MUNSTER | A single moment can change the course of an entire life. This was the case for Highland's Karen Scheeringa-Parra, whose chance encounter has inspired a lifetime of service.
In 1982, Scheeringa-Parra was on her way back from Korea after finalizing the adoption of her daughter. At the airport, she met a woman bringing six children into the U.S. for medical treatment.
“I was so amazed by her and I really thought I could help," Scheeringa-Parra said. "She told me about a girl in Guatemala with severe facial deformities that was born with a bilateral cleft lip and pallet. She asked if I would be able to help and I left for Guatemala and spent a week there.”
That week in Guatemala led to the creation of Hearts in Motion. Scheeringa-Parra described her visit as "overwhelming, with living conditions unlike anything I had ever witnessed."
Scheeringa-Parra brought the young girl back to the U.S., got her the medical attention she needed, and was determined to keep helping.
A year later, she had raised enough funds to help 27 children get medical attention they could not otherwise afford. “I went around to service clubs and asked for money, for plane tickets to help these kids. People wanted to help because they saw it working," she added.
"Everyone that helped me was able to see that first little girl be transformed. We got calls from all over the world, Mexico, Vietnam, India," said Scheeringa-Parra. "That’s when I decided to start the agency. It was turning into something bigger than myself.”
By 1990, Hearts in Motion focused on Guatemala, where the agency has built schools, health and nutrition programs, and a children’s music program.
In 1985, Hearts in Motion had 12 volunteers. The agency now has 1,000 volunteers and makes 30 trips to Guatemala each year.
Headquartered in Munster, where the agency also operates a thrift store at 1834 45th St. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Hearts in Motion continues to grow and plans more partnerships with local universities.
“We want to impress upon young people the value of volunteerism," said Scheeringa-Parra. "If we can get young people to step outside of their everyday lives and see some of what we do, I think it would change them. It’s hard to describe, but this kind of work changes your core and we need more volunteers so we can do greater work."
Reach the 501 (c) 3 organization at (219) 924-3668 or visit heartsinmotion.org.