Deacon Kevin Carges’ 25-year college reunion provided him with more than just the chance to reconnect with old friends. It provided him with a way to build a school in Jamaica and change the lives of needy families.
His 25-year reunion with fellow St. John Fisher College alumni, held in the autumn of 2009, proved to be the fertile ground Deacon Carges needed to plant the seed of an idea with his classmates. Out of that seed grew Eight 4 Third World Hope, a group that has already raised more than $9,000 toward the building of a new school in an impoverished area in Jamaica.
"It’s not even so much the money. It’s just being aware. The people in these countries need help," said Deacon Carges, who ministers at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva.
Deacon Carges has been working tirelessly on behalf of needy Third World residents since February 2006, when he traveled to Jamaica with two other deacons. He’d been ordained just months earlier and was eager to get a taste of service and to escape New York’s wintery weather for five days.
He was completely unprepared for what he was about to encounter.
Deacon Carges said he had seen images from Third World countries in the news, yet still he wasn’t prepared for the feeling he’d get when he watched families digging through rotting garbage to find food and things to sell. He wasn’t prepared for the emotions that stirred within him when a mother tried to give away her child because she knew the child would have a better chance of survival in America. He wasn’t prepared for the tears that welled up when he hugged a child who hadn’t eaten in days and felt that child’s bloated stomach and protruding ribs.
"I was just devastated," Deacon Carges said. "It took me months before I could get up in the pulpit and talk and share my experience because I was so devastated. I still get teary-eyed as I think about it."
The 2006 trip changed his life, and ever since then he has felt compelled to do his best to help those fighting for survival in Third World countries.
"It’s something I’ll never forget, and I can’t go through my life not trying to help. It hurts to walk away from a family knowing that they haven’t eaten in a day or two, and yet I come home and I have a refrigerator full of food, a home and electricity. I’m so blessed," Deacon Carges said, noting that he views his experience in Jamaica as a call from God. "Are you going to keep it all for yourself or are you going to utilize it?"
Deacon Carges answered that call in 2008, when he founded Deacon Kevin’s Circle of Friends (www.deaconkevin.org). He had raised nearly $10,000 by late 2009, but was becoming discouraged nonetheless.
"I’m only one person. I can only do so much," he remarked.
As he looked around the room at his class reunion later that year, Deacon Carges was struck by the amount of talent and skill his former classmates possessed and their many stories of personal and professional success. After the reunion he contacted a number of his fellow St. John Fisher alumni, explained his desire to help the needy suffering in Third World countries and asked his friends to help him fulfill that desire.
Although they’d never been to any Third World countries themselves, six friends were moved by Deacon Carges’ passion for his cause. They agreed to help him, and Eight 4 Third World Hope (www.eight4thirdworldhope.org) was born.
"We all graduated in 1984 … thus the Eight 4 part," Deacon Carges explained in a July 18 column in Our Lady of Peace’s bulletin. "There are only seven of us, but we consider the eighth member to be Christ guiding our mission to serve."
The other founding members of Eight 4 Third World Hope are Jim Carney, a quality-assurance specialist with comprehensive-rehabilitation agency East House Corp.; Yvonne Chanatry Chesire, vice president of marketing and graphics at America’s Health Insurance Plans; Rod Christian, director of donor relations for the ARC of Monroe County; Tom D’Amico, regional director for Odyssey Software in Rochester; Michelle LaDuke Senglaub, a marketing and business communications consultant; and Matt Shue, a sales account manager for Avaya in Rochester.
"I’m just overwhelmed at how well this has come together," said Deacon Carges, who owns and operates Canandaigua Quick Print. "Each of us brings a talent, a gift, and combining them it’s just flourished into something so much bigger than any of us could do singly."
Partnered with Food for the Poor and its Jamaica School Construction program, Eight 4 Third World Hope must raise $27,186.70 before construction can begin on the school. The group raised $9,510 in its first fundraiser, held July 20 at Mulconry’s Irish Pub and Restaurant in Fairport, and Deacon Carges is confident the group can raise the remaining funds by the end of the year.
"We can touch so many lives with this little money. So much can happen if everyone just does a little. That’s what we’re praying for and we’re hoping for," he said.