Recently, our own Jeremy Adams interviewed the dynamic and passionate John McCollum. John is the executive director and co-founder of Asia’s Hope, a nonprofit that works with communities in Cambodia, Thailand and India to provide family-style care for orphaned and vulnerable children at high risk of sexual and economic exploitation.
A family story of adoption.
In 1998 John McCollum started a small business in branding, marketing and corporate communication. In the following years, he and his spouse Kori poured a lot of time and resources into the company.
Yet, when both John and Kori were very young, they felt like adoption would be an interest later in life. And they were right. While the business grew, their hearts became focused on adoption.
The McCollums started the adoption process when they were both about 26 years old, while most of the other adoptive parents they knew were quite older.
The McCollums adopted their first child, Chien, from Vietnam and then a year later, their son Pak, a Korean boy whom they adopted domestically. Then a few years later, they welcomed daughter, Xiu Dan, from China.
When the McCollums adopted Chien, the process two decades ago was quite different than it is today. There were few internet resources and even fewer chat groups. Massive Facebook groups did not exist nor did video calls. Yet, some of the obstacles John and Kori faced, couples continue to face today. And one of those challenges was finances.
John said, “We basically financed everything with home equity and credit cards. We weren’t aware of what exists now, such as initiatives and companies that partner with families. That was not an option at that time. We felt like adoption was something we were supposed to do, and we did it.” Another financial challenge they faced upon returning home was that Kori only received a couple of days of paid parent leave. John said, thankfully, the company has changed that policy.
John and Kori know that people today can find themselves facing similar types of financial hurdles, and John offered great advice to couples wishing to adopt, “Reach out to others and find a community that can understand your family. Find an agency that provides support.” When asked about adoption agencies, John said, “Find a group. Get online and ask people to DM you about their experiences with a specific agency. Then you can have in one afternoon ten times the information you could find from an agency website.” John also stressed the importance of a support system. He felt fortunate that he, Kori and his kids had two sets of grandparents close by to nurture and support their young family.
Asia’s Hope: From modest origins to success story.
In our interview, John commented that a lot of nonprofits have a founding story where a wealthy person finishes his or her career, has a couple of million dollars of expendable income, and bequeaths a large monetary gift to provide wonderful service through a nonprofit. John said Asia’s hope was started by a graphic designer and a youth pastor who didn’t have a lot of cash.
In 2001 John went on a mission trip to Cambodia. He was impressed with the Cambodian people he met but was not prepared for the magnitude of suffering and poverty, particularly among young families. He met some individuals in their thirties who had a lot of hope for their country. With very few resources, these passionate young people were building churches, businesses and medical clinics, and John was inspired by that. He asked the trip’s mission leader Dave, “What’s next?”
As a result of this question, things clicked.
Back home John ran a branding business with several nonprofit clients, so he knew how to tell a story and raise money based on that story. “The most compelling stories I could possibly write were about these Cambodians who were working with almost no resources to rescue their country,” John said. He believed that his family and friends could raise money each month to help in some way, so he met with a local Cambodian pastor about what he and Dave could do to help. The pastor put together a list of needs.
Reviewing that list, John and Dave figured out how to commit $450 a month for a university student dorm rental in Phnom Penh, the capital city, to help students who had gotten into college. These bright kids were sent there by their families, but in doing so, the parents had used up all their resources. They didn’t have any extra money to meet the child’s necessary expenses, like rent for a place to live and food to eat. Consequently, these children were not able to succeed at university. And this is where John, Dave, and their supporters came in. It was their first project.
John and Dave returned home to their respective jobs, thinking that this would be a side project. But they continued to tell the story of these orphaned children in Cambodia, and they received enough money to do a second student center. Over the first year, they also funded one-off projects like a dental clinic and medical assistance project, while growing to 5 student centers.
Because of this growth, the desire for more donations and an official organization board, John and Dave knew it was time to form a nonprofit. They started an orphanage in Battambang, Cambodia, where many local farmer families had lost limbs from remaining land mines from a conflict near the Thai border, and so many children have been orphaned. John and Dave were dedicated to making their new orphanage special, with the idea that it would be higher-nurture and function like a genuine family.
Asia’s Hope has been serving children for almost 20 years. The organization has about 850 children in full-time care across 34 family-style children homes in Cambodia, Thailand and India. A good number of those are university students who’ve been cared for by Asia’s Hope since they were kids.
John said, “We have bet everything on the idea that residential orphan care could be non-institutional, and instead be family-style. We’ve been blessed to see our kids grow up, and eighty percent of them not only graduate high school but go on to college. This year, we have 171 Asia’s Hope kids, those who grew up in one of our homes, who we are providing college scholarships for.”
