WorkHub Member Reece Anderson is the Development Director for Serving Orphans Worldwide (SOW), an international non-profit serving orphaned children in 28 countries. The organization’s mission is to rescue, train, and sustain struggling children’s homes.
Reece began his journey to SOW in Sydney, Australia, where he attended college and met his beautiful wife, Susan, whom he brought back home to Tyler in 2009. With a bachelor’s degree in music, Reece describes his career options as limited, so he began working in sales while Susan landed a job with the Literacy Council of Tyler. Reece eventually made his way to the United Way of Smith County as the campaign director, where he had an epiphany. “I loved the idea of using my sales experience to help develop resources for local nonprofits,” he reveals.
During his time as the United Way campaign director, he faced numerous challenges; the local Tyler economy declined, and the organization lost several major companies’ funding that totaled a $500k loss for United Way in a relatively short period of time. “It was tough,” Reece articulates, “but I learned some new skills to keep up, and those challenges turned out to be a great gift in disguise.” Reece used this time of struggle to learn, grow, and persevere. He looks back on this time and realizes many of the skillsets he values today came from those difficulties. He recalls:
(During this time), I grew accustomed to creating my own platforms, digital solutions, and getting creative to meet needs when the budget wasn’t there. That extra experience allowed me to transition from a full-time employee for one nonprofit to contracting and working with several nonprofits doing everything from website design to fundraising and strategic planning. Once I had a nice client base built up, my wife also transitioned from her full-time nonprofit job to partnering with me in this venture.
Shortly thereafter, in 2015, Reece was offered a role with a Bristol, Tennessee, based organization called Serving Orphans Worldwide as the Development Director. The primary focus for SOW is orphan care and increasing the quality at partner children’s homes while investing in transition strategies for children aging out of the system. Reece reveals, “There are 150 million orphans in the world, (and) together, they would make up the tenth largest country on the planet.”
Reece reveals the biggest selling point for him in partnering with SOW is that the board of directors covers 100% of all administrative costs. “Literally, every penny that our development team raises goes directly to the field,” Reece enthusiastically points out, “(and) as a fundraiser, I love that we have such significant buy-in from our leadership.” This makes for an effective model, according to Reece, and he has seen firsthand how some of the most vulnerable children of the world have been rescued from the literal streets in their community and been provided with the opportunity of a lifetime directly due to the provision allowed by the financial support of SOW.
People partner with SOW in a couple of varying ways. On the organization’s website, SOWorldwide.org, visitors can browse the sixty partner homes and designate to any of them directly, or they may choose to sign on as a monthly child sponsor. In addition to individuals, companies, churches, and other large donors contribute to SOW by taking on an entire children’s home as the financial provider. SOW collects monthly reports from each home, conducts announced and unannounced site visits every year, and ensures all donated funds go to meet the needs of the children under their care. The four impact areas SOW focuses on are: education, home, health, and faith.
According to Reece, the best way to get involved is through the monthly child sponsorship program. “It is the most unique and impactful way for anyone to make all the difference for at least one child,” he reveals. The program through SOW is specifically serving double orphans, those who lost both parents, living in full-time residential care at the SOW partner homes. Most of the children are not eligible for adoption due to government restrictions, lack of proper documentation, or other factors unique to their country of residence. “Statistically, they don’t’ have a chance,” states Reece of the dire situation these children are in, “(and) our business model is unique in that 100% of your sponsorship will get directly to the field to care for the child.”
This is not the case, sadly, with every orphan charity around the world. Too often, monthly child sponsorship dollars end up going through numerous layers of administration and third-party foreign ministries, a trickle-down effect that absorbs much of the funding before it reaches the child in need. Reece celebrates that SOW provides all their sponsors with updates that include letters, photos, video clips, and important milestones, not simply a photo that hangs on your refrigerator. As the child grows, the support and funding from child sponsorship dollars goes towards helping that child transition into adulthood by attending nursing school, vocational trade school, or otherwise investing in what they need to be equipped for life as a responsible adult who can contribute to society in a meaningful way.
As anyone who works in the nonprofit world knows, a strong connection to your ‘why’, that personal attachment to the cause, is crucial to weather the struggles and storms fundraising can often include. When asked what keeps him going at the end of the day, Reece readily answers, “Perspective. I want to spend every day I’m given in service to better someone else’s life and make sure our children have it better than I do.” Having been raised as the son of a minister, Reece notes he has always been drawn to that kind of life purpose. He goes on:
For me, orphan care is easy to embrace. I personally have two adopted siblings and saw my parents simply say yes when they were faced with a decision to love unconditionally. There are a lot of doctrines and theological differences in the church. There are a lot of political and philosophical differences in society but focusing on helping such a vulnerable population has given me a great sense of clarity and personal fulfillment. It’s pretty black and white and I love being a part of something that brings people together like that.
Maintaining that perspective allows Reece and his wife, Susan, to continue their work with SOW, knowing each day, they are directly helping change lives across the globe.
Reece and Susan Anderson
For those looking for ways to help, there are two unique options outside of a child or home sponsorship, one ongoing and one special opportunity summer 2020. As an ongoing option, the SOW website offers an online shopping option through their Store tab where 100% of gross sales go directly to the cause. Moon Rivers here in Tyler donates a special batch of SOW soaps in several scents. There are also shirts, mugs, and other unique items available from around the world such as scarves from Nepal and baskets from the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name two.
In addition to the website store, according to Reece, there is a fun way to raise support and help address some ongoing crisis situations at some partner homes dealing with the economic impact of Covid-19 this summer. “In Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Liberia, and Argentina, they have been hit particularly hard with temporary bank closures, no groceries, and really difficult situations,” Reece affirms, “(and) we are giving away a completely free one week vacation to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, based on availability through 2021!” The trip includes a five-bedroom beach-front private home on the island. Between June 1 and August 31, 2020, any donation of $25 gets one chance at the drawing, $50 gets two entries, $100 or more gets three entries, and signing up to sponsor a child for $38/month gets ten entries into the contest drawing. The trip can be used through the end of 2021. About this contest, Reece remarks, “Come find me (at WorkHub) if you want more info.”
Speaking of WorkHub, Reece describes the facilities as the “perfect spot” for their small team, “a dream come true” for he and Susan to be able to work together out of their WorkHub private office space. “We have a growing team and hope to be in a bigger suite or multiple suites in the coming years,” Reece comments. He comments that even though SOW is based in Bristol, Tennessee, the board views Tyler as the development and communications hub. “We have staff in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chattanooga, and overseas at the moment (and) I will tell you that 100% they are all jealous of our amazing space here at WorkHub,” Reece indicates. “All of the other co-working spaces in those big cities don’t have half of the amenities for a similar price,” according to Reece, “(and) we are so grateful for Yo and the amazing team and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
WorkHub is honored to have Reece and Susan Anderson and Serving Orphans Worldwide among our beloved members. For more information on how to get involved, visit the SOW website or contact Reece (Reece@SOWorldwide.org) or Susan (Susan@SOWorldwide.org) directly.