In Our Own Words

Mary Abalos – Nurse

Post 2020 Mission – I really had a meaningful experience. Cried the entire plane ride home, I guess because the whole situation down there just breaks my heart. Will be sharing my story with many family and friends. Also plan to recruit a few medical providers.

December 2019 – Chris Handrick introduced me to GMRP, accidentally actually. He and I are involved in another organization (Young Life) for which I volunteer and he happened to mention that he’d just completed a trip with GMRP. I was instantly interested.

Participating in a medical mission is an experience that has been on my heart for many years. Love the idea of putting my nursing experience to work by serving the underprivileged. It is a goal I’ve shared with many of my family, coworkers and friends. But, like so many of us, time and availability was always an issue. Now that the youngest of our four children has recently left the nest, I now have the time to commit to this.

When I found out that I was accepted on the team, I was not only excited, but honored. I’ve been working as an RN for 30 years. The first three of those were as a US Navy Nurse. Since then, I’ve worked in a variety of departments, so I’m hopeful that I can offer assistance, though my Spanish is unfortunately very poor.

Olivia Algiers – Interpreter

November 2019 – Olivia is a UW Madison graduate with degrees in Journalism and Spanish. She studied abroad in Chile, and as a result is also comfortably conversant in Spanish.

Currently she is in her second year of graduate school at UWM, studying Public Health.

All three members of the Algiers family are very much looking forward to helping the healthcare Rotarians treat the people of Guatemala!

Sue Algiers – Interpreter

November 2019 – Sue is a Marquette University graduate with degrees in Speech and Spanish, and a Masters in Education from UW Oshkosh.

She has just retired after teaching Spanish at Hartford Union High for many years. She has led student travel groups all over the world for 20 plus years to dozens of countries, including many Central American countries and Spain.

In addition she has taught English as a Second language to adults and high school students for many years.

All three members of the Algiers family are very much looking forward to helping the healthcare Rotarians treat the people of Guatemala!

Tim Algiers – Interpreter & Vision Assistant

Post 2020 Mission – The GRMP experience was one of the most eye opening and rewarding experiences of my life. At the risk of missing another trip to Lambeau for the Packer playoffs, I would like to do this again—if you all will have me! I believe my wife and daughter, Susie and Olivia, feel the same way.

November 2019 – Tim is a lawyer in Hartford. He owns the O’Meara Law Firm, LLC. He has a BA in Psychology, with a Minor in Spanish, and a law degree from Marquette university.

Tim and Sue started dating while studying in Madrid while undergrads at MU. Then after getting married, Tim joined the Navy as a Navy lawyer. They were stationed in Rota Spain and lived there for three years.

Tim is somewhat conversant in Spanish, while Sue is comfortably conversant.

All three members of the Algiers family are very much looking forward to helping the healthcare Rotarians treat the people of Guatemala!

Leesa Blank – Dental Assistant

January 2020 – I have been a Dental Assistant at Brown Family Dentistry since 2011.

Shortly after starting at BFD, Dr Tim asked me if I would like to join him on a mission trip to Haiti, and I have been able to return 10 times to work in our dental clinic there.

Due to our trip cancellation, I’m very excited to now be able to serve more people in a new area, and experience a new area of the world.

Tim Brown – Dentist

Post 2020 Mission – It was an excellent experience. I knew I would learn a lot from how GMRP “runs” a large team, and much more, and I did. All will help me in our future Haiti Missions when the “unrest” settles down, which I understand that it is.

There were so many positives about the mission, but at the top of the list was the absolutely wonderful volunteers and how everyone bonded and shared. That was true whether young, like my assistant, Leesa (age 26,) or older. I was pleasantly surprised that at 75, I was not the oldest. It was so fun and rewarding to share life’s stories at the end of each day or on excursions.

January 2020 – I graduated from Marquette University Dental School in 1969 and then spent 3 years in US Army Dental Corps. I started Brown Family Dentistry in Neenah, WI in 1972 where I still practice with my two sons, Drs. Tip and Tyler and daughter-in-law, Dr. Dawn.

I co-founded a dental clinic in Hinche, Haiti in 2012 where I have led 12 of their 16 missions. I was planning on being in Haiti this January. However, because of the unrest in Haiti, it was necessary, for safety reasons, to cancel two back-to-back scheduled teams.

