Meet Chuck Mitman, Holt’s new chairman of the board. A businessman with vast experience in China and a Holt board member since 2012, Chuck has a contagious passion and excitement for creating a better world for children and families. This past fall, Chuck traveled to visit Holt programs and learn more about our work in China. Hear about the children and families who impacted him most.
Chuck Mitman stood behind a big, long table at the front of a classroom in China. The room was full of primary school children, sitting in rows of desks and dressed in school uniforms. Even though it was a holiday, and normally there would be no school today, the students came in to meet Chuck, Holt’s board chair. Today was an important day, and they were all on their very best behavior.
Chuck was introduced to the students. Then Chuck gave a speech, followed by the deputy mayor of the province. The entire time, the children sat in front of them — attentive, quiet, respectful.
“They were scared to death!” Chuck says, a smile evident in his voice. To break the ice, he asked them — through his translator — “Do you have any questions for me?”
By the way they sat there, dumbfounded, he guessed that they had never been asked such an open-ended question before. His question was met with silence, but he could slowly see them perk up — their wheels suddenly turning.
Long seconds later, a little girl in the back half-raised her hand. She asked softly, “Do American kids have to do homework, too?”
“Then, all of their hands went up!” Chuck says. “It broke the barrier.”
“Yes, kids in the United States have to do homework, too!” Chuck declared in response to the girl’s question, sharing for these kids a commonality with a stranger that they thought quite interesting.
For kids in China, the opportunity to go to school — and to have homework — is not always a given.
The 18 children Chuck met at this school in Jilin province are able to receive an education with support from their Holt sponsors. Otherwise, they probably would be missing out on an education. Through child sponsorship, they are equipped with the uniforms, fees and school supplies that make it possible for them to attend, as well as the nutrition and personalized support they need to succeed.
Although Chuck has been on the Holt board since 2012, this was his first trip with Holt. He traveled with Phil Littleton, Holt’s president and CEO. The principal of a large healthcare company and founder of a technology company that worked in China, Chuck has also traveled to the country many times — but this experience with Holt in China was completely new.
“I’ve been doing business in China since 1990, but this is a part of China I never saw,” he says. “We were out in the villages and the slums and that’s where the majority of the people live.”
In his nine days of travel around the country, Chuck visited four different Holt programs spanning across three different cities. He met with staff of the child welfare ministry in China who are on the frontlines of fighting for children’s rights and adoption policies in their country — many of whom shared with Chuck that they consider Holt to be the “gold standard” in child welfare and adoption. But most of all, Chuck was impacted by the individual children and families he met in the communities he visited.
“There was one girl I’ll never forget,” Chuck says.
Li Keying receives educational and nutritional support through Holt and lives with her grandparents in what Chuck describes as a concrete box.
“No door, concrete walls,” he says of their house. But upon walking in, his eyes were immediately drawn to one spot of color taped up on the wall — her drawings.
“You’re an extremely talented artist,” he said to her. “I really like your work.” Li Keying, who was initially shy and timid, gave him a big smile.
She jumped up from where she was sitting, and asked him, “Would you like it?” She took it down and signed and dated it, then proudly handed it over. Chuck promised he would have it framed and hung in his office.
“It was so heartwarming and at the same time tragic,” Chuck says.
Another unforgettable experience for him was meeting an elderly couple in Yanji province who are taking care of their granddaughter, who is enrolled in Holt’s program there. The grandmother has scoliosis and when she stood, was nearly bent over double. But what stood out to Chuck the most was this woman’s joy. “She just laughed,” he says. “You can see the laugh lines engraved on her face.”
“‘You’re going to stay for dinner, right?’ she asked me. It just touched me.”
This woman’s joy amid such difficulty touched him so much, that upon coming home, Chuck decided to personally support this woman and her family — supplementing the support they already receive from Holt and helping this grandmother to provide her granddaughter with everything she needs to thrive and to end the cycle of poverty for their family.
In Beijing, Chuck visited the Peace House, a place where children with special needs from all around China receive expert care as they prepare for and recover from life-changing or lifesaving surgeries.
In another province, he met a man disabled by a motorbike accident. He had a metal rod put in his leg, but then didn’t have the money or insurance to take it out. So instead, he had been lying in his house, immobile for 4 years. His wife had died, and the responsibility of caring for him fell to his 12-year-old daughter, Mei Yan.
“[Mei Yan] would have been eligible for some [educational] programs, but she wouldn’t leave him,” Chuck recounts. But now, this family has been identified by Holt’s staff and they are getting the help they need to secure medical insurance, complete the father’s medical procedures and ensure that Mei Yan goes to school and gets all the support she needs.
In each of Chuck’s encounters with the children and families in Holt’s programs, he came away changed. “A past Holt board member told me, ‘You’re going to leave part of yourself behind everywhere you go,’” he says. And that he did.
While many of their situations were heartbreaking, each of them now have hope through Holt’s family strengthening programs. The children and families enrolled in Holt’s programs not only have their immediate needs for nutrition, healthcare and education met, but they are personally known and follow up with by a Holt social worker to ensure stability for the future.
“We are serving a lot of people in a very hands-on, face-to-face, individual way — which is a different model from a lot of the other agencies,” Chuck says. “Our approach is much more engaged with the family over time, and we help make available multiple potential outcomes [for their success].”
As someone with lots of experience and familiarity with working in China, Chuck is so encouraged by Holt’s work there. “I can’t say enough about the China program and the way the China staff is responding to those needs,” he says.
Behind all of Holt’s programs around the world are the individual children and families who inspire and motivate what we do. We are committed to empowering children and families in each of the 13 countries where we work to rise above poverty and change their lives. And this life-change goes both ways.
“Putting a human face on it, just being able to tell that story — it changed my life,” Chuck says. “It was a life-changing trip.”
Megan Herriott | Staff Writer