How Friends of the Children was established:
A cold rainy morning in January, Homer was driving his daughter Wendy from his home on Monte Sano Mountain to school. On the way he saw a car parked on the  side of Governor's Drive with a flat tire. He stopped to see if he could give the lady some help and she said no but she would appreciate it if he could drop her off at a service station where she could obtain some help she needed. On the way told them about a mission project she along with members of her church was going to participate in it in April by going to Guatemala to help with some much needed building repairs at an orphanage near St. Andre's, North Guatemala, called the Children's Ranch. Her local Madison Baptist Association was sponsoring this. This idea struck a warm spot in Homer's Heart  and he ask if he could go with them as he thought this was something he would like to do. She gave him her pastor’s phone number and he quickly followed up by calling and getting all the particulars and information he needed. Soon He received his plane ticket and arranged for a week leave as at this time he was working at NASA.
For several reasons the members of the team found that they all would be unable to go. Disappointed Homer asked for the name of the missionary in charge of the orphanage, Rev. Bo Bartley, and asked him if he could use just one volunteer. He assured Homer that one person would indeed be welcomed. So in April he boarded the plane for a flight from Huntsville to Guatemala City. Rev. Bartley met him there and they flew from Guatemala City to Flores and from there, drove to the Children’s Ranch. Bo had to return to the city and Homer was left at the ranch with only Spanish speaking people around. His project was to build some tables that the children could use as desks in their classrooms.
He and elderly Guatemalan gentleman with only manual tools, no electricity, hence no power tools, built six picnic like tables for the children to use in their classrooms. Can you imagine a classroom where the only teaching aids were a worn out blackboard and chalk for the teacher, no paper, no pencils, no books, no desks. The children sat on the floor and use a stick to make marks in the dirt floor for their letters and numbers. It’s good thing that Homer liked black beans for you had them three times a day, with tortillas. On Sunday, you were lucky to have a piece of white cheese to go with the beans. The week when by quickly, desks or tables where built. The children were happy, they loved Homer and the attention he gave them and especially liked his battery radio. The staff, though not able to speak with him, was warm and friendly.  He returned to Huntsville with a troubled heart and a burden that he must do something to help these children. The first thing was to box up tablets and pencils and mail them to the orphanage.
In the years that followed he flew his airplane down loaded with clothes and school items. He landed in the pasture at the orphanage. Bo Bartley had to sell his airplane to help with the expenses at the orphanage. So Homer volunteered his airplane to do mission service in Guatemala for couple of years.
A friend of Homer’s in Washington, DC donated a Bronco and pick-up-trick, which Mary and Homer drove to New Orleans and placed on a barge to be send to Guatemala, again, to be used at the orphanage.
Bo Bartley thought that if he had a school bus he could go around in the areas of the countryside surrounding the orphanage and bus local children into his mission school and there by expand his ministry. He spoke to Homer of his dream. Homer went to work and before long he located a surplus Army school bus at a sale at Ft. Binning GA. Before long it was parked in the driveway of our home. The idea was to drive it to the New Orleans and ship it by barge to Guatemala. But as Homer worked and prayed a thought came to him.
WHY SHIP IT EMPTY?   Why not fill it with items that the orphanage could use ?  So he unsecured all the seats and stacked them very carefully in the bus leaving room for a number of items, like a dentist chair, sewing machine, T.V, Then he turned to local churches for help filling the bus. Frist Baptist, Huntsville had run a request for donations in it’s weekly news letter, The Messengers, Drs. Robert Hunt and Mrs. Hunt, members of First Baptist, came with their children with donations of bicycles  The children were a little sad about giving up their bikes so Homer got out the phone album of his last visit to the orphanage in Guatemala to let the Hunt children see pictures of the children at the orphanage that would receive the bikes. One of the pictures was of a black-haired, sad little girl sitting on a sack of corn; it was obvious from the pictures she was crippled.  This picture immediately caught the attention of Dr. Hunt. ‘What is the matter with this child?” he asked.  Homer said he believed the Doctors there, thought she had a juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.  She had been normal until she was three and then had been stricken with this illness. At the present time she was eleven years old but only wore size six clothing. Dr. Hunt studied that pictures. “ Homer.” He said, “if you can bring this child to Huntsville, I believe I can be of help to her.” It took some time and a lot of paper work but finally all of the paper work was in order, and Mary was to fly down to Guatemala City to pick up Ericka and bring her back to the states for medical treatment.
The bus was loaded, and again Mary and Homer drove the bus, fully loaded to New Orleans and had the bus shipped by barge to Guatemala.
Since Homer first mission trip to Guatemala when he had become interested in helping the people in any way he could,  he become aware of an organization called Partners of America. This paired states in the USA with different countries all over the world.  How surprised Homer was when he discovered that Alabama’s sister country was Guatemala.  He became active in this organization and served for two or three years as president of the Otata chapter and visited in Guatemala. One of many projects was to work on the water system, provide materials for a sewing school, and help supply medicine and medical supplies to the medical clinic.
 
Partners of America also formed an exchange program for high school students.  Many boys and girls have found the Wilson home, a home away from home while they attend school in the USA.
Homer talked to one of the pastors at First Baptist Church, Rev. Alvin Pelton.  Homer explained that he wanted to do missions, and he wanted it focused on helping orphans and poor children in Central America, mainly in Guatemala and Mexico.  The idea was conceived of taking shoe-boxes filled with clothes, schools supplies, toys, etc. wrapped in Christmas paper to Guatemala at Christmas time to be shared with the children.  When searching for a name, “FRIENDS OF THE CHILDREN” was selected.   A nonprofit organization was formed.
So serious plans began to be formed for the first trip to Guatemala,  its purpose was to carry shoe-boxes to orphans and needy children to make their lives a little more cheerful and  let them know that people in the USA are aware of their needs and that they cared.
Spanish teachers at the local High Schools were contacted to ask if their Spanish Class would be interested in the project.  The exchange student from Guatemala visited the interested schools and talked about the needs of the children.   He shared slides of Guatemala, and explained to them how they could make shoe-boxes.
Yvonne Terry, religious editor of the Huntsville Times, was a major supporter, providing articles and much needed publicity, as did the religious radio stations WRSA and WNDA.
The Monday after Thanksgiving was the target day.  That would give Homer enough time to drive to Guatemala, deliver the gifts and return home in time for the children to have something for Christmas.  It might be the only thing they would get during the whole year.
Gifts were delivered into villages in Guatemala, but the majority were left and distributed by the Salvation Army in Guatemala City.
Through the years Homer had seen his project expand with so many people who have a heart to give miscellaneous items.  That has helped Homer make two trips a year in his truck to Guatemala.
Text from “A Christmas box for Hernadez Barrios, Destination Guatemala Journal 2001” written by Mary Wilson
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