Helping orphans in El Salvador get an education

Victoria Cavanaugh is just 23, a 2007 graduate of Boston College, and, oh yeah, she founded Nuestro Ahora, a scholarship program for orphans in El Salvador. It’s a fledgling but remarkably ambitious endeavor, especially considering Cavanaugh started it just two years ago with money she had saved up from campus and summer jobs.

Victoria Cavanaugh, far right, with four university students from Nuestro Ahora. (CNS/Nuestro Ahora)

Victoria Cavanaugh, far right, with four university students from Nuestro Ahora. (CNS/Nuestro Ahora)

She recently talked with Catholic News Service about the formation of Nuestro Ahora. Here are some links and information that couldn’t fit in that article:

In picking the destination for her semester abroad, Cavanaugh chose to go to El Salvador with La Casa de Solidaridad (House of Solidarity), a service-learning program through Santa Clara Univeristy in California.

Besides taking university classes at Jesuit-run Universidad Centroamerica in San Salvador, she also volunteered at Comunidad de Oscar Arnulfo Romero (COAR), an orphanage dedicated to the memory of Archbishop Romero. Most of these children are orphans of poverty and violence — meaning they still have living parents, but those parents can no longer provide a safe and nurturing home.

It was the example Cavanaugh saw at COAR that ultimately led to her setting up the university scholarship program that would be the foundation of Nuestro Ahora.

It’s really pretty remarkable that someone who started a program fresh out of college has been this successful in helping the children of El Salvador’s orphanages. Nuestro Ahora (Our Time) provided full university scholarships to four Salvadoran students last year and kept 14 high school students on track for college with regular mentoring and prep classes.

It costs anywhere from $3,000 to $3,500 a year to send the university students to their various colleges in San Salvador as well as provide groceries, clothing, and other supplies for the Nuestro Ahora house.

To facilitate funding and stablity, Cavanaugh completed the arduous task of making Nuestro Ahora a nonprofit organization. First she registered it as a corporation in Massachusetts, got nonprofit designation in that state, then finally received legal recognition as a nonprofit in the United States. Nuestro Ahora is due to receive the same recognition in El Salvador this summer.

“All of the legal recognition simply serves to make Nuestro Ahora Inc. more transparent and stable,” Cavanaugh said in an e-mail to CNS. “The public can find all of our financial and legal records online … past IRS forms, etc.”

The nonprofit status also makes it easier and more attractive for benefactors to donate.

With the 501(c)(3) designation as a nonprofit, “donors who work for certain corporations may be able to ask their company to match their gift, doubling their contribution,” Cavanuagh explained. Donations to a nonprofit are tax-deductible.

If you want to help out Nuestro Ahora, instructions on how to donate are on the Web site .

Cavanaugh said college students often tell her they want to help but can’t afford to donate extra money or go down to El Salvador themselves. So Cavanaugh registered Nuestro Ahora with the sites Goodsearch.com and Goodshop.com. All you have to do is type “Nuestro Ahora (Easthampton, MA)” as your charity of choice, and the sites will donate a few cents each time they are used in the program’s name.

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