John believes it isn’t possible for the world to adopt its way out of the orphan problem. The vision for Asia’s Hope is to refine their model and share it with others.
Partnerships with churches and businesses.
Asia’s Hope started with the individual child sponsor model, but that was not fruitful. In 2006, John and his church pastor talked about the timeline for building the next home in Cambodia. The pastor inquired what it would cost for the church to commit to building the home. When John relayed the figures, it was 60% of the church’s budget. Yet, with only a membership of about 80 individuals, who didn’t necessarily have a lot of financial means, everyone dug deep, and the congregation met the goal. This act unified the church and inspired them. After the church gave, the church grew, and today, fifteen years later, it’s the easiest thing for the congregation to fund.
John commented that even though funding can be a huge expense for sponsors, these gifts are not a burden, but rather an engine of excitement, motivation and meaning. And some partnerships can happen in God-inspired ways.
A few years ago, looking for inspiration regarding marketing strategy, Real Wood Floors’ CEO Sam Cobb flipped through the pages of a graphic design book. Eventually, he landed on some designs from John’s former branding company. Sam discovered that the company was no longer in business and instead that John was working at a nonprofit. This started Sam on a path, and he got in touch with Asia’s Hope. John remarked, “God had obviously been working in Sam’s heart, and it was an amazing matchup where he was running this company that was already committed to serving orphan kids and helping with international adoption. But he thought he was looking for graphic design inspiration or marketing assistance, and God wanted to introduce him to us on the orphan care side of things.”
Since that time, Real Wood Floors’ partnership with Asia’s Hope has grown as Sam serves on the organization’s board. Real Wood Floors sponsors a home in Cambodia, taking care of everything those children need—from the roof over their heads to the food they eat, the staff that cares for them, and their college expenses.
Providing monetary gifts is not the only way businesses can get involved. Companies can also show support in very hands-on ways. For instance, a Real Wood Floors’ team traveled to Cambodia and helped build playgrounds at several Asia’s Hope homes. This type of experience can really solidify a company’s team and build loyalty. This includes those back in the home office, who stay behind and cover the work for those who go, and so they feel like they are a part of the experience as well.
Giving opportunities: How you can connect with Asia’s Hope.
An ongoing need for Asia’s Hope is to find companies who are excited about training up the next generation of young leaders. As well, there are plenty of opportunities for companies, families and individuals to give.
This year, Asia’s Hope has committed to full-ride scholarships for all 171 of their kids. Next year, they will have 225 young people attending college. This is a $125,000 increase, and Asia’s Hope doesn’t know yet where the money will come from. They have an ongoing need for funds to send these kids to school.
Asia’s Hope does not age kids out, so the organization tries to provide them a place to live while they’re in college, and that’s where the student centers come in. Donors are needed to sponsor the student centers and pay for monthly operating expenses. Currently, Asia’s Hope rents all of their centers, so eventually they’d like to buy or build.
Asia’s Hope pays out approximately $171,000 a month in operating expenses for their homes across three countries. John said that he could envision a corporation or family providing support by coming in as a cosponsor at $3,000 a month to make sure these homes are taken care of. If you become a sponsor like that, Asia’s Hope sends you bios of the kids, regular updates on how the kids are doing and invites you to come visit those children.
Like other nonprofits, Asia’s Hope has numerous general needs. While they are sometimes not very exciting, like a leaking roof, they still represent an essential need. It can sometimes be hard to raise money for things like that, so gifts in that regard are very appreciated.
The Himalayans Partnership in India is the organization’s newest initiative, where they are crowdsourcing funding for the six homes there. John said that businesses, families and individuals can come in as low as $500 per month and if they make a commitment for a year, Asia’s Hope offers genuine opportunities, as they do with cosponsors, to connect with the kids.
If you are a business owner, John encourages you to contact Asia’s Hope. He’d love to talk with you about your corporate culture and what drives your company, what you want to be known for, and what kind of project interests you and your team. He believes in time that companies can have a profile like Real Wood Floors, where along with a quality product, it is a company with a heartfelt mission.
Adoption is not the end of engagement.
John and Kori McCollum won’t likely adopt any more kids, but they know they can continue their commitment to orphaned and vulnerable children. John said, “We can still be involved in blessing and helping kids who will never be adopted.”
For those passionate about orphaned children, John remarked, “Adoption does not have to be the end of your engagement with orphan care and caring for vulnerable kids. Some people will be able to dig in and make it a full life vocation. For others, adoption become a top concern, and they become some of the best advocates for Asia’s Hope. Some continue to support financially or open doors through their spheres of influence. There is always more that can be done, and always more ways for anyone to contribute.”
To learn more about this organization dedicated to serving orphaned and vulnerable children, please visit Asia’sHope.org.