored, board structure on the outskirts of the city. They had chickens, and a pig—a pig that we thought could wander into and out of the house.”

Jerry continued, “A short time after we returned home, we asked our pastor at St. Thomas More Church how we could get help to families in Guatemala. We followed up on his ideas by contacting Sister Barbara Ford (SCNY), who was working in the Spokane diocese mission area in the Guatemalan highlands.”

“In 1984, the diocese already had programs to help with religious and educational activities, a seminary, and health care,” he said. “However, it offered little support for economic development. Sister Bobbie helped us form Adopt-A-Family (later renamed Family-to-Family), a sponsorship program aimed at developing skills needed for poor families to become self-sufficient by acquiring weaving and other income-producing skills, and raising crops and animals to provide for their own food supply.”

Adopt-A-Family began in 1985 at St. Thomas More parish with an initial goal of sponsoring 50 of the poorest Guatemalan families. Within a few years, the program grew to include more than 100 families.

Thirty-six years later, Family-to-Family continues, having improved the lives of more than 1,200 families. A 2014 survey found that the program improved both income and food supply of participants at statistically significant levels and resulted in considerable improvement in nearly all aspects of family housing. Specifically, average income nearly doubled (due to job training), families now had stoves with chimneys, access to water, outside latrines, and 89% (versus 23% before the program) had adequate food supply. Participants’ homes are now made of cement block or wood instead of adobe.

In addition to establishing FTF, Jerry and Clara have served on the Guatemala Commission since 1985. Jerry chaired the commission and organized its finances beginning in the 1990s and going until 2003. They provided steady leadership for decades.

The Monks said trips to Guatemala were always special, though sometimes risky, like when he took live fish eggs there by plane. Jerry describes one trip: “At about 2 a.m. during an overnight delay, I went into an airport restroom to drain some of the melted ice water off our container holding fish eggs. The end cap slipped off one of the tubes holding about 6,000 eggs and they spilled out onto the sink, counter, and floor of the restroom. I quickly locked the door and began salvage activities. Later came delivery to the fish hatchery in Ixtahuacan — and the joy in seeing live fish that had survived previous trips, and now provided food and employment to the people attending them.”

More information about Jerry’s and Clara’s experiences in Guatemala, such as bringing electricity to a remote village, reforestation, and cataract surgeries, can be found online at the Inland Catholic website in July.

In the words of a participant in the FTF program, “We cannot repay you, but we know God will reward you. And we will pray for you for the rest of our lives.”