When you meet someone who truly inspires you, do you wonder about their life journey and how they became the person you just met? Their energy and passion are palpable. You sense they might be living out their destiny and loving every moment of it. If so, more than likely, you have met Alice Skaff, founder of Haven of Hope International (HOHI), a global orphan care non-profit.
The organization’s mission is to strengthen and empower orphanages around the world to rescue, love, restore, and equip the abused and abandoned children they serve. Alice, along with her small staff and an active board and advisory board, has helped to change the lives of hundreds of orphan children across the world, setting them on their journey to reach their destiny.
Prior to founding HOHI, Skaff served as an advocate for the elderly in Lee, Charlotte, and Collier counties, a position she held for 23 years. She served as a Professional Guardian, Guardianship Paralegal, Professional Fiduciary and Life Care Coordinator working for local law firms and through her business, Guardian Angel Services.
“I got involved locally through the courts, local attorneys, financial planners and senior living homes. When vulnerable adult populations were unable to make sound decisions regarding their health and finances, I would get a call. By working with the family or professionals that witnessed the problem, we would get the person in a safe living environment, secure and protect their assets with the local judicial system, if needed.” explained Skaff. Coordinating care to improve quality of life while budgeting finances and utilizing public benefit has equipped her to do the same for orphans.
In 2004, she joined her church on a mission trip to Santa Cruz, Bolivia to build an orphanage. A native of Guayaquil, Ecuador, though raised in the United States, the mission trip was her first return to South America. It would not be her last.
Following that mission trip her journey expanded to help vulnerable children. Skaff explains, “My work coordinating care for seniors was challenging, demanding yet very rewarding. This new opportunity of investing time into our future through children in the same way was exciting and an answer to prayer.”
“When I was on that transformative mission trip, I’d see the kids on the street, and I was profoundly impacted. I prayed to God. I said, ‘If I can do anything to help these kids...”
Ms. Skaff vowed to advocate for the vulnerable population of orphans and their care. She immediately advocated for her church to “adopt” the Santa Cruz, Bolivia orphanage. The first Advisory Board was formed, and she hasn’t stopped since. The board not only provided funding but provided opportunities for others to share their expertise to help the children. The result has been a transformational and sustainable model of orphan care. Skaff explains, “When we realized the majority of children would never be adopted, we knew we couldn’t simply rescue the kids. We incorporated programming that would facilitate restoration and equipping them to pursue their dreams gives the children every opportunity to succeed as adults and fulfill the plan originally intended for their lives.”
In 2013, she founded the HOHI nonprofit organization, headquartered in Fort Myer’s, Florida, to bring the Santa Cruz model of orphan care to other orphanages around the world. “We realized there was a need for this model of care in orphanages and in 2016, she transitioned from working as a part-time HOHI volunteer to its full-time Executive Director. Today, HOHI’s staff, board and advisory council members, family, friends, and colleagues make up her team of supporters and donors, helping these children.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Skaff’s personal mission is to encourage people to experience a deeper relationship with God and help them discover, recover and engage in His purpose for their lives.”
She is a certified GPS Life Coach and God’s Plan for Success Facilitator and served on the initial GPS Steering Committee. She believes there is a distinct difference between compassion and empathy. Skaff explains, “In compassion, you feel their hurt. In empathy, you feel their hurt and you say, ‘what can I do to help you get beyond the pain.’.”
Skaff continues, “Going through GPS Life Journey and coaching from Nolen Rollin helped me prioritize my time and focus on next steps. It confirmed where I should focus my time – on my strengths and gifts and where I needed additional support from others – my weaknesses. The process confirmed what I thought were my natural gifts and strengths. My GPS strength finder is empathy, communicator, includer, connector and developer. That’s who I’ve always been.”
What began as a mission trip has become a life-long commitment for Ms. Skaff with 18 years of dedicated service to helping abused, abandoned, and orphaned children fulfill their destiny. “Did you know there are 153 million orphans?” Skaff asks. “By population, they are the ninth-largest nation in the world. As less than 1% of children living in orphanages will never be adopted, we need to make certain they learn skills while they’re with us. If the children age out without employable skills, 60% of the boys will turn to a life of crime; 70% of the girls will turn to prostitution and 10-15% of all children will attempt suicide.”
“I’m a vision caster, campaigner, advocate. God has brought an incredible team around His calling to become their “family”. We occasionally must adjust and expand and recently our team went through the GPS Team Workshop to ensure we are growing with a balanced team and the team value each other’s strengths to work well together. A few of our organization’s values are Family, Teamwork, Development, Empowerment. We want for our team here to fulfill the plan God intended for their lives as well.”
Jeff and Brian Basik have been members of Skaff’s team for years, serving on the HOHI board. Brian says, “You couldn’t have a better executive director for a children’s ministries. She has a heart for these kids. When it comes to doing something, her passion takes over and it is wonderful to see. HOHI’s work is more than saving and feeding these orphan children. It’s about working through their trauma, giving them an education, and helping them reach their potential.”
One of Skaff’s greatest strengths is her energy. Brian Basik confirms, “She is the energizer bunny, able to go 60 mph for a long period of time.” Which is a good thing for the organization.” In 2018, Skaff agreed to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise funds for HOHI. The fundraising campaign theme—'Think Big Dream Bigger ‘should be of no surprise. Five days up and 2 days down, Skaff climbed Mt. Kili, the highest mountain in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world.
“Those kids got me up that mountain to plant a flag on their behalf,” Skaff said. “I never hiked, and I don’t like to camp but God said, ‘You need to do this.’ So, I did.”
Skaff wanted to send a message to the children living in HOHI partner homes that they are not forgotten and the HOHI “Family of Hope” has their backs and will help them achieve their dreams. “When we work with these children and help them recover from the trauma they experienced, we ask them, “What do you want to be when you grow up? They say, ‘Engineer, doctor, nurse, chef, teacher, pastor…the list goes on. They too have big dreams.”
She continues, “Good leaders tell you that you can do anything, but it’s going to be challenging. Their climb is going to be harder than what I did. They have no voice of their own. Their parents are gone. So, we will be their voice.”
Since 2013, the organization has given a voice to more than 6,000 children in 54 orphanages in 27 countries providing a “haven of hope”, helping them to think big and dream bigger. Today, in addition to HOH Bolivia, HOHI is focusing on improving 5 additional orphan care homes in Peru, Kenya, Tanzania, and Trinidad. Those connected to HOHI firmly believe that teachers, and doctors, and community leaders on a mission to give back, will come from these homes.
Brian Basik explained, “We’re not taking the children out of the country. They’ll change the world from where they’re at. We also want them to break the chain of poverty and abuse. We tell them, ‘Your past doesn’t dictate your future’.”
Skaff finds herself challenged in being patient. She explains, “Expanding our orphan care model is a process, it takes time and resources. Global organizations that have seen the model of care are requesting we help homes they are connected with. When I think about the fact that every 3 seconds an orphan ages out, it keeps me on my knees. The need is great, but our God is greater and until we can get to these homes waiting, we trust God to care for His children.”
To donate to Haven of Hope International click here.
Nolen Rollins, Founder & President of GPS Life Journey