Stadelman family photo
Ann Cowan, daughter of Valerie Cowan, with students in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Stadelman family photo
Ann Cowan, daughter of Valerie Cowan, with students in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
BROOKINGS — Within 24 hours of arriving in Honduras, Tim Stadelman witnessed the attempted shooting of one teenage boy by another. Gang violence is rampant among the youth of San Pedro Sula, but two Brookings residents are coordinating local support for a scholarship program that helps Honduran children find a better life.

Stadelman and Valerie Cowan, both parishioners at Star of the Sea Church, work from their homes in Oregon to support a group of Honduran children through education, fraternity and the Catholic faith. For every $150 they raise, another student can receive an education, books, school supplies, a uniform and a chance to escape the gang life in their neighborhoods.

“Education is a shaky business down there,” Cowan said. “The poverty, while it’s not as bad as in some places, is bad enough that people can’t afford to send their kids to school, and education is key for those children to become someone who doesn’t need the gangs.”

Maryknoll Father Thomas Goekler founded Caminando Por La Paz many years ago in hopes that the program would lead young people out of street gangs through education. Father Goekler died in 2010 at age 71, but his outreach lives on through parishes like the one in Brookings, which provide financial support.

In life, Father Goekler said: “I’m well known to all the gangs now. They know I treat them all the same — which is setting limits, seeing how we can get them on their feet, seeing if we can reintegrate them into society. The fact is I like them all. You might say I’m pro-person. I was taught that by Dorothy Day and Gustavo Gutierrez and others — including Jesus.”

The scholarship program in Oregon, called “Peaceful Waters,” is supported in part by parishioners at Start of the Sea and Holy Trinity in Bandon. It helps keep 63 children in middle school, 12 students in high school two students who have moved on to college.

“What I fervently believe is that one of our kids is going to grow up and make a real difference in Honduras,” Stadelman said. “I don’t know that they will be president, but perhaps a mayor or chief of police, and they are going to change their community.”

Many of the students have parents who are illiterate and cannot help their children with homework. Often children, even elementary school youth, must drop out of school to work to support their household. In this save haven, children study science, social studies, Spanish, mathematics, computing and English.

This year, the Honduran residents who run the program will open an official school for grades seven through nine.

Cowan and Stadelman, as well as members of their families, have traveled to visit the children in Honduras. When they visit, they stay with the teachers or families of the students.

“They are my other ‘familia,’” Cowan said. “When we go down there, we live with them, eat with them, sweat with them, work with them and pray with them.” Stadelman visits the teachers and students in San Pedro Sula at least once a year. Each of Stadelman’s three daughters sponsors a student.

Stadelman has set for himself a personal goal: In 20 years, he would like to have raised enough funds for, and helped build, a first-class school in the little suburb of Chamelecón to be run by the dedicated teachers there. It will be the best school in San Pedro Sula, he hopes.