My dental assistant, Leesa Whitman, and I were very pleased to be accepted by GMRP for their January mission. Both Leesa and I are anxious to serve and learn from a very experienced mission team which will help us lead future teams to Haiti.

Anna Caruana – Nurse

December 2019 – Anna is a retired RN, fluent in Spanish, and specializes in Diabetes Education. She lives in New Mexico and is married to Lee.

They are both joining the team for the first time this year.

They are friends of a friend of Barb O’Connell.

Lee Caruana – Physician

December 2019 – Lee is a semi-retired physician from New Mexico and is married to Anna.

They are both joining the team for the first time this year.

They are friends of a friend of Barb O’Connell.

 

Dennis Cunningham – RN

January 2020 – Born and raised in the Big Apple. I went to nursing school at Cochise College in southern Arizona where I became familiar with Mexican and Mexican-American culture, and where I studied Spanish.

I have lived on Cape Cod for 50 years, and retired from my nursing career five years ago,. The last 25 years of that career I spent as a Visiting Nurse in the inner city of Boston.

I have always been involved in theater, and since retirement l’ve had the good fortune to be much more involved. My last venture was in Chekov’s “Three Sisters.” My other “home” is in Ireland where my family resides.

 

Chris Handrick – Interpreter and Past Assistant Leader

January 2020 – I work for a youth ministry called Young Life, I got my start with GMRP back in 2011 when I was referred to attend by our Guatemalan host Enrique Gandara. I had visited the local community, Oliveros, where the clinic is hosted previously with Edgewood College to work on school restoration projects. Currently I live in Madison, WI.

After my first visit to Guatemala I fell in love with the people and community. I had completed 4 visits to Guatemala, two with GMRP, when I began to get involved further with the leadership in GMRP and travel to Guatemala regularly for personal time. In addition, I joined the Oliveros Scholarship Fund Board to help raise money and provide scholarships for students to continue their education past the 6th grade. In 2019, I completed a 5 week sabbatical time with my Guatemala friends and some of that within the community of Oliveros.

My professional time at home is working with teenagers and helping provide mentors in their lives. I have built many friendships amongst the youth and greater community of Oliveros. I serve as a simple interpreter, driver, community liaison and general worker for the the GMRP mission.

Peter Hoff -Interpreter

November 2019 – I just retired from UW-Whitewater, where I taught Spanish for 32 years. Now I have the freedom to travel with GMRP and not just to hear about it from Paul Patenaude and other participants.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Latin America, including Guatemala and Spain, a number of times. Although I have traveled independently, with groups and have taken student groups abroad, this is my first international travel as a volunteer.

Tessa Horning- Nursing Student

January 2020 – I am a student nurse at Rock Valley College in Rockford, IL and a certified nursing aide. I currently have 3 semesters left until I become an RN!

I did not always want to be a nurse, actually growing up I wanted to be a police officer. When I was 18, my mother received a diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer, and less than a year later she was gone. I was lucky enough to be able to spend that short time with her and caring for her, alongside her hospice nurses, certified nursing assistants, my father and my aunt. During this time, I had realized nursing was right where I belonged.

I found out about GMRP through Rebecca McAllister, a Nurse Practitioner, who was recruited by one of her graduate students at the time, Brittany Storhoff for the mission. Rebecca didn’t want to go alone last year, so she took me with! I am beyond excited to participate in my second mission this year!!

Priscilla Jackett – Interpreter

November 2019 – When Dr. Janet Whelan and Roger Martin told me of their GMRP experience in 2015, I was immediately drawn in, still regretting my incomplete Peace Corps application over fifty years earlier.

Recently retired from my 35+ years at our local community health center assisting the uninsured navigate state health insurance, I now had the time and energy to follow a passion. My husband and I had traveled frequently to Mexico while he was alive, keeping my college Spanish at sort of an intermediate level. There were no openings available for the 2016 mission but I made it in 2017 as an interpreter, assigned to the vision clinic where we enjoy almost instant gratification by offering free glasses and/or the potential to improve their vision significantly.

I will be returning for my 4th mission in 2020, each year building on the previous with growing friendships with the team members, with the gratitude of the people we serve, and my gratitude to be part of this amazing group. Surely, we are but pebbles dropped in a huge pond, but perhaps we can cause a ripple in someone’s precious life.

