Cincy Chic: What is Amy's Hope?
Michelle Harbin: Amy's Hope International is a not for profit public charity that was established to help private orphanages in Eastern Europe. We consist of a board of seven professionals with backgrounds in sales, marketing, public relations, accounting, tax auditing, investments and pastoral staff. We are incorporated and 501c3 compliant. But to dig deeper, we are people that have a passion for other people. We want to make a difference and we also think the impact is best if it starts with a child. This leads us to where we are helping these children; I have had multiple people ask me, "Why Eastern Europe? Why not help orphans in America?" Well, I have ties in Romania. I have participated in volunteer trips to work in youth camps and private orphanages over there. I have seen first-hand what those private orphanages can do for children and what a blessing they are. Romania alone has over 20,000 abandoned street children and another 40,000+ in institutions. Communism left these countries in dire economic straits with little means to attempt to correct 30+ years of damage. Our American dollars can make an enormous impact to these orphanages. It is my dream/ambition/goal to reach as many children as possible; starting one child/private orphanage at a time. In America we have a multitude of public funding as well countless foundations helping to support our orphans. When I researched Eastern European foundations and charities I found that they were sparse and none of which are reaching the audience that we have carved out. Check us out at www.amyshope.org.
Cincy Chic: How did you get the idea?
Harbin: I have visited Bocsa, Romania for the past two summers. We had spent countless months raising funds to make the trip and then offered 16 days each summer volunteering our time in a youth camp as well as the private orphanage. When you see what we have seen first-hand it becomes impossible to not walk away a changed person with the knowledge and understanding that we have to do something to make a difference.
Cincy Chic: Where'd you get the name?
Harbin: It is named after my very best friend, Amy. She's amazing! She has taught me through my entire life that there are some people that will walk through anything with you. She is one. We met at the age of 7 and have been a blessing to each other since. I measure all of my friendships by the standard she has set for me. Amy is the mother of three children and the wife of a very nice man. Her close-knit family makes a way for Amy to go to Romania to volunteer on an annual basis with us. Amy she was diagnosed with a rare cancer (Paraganglioma) related only to the Neurofibromatosis (NF) that she was born with. The diagnosis came in 1999 after her second pregnancy. She had her daughter and underwent surgery to remove a portion of her liver. She then had a son five years later. The cancer came back and this time we almost lost her on several occasions. It was the most humbling thing I have ever had to go through. She has always wanted six children, but had to stop at three. Some may think she is crazy for wanting so many, but she is just that kind of lady. She dealt with some depression due to the cancer and the knowledge that no more children were in her future. So, I wanted to dedicate all of the children that the charity would help to her and her ideals.
Cincy Chic: How did you get it started?
Harbin: I have kept a journal along the way so I could remember when asked this question. Through prayer and a lot of it! I knew something had to be done and I had money to start it. However, I knew this was going to be bigger than me and that I would need knowledgeable people to join in the help. Therefore, I approached people that I deemed competent and passionate and asked for recommendations. It is so cool how my board was assembled. We happen to be seven very unique people with all unique qualities and they also happen to be approximately the first six people I confessed my dream to. We are plugging away learning the ins and outs of 501c3-dom. I have a very strong business and marketing background through my career experience. I am also excellent at networking and I attempt to burn no bridges. People in my past and present have come out of the woodwork to support this thing. This experience has been such a blessing for everyone involved.
Cincy Chic: What's the most satisfying thing about being involved with Amy's Hope?
Harbin: I guess I was just leading into this. The children. I have no children of my own. I was married for a very short period of time, but I never got to the birthing children part of life. I had been so intensely focused on my career for the past 10 years that I lost my way personally. These kids grounded me again. They definitely made me stop in my tracks and appreciate the simple things. It's amazing how genuine and honest children are. They want to be loved, disciplined, sought after and admired. We all do, I guess; they just show it more transparently. I am a person that wears her heart on her sleeve and I have ton of love to give. It is so fulfilling to play on the lawn with these kids. They have no parents, I have no children, so I guess we have adopted each other. I love them and they teach me. It is a win-win situation.
Cincy Chic: Let's talk about you as a person. You travel all over the world – what's your favorite city?
Harbin: Prague, without a doubt! I have been blessed enough to travel to many beautiful places in the world and I have loved something about each one of them. However, I just love everything about Prague. It is the best kept secret, I promise. It is absolutely rich with history and just so happens to be the most romantic place on earth. I had wished that I had someone special to share it with.
I am headed to Turkey to see Istanbul on the Bosphurus and Dalaman to yacht the Mediterranean Sea this August. Its a dream trip that has been dropped in my lap for the price of an airline ticket. So we will see if it tops Prague, but I doubt it.
I just love people. So every trip is an adventure for me as I try to walk away with at least two new friends to remain in contact with. I also love dining – all of my friends and colleagues call me prior to traveling to inquire about the best restaurant spots.
Cincy Chic: What's your favorite thing about Cincinnati?
Harbin: Skyline Chili! Oh my goodness, I am addicted! When I lived in Chicago, I used to bring it up by the cases. I cannot live without it. But on a more serious note; it's home to me. I have traveled to so many places, but none have the charm this city has. With all of its faults, it has so many bonuses: excellent cost of living, great restaurants, the Bengals! Who Dey! But most of all, my family, my friends and my church. They are my support and vice versa. The people here are awesome. Home Sweet Home.