Hanley Denning is an example of the Woman I want to be. Hanley Denning did so many powerful things and changed so many children and family’s lives in the short time that she lived. I volunteered at Camino Seguro in Guatemala, her non-profit organization, helping homeless/low income children and families that live in or around the Guatemala City Dumpyard. She was my mentor, my friend, and my Idol.
Hanley was a graduate of Wheelock College (Class of 96’). Wheelock’s mission is “to improve the lives of children and their families.” Hanley had no boundaries in fulfilling this mission. Hanley went to Guatemala originally to learn Spanish in Antigua (known to be the best place to learn Spanish). When she went there, she saw the tremendous need there. She came back to the U.S. and sold her car, her laptop and everything she owned.
Hanley had nothing but a few clothes that she packed and whatever change was left over from what she sold. She went to the Guatemala City Dump yard and set up a table with some little games on them and some Dulce (candy). Children, as curious as they are, thought what is this gringa doing in our “home” with a table and sweets. They became curious and went over to talk to her. Word spread and more and more children began to come to her table each day and play games with her and eat her candy. Once she got to know the children a little better, she saw that all these children want to do is go to school. However, they cant because in order to go to public school in guatemala, you need to buy a uniform, and a selected list of books and supplies. Well these children are all homeless and cant afford to feed themselves each day, nevermind pay for a uniform and books. So Hanley had a mission. She wanted to find a way to educate these children…
Her mission was to educate these children so that they can get a skilled job so they can experience a life outside of the dump! And she did just that. She went around to the more wealthier people of Guatemala stating her mission and people just fell in love with her. The municipal (like the head of the dump) donated a small building for Hanley to start her school. To make a long story short, word got around and people heard of all the wonderful things she was doing. More donations were made and more volunteers came to help out (It’s a non-profit organization made up of mostly volunteers- which is where I volunteered.) Camino Seguro, which started out as a table and a chair, some games and candy in the dumpyard has now grown to be made of: Vocational Training, a music program, a nutrition program, a medical clinic, weekend clubs, a sports program, a community garden, a residential center, an early childhood program, and adult literacy program, Social services, and a teen mother program. See more at www.Safepassage.org
When Children and families walked into Camino Seguro, it was the light at the end of a dark tunnel. Hanley and Camino Seguro have been their safe haven since 1999. Her loss affects people world-wide. She was a mentor to all the volunteers that came from all over the world to help her in her mission. The children and families of Guatemala will never forget her and will miss her more than can be possibly imagined. Hanley gave Guatemala her heart. Guatemala is where her heart is and will always be.