Brian Jensen – Pharmacist

November 2019 – My story began with a story. A story told to me by a nurse who shared her experience with a Rotary sponsored project in Oliveros – GMRP. At the time, I was completing a Lutheran Lay School of Ministry course of study. My thought is that it would help me to determine my “call” as I transitioned from active pharmacy practice to retirement. Her “witnessing” as to the power of bringing people together with hearts of service planted the seeds for me that has led to my 10 years of involvement. The important work that followed has changed lives, both in Guatemala and in those that serve.

The words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, A Future Not Our Own, were shared with the group on my first trip. “We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We are prophets of a future not our own.” I keep them close to me with each trip.

With the overwhelming needs of those we see in Guatemala, one can question our ability to make a difference. However, I have witnessed the evolution of this limited “project” into a true partnership over the years. I am so grateful to those that I work alongside – supporting each other and advancing the impact of our care. It is in this spirit of selfless service, that I find that the “liberation” that calls me back to Oliveros.

Barb Johnson – Interpreter and past Leader

December 2019 – I initially found out about GMRP from Nancy Rhodes, who is a past Rotary District Governor of SE Wisconsin. My first trip to Oliveros was with our inaugural “Advance Team” in 2009 with Nancy, Don Drecktrah and Doug Hansen (founder). I worked as an interpreter for a wonderful person, Dr. Ian Furness. I was nervous about my Spanish abilities and he made me feel so welcome and comfortable. It’s sad that Ian is no longer with us, but he made a big impact on the podiatry patients he saw while in Guatemala. My first year experience also made a big impact on me.

I went on to serve as leader for several missions and have been involved more “behind the scenes” since my husband and I moved to Asheville, North Carolina. It’s been a privilege to meet and serve with so many great people through the years. Guatemala holds a special place in my heart. So much so, that my family spent last Christmas in Antigua.

Naomi Lake – Interpreter and Healer

December 2019 – I heard about GMRP through Priscilla Jackett, with whom I share grandchildren. Growing up, I assisted my mother, a pediatrician, in the well-baby clinics she started, and accompanied her to Mexico City while she was getting her Masters degree in Public Health. Both situations were immersion opportunities to learn Spanish. I have a degree in Anthropology, having focused my studies in cross cultural healing. I have been in private practice as a healer for over 40 years. For many years I ran classes and worked with individuals in different clinics throughout Mexico City.

I’m honored to be returning to Oliveros for the second year. Last year I began as an interpreter for Paula, a nutritionist, which illuminated for me a fundamental stress in the people’s lives . . . of not getting adequate nutrition. In light of perpetuating sustainability, which is necessary in any humanitarian project, I arranged for Moringa seeds to be delivered to Blanca, the 4-6 grade teacher in the school there in Oliveros, She was doing a project with her kids on planting edible trees. Moringa is receiving much notoriety globally as a “Super” food, rich in many vitamins and minerals. I look forward to seeing how her ‘Huerta por los Ninos’ is growing!

I also very much look forward to helping the people of this community by doing individual treatments and by teaching simple healing modalities that can help to release stress and pain with simple hands-on healing techniques and mindfulness practices. Last year I noticed a few who had the ‘gift ‘of healing. I hope to see them again this year to continue to nurture their development. These trips certainly nurture my development as a human being!

Looking forward to working together very soon!!

Laura Lutz – Dental Hygienist

December 2019 – I am a Milwaukee Area Technical College graduate with an associates degree in dental hygiene. I felt I had a calling to be a dental hygienist as a junior in high school after creating a bond with my childhood hygienist. I have worked over 10 years at Grand Avenue Dental Care and continue to push myself past expectations and set a new standard.

Dr. Peter Wilk has inspired me to join the GMRP team and give help to those who need it. I was deeply moved by the first mission. This will be my second mission trip and I am very much looking forward to it.

Brian Monroe – Rotarian

January 2020 – I am very proud that my Rotary club Mequon-Thiensville Sunrise partnered with our sister Rotary club Thiensville-Mequon Noon back in 2004 when GMRP was just an idea.

When MT Rotarian Bob Blazich presented a recap of the 2006 mission I was hooked and during my club presidency joined the GMRP team with my wife Nancy Neumann for the 2008 mission. We both ending up becoming dental assistants and experienced the joy that comes from serving others. Nancy became a Co-Team Leader and participated in 4 additional trips. I became part of the advance team with another 7 additional missions.

