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PennDOT Employee Tara Callahan-Henry Travels to Mexico for Charity

February 21, 2020 08:15 AM
By: None

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​In honor of National Kindness Week, we want to highlight our District 9 press officer, Tara Callahan-Henry, for using her time to help those in need.

Going to another country to help a less fortunate family in an impoverished city sounds daunting; it may even invoke a little fear and uncertainty in a person. But, with no hesitation, Tara Callahan-Henry, together with a group of 19 others, did just that this past summer and loved the experience so much they already have started planning another trip for this year.

The group was made up of members of Callahan-Henry's church, Hicks Methodist in Duncansville, and other friends and family. They travelled to Ensenada, Mexico, which is on the Baja Peninsula, about 2 hours south of San Diego. There, they spent a week building a new home for Isabel Pacheco-Cruz and her five sons. Pacheco-Cruz took her children and left an abusive relationship for a better life, but a diagnosis of tuberculosis left her unable to work and get necessary medical treatments. Her eldest son, Edgar, dropped out of school at age 14 to provide for the family – working at a flower farm for $89 a week.

Ensenada is a very poor community with little running water, little electricity, and few paved roads. Dogs are kept as guards, not pets, to protect people and their belongings.

"I don't think I was prepared for the poverty we saw. Some people had nothing," Callahan-Henry said. "Isabel and her boys slept each night on the concrete slab at the construction site to ensure no building materials would be stolen."

The family had been living in an addition built onto another family member's home. They shared two mattresses among all of them, with only a small cabinet for furniture and a camp stove for cooking.

"We wanted to provide this family with a home, a sense of safety and a place to grow in love and to grow with their faith," Callahan-Henry said. "For the first time the boys each had their own beds, their own pillows, extra clothes, new bikes – things they never had."

The language barrier presented challenges, as very few people outside the Yugo Ministries campus where the group stayed spoke English.

"Two members of our group spoke enough Spanish to help, but, they weren't always with us," Callahan-Henry explained. "Yet, there was still an understanding between everyone, a simple smile or hug from a stranger meant so much. They were happy to see us and willing to help us. One night, we went to buy school supplies at the local Wal-Mart and a young mother helped us determine what certain items were and what the boys would need in the best way she could without knowing much English herself."

A few of Callahan-Henry's ministry group also conducted a vacation bible school program each afternoon for a group of 20-30 children, who did not speak English. An interpreter helped with lessons, but shyness prevented some of kids from waiting for the translation.

"A friend and I would have some of the little girls come up to us and want to tell us something and when we could call our translator over, they would giggle and run away," Callahan-Henry explained. "They wanted to share something with us as women and they didn't want to tell the male interpreter."

But they quickly learned that you don't need to speak the same language to show your love.

"Each day when we showed up on the build site, the smiles of the family showed us all the love we needed."


Callahan-Henry and the others at Hicks Methodist are eagerly planning the next trip to Ensenada for August 2020. It takes about 10-11 months to pick dates, coordinate arrangements and raise funds to pay for the house-building and other items for recipients.

"We purchase items to help furnish the family's home — clothing, bedding, curtains. And once we get there, we shop for things we can't fly with like dishes, kitchen items, and other housewares," Callahan-Henry said.

This journey has inspired her to continue to do more ministry work like this and eventually bring her children when they are old enough.

"This trip was very humbling and eye-opening for me. The hardest part was being away from my kids and explaining to them why I was going to help build a house for a family that didn't have one and that I was buying clothes for children who don't have many," she said. "For my kids who have all their basic needs met, hearing that these kids have no TV, no video games, no running water or electricity was a foreign concept to them."

The theme for their trip was "Love is," from the book of 1 John in the Bible. Tara and the others set out to show kindness and love to people in a place they'd never been and received it in return.

"The kindness from complete strangers was just amazing - from the church congregation who welcomed us into their service and prayed for us, to the women who prepared a lunch for us on the last day of the house build," Callahan-Henry reflected. "They came around to hug and thank each of us for helping one of their own. It truly was an amazing experience."

This follows the pattern of generosity at the district, with District 9 participating in "Stuff the Barrel" and a canned food drive every year.

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