In Central America, fire stations and emergency medical clinics are often founded by persons who tragically lost someone close. These volunteers do not want to let the same thing happen to someone else in their community. Karin Reichensperger, who spent many years as a volunteer in Guatemala, saw that their hearts were in the right place, but they often lacked the most basic equipment.
In fact, she saw that the brave bomberos (firefighters), in many cases, did not even have fire coats to protect themselves. She immediately went to work to solve this problem. As a result, she is now director of the MESSAGE Program, a non-profit group based in St. Cloud, Minnesota, that provides material and educational support to more than 150 health care facilities and 80 fire stations in rural areas of Central America.
Reichensperger said, “It is not a lack of medical professionals nor facilities that restricts the availability of basic medical care, it is simply the lack of adequate medical supplies, equipment and education.”
The name of the group is derived from the first letters of Medical/Dental-EMS/Fire Supplies Shared Around Globally with Education. Reichensperger founded the organization in 2003.
Although the MESSAGE Program is organized as a nonprofit, Reichensperger knew she still had to operate with sound business practices and had to be accountable to the donors, board of directors and the IRS. She had plenty of experience making the operational side work but needed help with the range of business skills an organization of this size required.
Reichensperger said, “We recognized our ultimate responsibility is our accountability to our donors. The process of operating legally, meeting IRS requirements, forming a board and creating a budget was all new to us. We have a strong desire to do good, but our lack of business experience led us to seek assistance from St. Cloud SCORE.
SCORE is a national organization of retired and currently working men and women who volunteer their knowledge and expertise advising small business owners. SCORE is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration and has 11,000 members nationwide organized into local chapter
When Reichensperger asked St. Cloud SCORE Chapter #468 to provide guidance with business management issues, they took one look at the good work performed by her group and jumped at the opportunity to help.
SCORE chapter chair John Wertz said, “Counseling nonprofits generally falls outside of SCORE’s mission to assist small businesses, but we felt this was an exception that needed to be made.”
Counselor Mert Hubbard was assigned to the case. Before joining SCORE, Hubbard had been CEO and president of Northern Wire Products, a St. Cloud-based metal manufacturing company he helped found in 1959. He retired seven years ago and has been a SCORE member for two.
Over the next several months, Hubbard met regularly with Reichensperger to advise on planning, budgeting, marketing and recordkeeping issues. With his many years of business and community involvement, he also helped open doors at local large and small businesses, civic clubs and international aid groups.
Hubbard said, “When we saw the good work of this dedicated group and the amount of donations originating from companies and individuals in the St. Cloud area, we knew St. Cloud SCORE had to lend a hand. Although the focus of our business counseling is with entrepreneurs operating for-profit ventures, this was an exception we were proud to make.”
Reichensperger said, “We still have lots to learn, but are grateful to Mert Hubbard and the members of St. Cloud SCORE for their advice and guidance.”
The MESSAGE program collects and ships medical and emergency equipment to local volunteers in countries such as Guatemala. The equipment is donated from a variety of sources in the United States and includes fire gear, blankets, gloves, crutches, dressings, suction devices, oxygen equipment, IV supplies and other items necessary to provide basic medical care.
Funds raised by the program help finance volunteer instructors who conduct skills training courses for doctors, nurses, midwives, firefighters and health care advocates primarily in rural areas. Last year more than 2,000 emergency and health care workers received training.
Reichensperger served as a volunteer with HELP International in Guatemala where she assisted with supply organization and preparation and went with medical teams as they visited villages in the highlands. After graduating from St. Cloud State University with a degree in Biomedical Sciences, she went back to Guatemala volunteering as a medical clinic laboratory coordinator. One thing led to another and she began teaching basic CPR courses to local firemen. That’s when she saw the dire need for lifesaving equipment and supplies.
Last January, the MESSAGE Program shipped three 40-foot containers filled with medical and fire fighting equipment valued at $250,000 each to Guatemala. Four more containers are being readied. Working with the Kids Against Hunger of Central Minnesota, the MESSAGE Program recently shipped a 40-foot container loaded with meal packs, linens, clothing and medical supplies to victims of the devastating flooding in the Dominican Republic.
Hubbard said, “SCORE volunteers hail from every facet of the business community. Some have worked for large corporations. Others have spent years cultivating their own small business. They overcame obstacles and enjoyed successes. Now, they want to give time and business insights back to the entrepreneurs in their communities.”
Wertz said, “SCORE volunteers receive a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction sharing their business experience with local small business owners. When these entrepreneurs succeed, our entire community benefits.”
Last year, the 18 members of the St. Cloud Chapter counseled more than 150 entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs and helped conduct 30 small business management seminars. There are seven SCORE Chapters across Minnesota. They can be located through SBA’s Web site www.sba.gov/mn.
St. Cloud SCORE is located in the Anderson Entrepreneurial Center, 616 Roosevelt Road, St. Cloud. For small business assistance or to volunteer to become a SCORE member, call 320-240-1332. On the Web at haec.org/. Counseling by SCORE is no charge and confidential.