I’ve stayed involved with planning, fundraising, presentations and recruiting volunteers like our friend Dr Gerry Schmitz. I cherish the wonderful memories and fantastic friendships that this mission has provided. (Photo courtesy of Barb Johnson)

 

Mark Nicholson – Volunteer

December 2019 – Greetings fellow GMRP teammates.  My name is Mark Nicholson and I live in Charlotte, NC, with my wife Lauren and children, Peyton and Claire.  Currently, I am a stay-at-home dad to Peyton and Claire. Prior to staying home with Peyton and Claire, I worked for Bank of America for nearly 10 years.  I also served as a U.S. Marine for a number of years prior to starting my finance career.

As a way to pass the time at home while the kids were in school, I decided to study Spanish.  About 2 years ago, I bought Barbara Bregstein’s Easy Spanish and started to study when I could.  A long story short, I have now been to Mexico four times and drive my wife crazy with my newly found passion.    

I found my way to GMRP through my children’s dentist, Dr. Meg Lochary.  I mentioned to Dr. Meg that I was looking to grow my Spanish skills but also help out a community in need.  She mentioned her experience with GMRP and the rest is history. I am very excited to join you all on this mission and look forward to an exciting trip.

Barb O’Connell -Interpreter

November 2019 – I was a Spanish teacher here on Washington Island, an island off the thumb of Wisconsin for 38 years.

When I retired in 2011, I joined the team in January of 2012 and have worked as a translator with them for the following 8 trips. I also became GMRP’s financial secretary.

The main founder of this mission, Doug Hansen, is also from Washington Island and had been trying to recruit me for years. I just needed to retire to have the time to do it.

Whenever I would take my students on trips to Mexico or Costa Rica, I would feel so sad that there was no way I could help the needy people we saw. I now have a way to help, and am grateful to the founders and team members before me who established this awesome mission.

Aury Pineda -Interpreter

December 2019 – My name is Aury Pineda, I work in Southampton New York for 8 months (from April to November) and I’m in Guatemala 4 months (from December till March), and have been doing this for 8 years.

My parents leave in a small village close to Oliveros; My dad passed away this year in July. I’m taking my mom to live far from here by the end of January.

I was pleased to be able to help you last year as an unplanned interpreter in the Vision Clinic. I am happy to be able to help again this year.

Holly Pribnow – Dental Assistant

January 2020 – I have been working at Grand Avenue Dental Care since 2016 as a dental assistant. As a child, I loved going to the dentist, and knew that I wanted to do something in the field and be able to help people. I graduated in 2014 from a dental assisting program in Green Bay. I love building relationships with my patients and being able to make them comfortable while educating them on how to take care of their smile.

Dr. Wilk has been talking about his mission trips to Guatemala for a long time and been very inspiring. Last year he had taken our hygienist Laura Lutz along and she pushed me to join in on the 2020 Guatemala trip. I was just as much nervous as excited about going, but seeing the people and their culture made me so grateful. Just being able to provide what I do on a daily basis and seeing someone be so appreciative is the best reward in this whole experience.

I will hopefully be returning on the 2021 trip and encouraging many others to join this amazing experience!

Christine Simon – RN

 

Post 2020 Mission – I was in triage and I loved it. My background is ER and Critical Care. I was one of three RN’s who did vitals and glucose checks. ( We could be labelled as the “ding dong school” level Spanish speakers) And then we sent the clients to one of three bilingual RN’s who did the interviews and wrist bands . A total of 6 RN’s in triage.

The gift of this experience was the people who came to our “pop up” medical/ dental/ opthamology/ and (at times) urgent care clinic. They were kind humble souls and in many cases they urgently needed our services. They touched my heart. Whether I am selected to return next year or not I will attempt to raise funds for GMRP.

November 2019 – Naomi Lake told me about your mission and asked if I wanted to apply! I said yes! LOVE your mission and the continuity of care . An honor to be on your team!

I have been involved with 3 emergency medical missions for Syrian Refugees and worked in a huge refugee camp with people from Syria and Africa … in Chios where people were fleeing to find refuge by crossing the Aegean sea in small rubber rafts.

I currently volunteer locally in Tucson with refugees needing to connect with community medical resources. Also a volunteer low beginner English teacher in the Refugee Education Program. MANY from Central America.

I also served in the Army Nurse Corp many moons ago.

