STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 04/09/2015

Going The Distance

As the founders of New Horizons Foundation, a youth development program in Romania’s Jiu Valley, Dana ’93 and Brandi ’92 Bates shepherded an idealistic vision into a flourishing nonprofit organization. Here Dana shares what it takes to “go the distance.”

1. Spark
| Our initial call to Romania happened in 1994 when Brandi and I visited my parents in Bucuresti, Romania, where they had started an orphanage. We were dumbstruck by the poverty—not people starving, but people deprived of beauty (back then everything was gray), and lacking the opportunity to experience nature. We had been inspired by our work with Rich Obenschain in the La Vida outdoor education program. We began asking, “What if?”

2. Momentum | The vision gained traction through prayer, encouragement from our church (Magnolia Congregational), and providential meetings with people like Project Adventure’s lead engineer Rich Klajnscek—who volunteered on the spot to build a ropes course for us. Through these encounters we both came to know this was a vision worth pursuing—and that somehow it was pursuing us.

3. Reality Check | We had an intuition that outdoor education could be useful here in Romania, but until we actually settled in here, we had no idea just how good a fit it could be for the specific development challenges in postcommunist societies, where apathy, corruption, lack of interpersonal trust and depression are endemic. We built Romania’s first adventure course (the Viata program) in 1999 and in 2003 we launched, as a follow-up, the “IMPACT” service-learning model that is now spreading throughout the world!

4. Partnerships | Many of the best and brightest in Romania believe in this work and its appropriateness to bring about God’s shalom in this context. New Horizons is almost entirely Romanian run and funded, plus we have fantastic volunteers from the U.S. and Canada. This is not the “Dana and Brandi Show.” It really does take a village.

5. Confirmation | There have been incredible times of joy and success, such as when we won a NOKIA grant worth over $800,000 (in a competition with top NGOs in Romania). And currently, getting World Vision on board and discussing global replication of our IMPACT program is really exciting.

6. Intervention | There have also been times we were at our ropes’ end—like living in a block with open sewage and swarms of mosquitoes year round. God saw fit to put it into some dear friends’ heads to raise money for a house for us. Through a financial “barn-raising,” months later we moved into a place that we love. We can see ourselves calling this home for a long time to come. I thought: Somebody really wants us to stay.