It all started for Matthew Gebhart when he was young. A visitor from the non-profit organization Unbound visited his parish, based around St. Mark in Cranston, and his family chose to sponsor a young …
It all started for Matthew Gebhart when he was young. A visitor from the non-profit organization Unbound visited his parish, based around St. Mark in Cranston, and his family chose to sponsor a young boy in a different hemisphere. Who would have known years later Gebhart would be traveling around the world to visit the friends he has made through the organization?
As a family, the Gebharts would sit down together and write letters to their new pen pal as they helped a struggling child by gifting much needed funds to secure a better future.
“There’s open lines of communication, so you write to them and they write to you,” Gebhart explained as he remembered those days while growing up that his family would gather around the table to discuss what to write in their letters to the boy they sponsored. “I don’t remember exactly when we stopped doing it as a family, but when I was about 20, or so, I was in college and was making money at my part-time job and decided that it was something I wanted to do on my own.”
At that time, in 2009, Gebhart went online to sponsor a young boy named Edwin, from Honduras. Beginning his sponsorship when the boy was about seven or eight, Gebhart explained, his donations helped to bring Edwin all the way up through his graduation from university just a few years ago. Since then Gebhart has taken on sponsorship of five others, including a 12-year-old girl and an 86-year-old man living in Honduras.
On August 3 Gebhart boarded a plane to visit Honduras for his fourth visit to someone he’s sponsoring. He has also visited Bolivia in the past for the same reason. The organization began arranging the trips for sponsors in 1998 and, at their peak, exceeded 30 trips per year. When the trips were halted in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it disappointed many, including Gebhart, who had a trip scheduled that year.
While trips are paid for by the sponsor out of pocket, costs are kept low through help from Unbound by arranging lodging, itinerary, meals and in-country transportation. As such, while not free, the cost of the trips is made as affordable as possible so as to make the chance of establishing real connections around the world more accessible.
Gebhart said that one of the things he appreciates about Unbound is that it is a direct sponsorship organization. So, support from sponsors goes directly to the person they have chosen to sponsor. 91.4% of funds go directly to program support and only 8.6% goes towards a combination of administration and advertisement of the program says Unbound’s website.
“We’re committed to keeping our costs low to send the maximum amount of support where it’s needed most. Our sponsored friends, and our sponsors, deserve that. By providing personal attention and direct benefits, we help children, youth, elders and their families in Africa, Asia and Latin America build their unique paths out of poverty. We invite all people of goodwill to join our community and walk in solidarity with the world’s poor through one-to-one sponsorship. The connections we create foster relationships and transform lives across geographic, economic and social divides.”
Unbound believes that, unlike other organizations that have high administrative and case worker costs, the “smartest path out of poverty is a self-directed one.” The idea being, explained Director of International Programs Dan Pearson, that no one understands what a family needs to overcome their challenges better than the family, and child, being sponsored.
Pearson elaborated that, in order to increase the financial aid directly given to sponsored, in many cases of children receiving sponsorship their mother often takes on the role of the case worker and the organization provides funds for them to set personal goals for their child’s education and betterment.
The organization was started in 1981 by four siblings, Bob, Bud and Jim Hentzen with their sister Nadine Pearce and close friend Jerry Tolle. Bob and Jerry had been missionaries, and while working in Latin America were deeply moved by the devastating effects of poverty. Having met hard-working families struggling to create better lives for their children, they hoped to empower those very families and connect them to the world as a way to garner aide.
The organization has sponsored more than 1 million children, though they now sponsor the elderly as well, since its inception. The programs work was first established in Colombia and Honduras before spreading to other countries and increasing its outreach to almost 20 countries.
Sponsors, or those thinking to get involved, will find that the first step in the process is visiting the non-profit’s website, unbound.org. Visitors will first be given the chance to choose a child, youth or elder to sponsor for just $40 a month. After that, Sponsors can set up an account to make their first contribution while Unbound shares the exciting news of your charity to your new sponsored friend and opens up a line of communication allowing sponsors to connect and get to know the person benefiting from their support through the exchange of letters and photos. About 98% of the sponsored participate in Unbound programs that utilize cash transfers as a primary way to deliver benefits directly to the people in need.
Their website says it all. “Responsible, transparent financial management is a hallmark of Unbound. We ensure contributions work hard to meet your sponsored friend's needs, resulting in top ratings from independent charity evaluators.”
Currently the organization sponsors about 280,000 people across the world with the help of generous donors and has almost another 20,000 on their waiting list looking for sponsors, Pearson said.
“I’ve met all of the people I sponsor except for two,” Gebhart said. “I had never really considered traveling before especially to another country. I don’t know Spanish, but it was such an incredible experience that I just kept saying sign me up for next year.”