 

Jessica Singer – RN & Interpreter

November 2019 – This is my first mission with GMRP. I have wanted to be a part of GMRP for a few years , and now that I have gotten settled in my nursing career, I am so grateful to finally be able to join this mission and give back. I have served as a Junior Rotarian/Counselor with the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), a camp for youth to focus on service above self. Because of this experience, I am in the process of becoming a Rotarian in the Milwaukee area. RYLA is how I first heard about GMRP. I have always had a passion for service and giving back, and I am excited to be able to extend this passion to Guatemala.

I have been a nurse since June of 2018, and work in a Medical/Trauma/Surgical Intensive Care Unit in Milwaukee. I absolutely love it! But I cannot wait to see a different side of nursing, a different side of service, and in a different country.

I also got a degree in Spanish and Medical terminology. However, I have never been fortunate enough to travel to another country and embrace/utilize the beautiful language. I cannot be more excited to finally put my language to the ultimate test, but also to engulf in the rich culture that Guatemala has to offer.

I have a passion for nursing, traveling & service, and I cannot wait to combine them on this journey. For only my second time leaving the country, I figured what better of an experience than GMRP? Very excited to meet everyone and embark on this adventure together!

Mark Spankowski – Optometrist

November 2019 – I was made aware of the Guatemala Medical Resources Partnership through my good friend Chuck Strohbach, fishing buddy and pharmacist extraordinaire.

My partner Jessica Heinke and I are blessed to serve the Lake Geneva community at our practice, Family Eye Care. The 2020 mission will be my tenth trip.

I am also privileged to be a member of Wisconsin’s St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral Medical Committee, providing essential care to refugees from Kosovo from the 1990’s until the present. I am pleased to report that our efforts were recognized this year by the New Gracanica Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Third Lake, Illinois with the awarding of the Hierarchical Gramata of Recognition. We try to follow the example of Saints Cosmas and Damian, the holy and unmercenary third century martyrs who were doctors who provided care for patients without charge.

I am eagerly looking forward to the upcoming 2020 trip! Here’s to my many dear friends from previous missions and to those who are joining us for the first time as we endeavor to provide the highest quality care to our patients.

Julia Touw – Dental Assistant

January 2020 – I graduated at Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland Wisconsin 2019 with a certification for Dental Assisting. I got hired at Sheboygan Smile Center by Dr. Kaufmann before I graduated and have been working with him for 1 year.

This was my first year attending GMRP and it was an amazing experience. The opportunity to meet wonderful people, explore amazing sights and help people doing what I love is a dream that came true.

I have so much more to learn and I am excited for what my future holds at Sheboygan Smile Center.

Peter Wilk – Dentist

January 2020 – I graduated from Marquette School of Dentistry in 1973. I have been a member of the Academy of General Dentistry since 1980 and received its prestigious Fellowship award in 1992.

I am also a member of the American Dental Association, Wisconsin Dental Association, the American Orthodontic Society, the International Association for Orthodontics, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the World Clinical Laser Institute.

I have enjoyed having my own private dental practice since 1974. Grand Avenue Dental Care is located in Hartford and is a second family to me. I have been a Rotarian since 2000. and this will be my 15th mission trip.

As the mission statement of my dental office is Sharing Smiles, I truly believe in the work we are doing in Guatemala. Sharing a part of ourselves with those who need it and hopefully leaving some smiles behind is what it’s all about. I also enjoy meeting the other volunteers on this trip and developing lifelong friendships that go with it.

Emily Zellmer – Physician Assistant

November 2019 – This will be my first mission experience ever. I’ve wanted to be a part of something like this for many years, and after my cousin Laura Lutz participated with GMRP last year and shared with me the profound experience she had, I knew it was time for me to make time for a trip like this.

I studied Spanish in college, spent a semester abroad in Spain and now am thrilled to be traveling to Guatemala with this team to immerse myself again in Spanish. I have hopes of not just speaking the language but really communicating with and learning from those we will have the opportunity to serve.

I am 3+ years into my career as a Physician Assistant, currently working in primary care in a community in northern Wisconsin. I’m very excited to see what the combined experience and spirit of all of our team members will achieve on this trip!

Support Our Work

We invite you to be a partner in this mission that has helped so many people and has so many more awaiting needed medical services. Please consider joining the mission team. If you can’t join us, consider a donation, perhaps in celebration of a special event, in honor of a special friend or in memory of a loved one.

The Guatemala Medical Resources Partnership is made possible through the support of Rotary Clubs and other donations.

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