MOORHEAD — Tracy Alin can pinpoint one of the moments that altered the course of her life. She was in Ecuador on a medical mission when she saw a little girl. Their eyes met and the girl jumped into her arms and sat on her lap.
The girl was homeless, a child of the streets, and knew that medical missions meant not only care but compassion.
Holding that girl, feeling her heart beat next to her own, awakened something in Alin. More mission trips followed, and a sense of purpose grew out of them.
“The more I went on trips, it set my heart on fire,” she said. “It’s just a fire. I knew it was what I was supposed to do.”
It wasn’t long before she founded a small charity in 2010 called Amistad Worldwide, which helps orphans and widows in India who are outcasts left to fend for themselves on the streets.
The organization buys books for schoolchildren, digs wells to provide clean drinking water and helps connect supporters with some of the world’s poorest people. They can sponsor orphans for $15 a month or widows for $2.50 a month.
A donation of $190 can provide a drinking well to serve a poor village of 1,000 to 3,000 people.
“It’s the poorest of the poor,” she said. “Our goal is to help as many people as we can and stay small and simple.”
In its first year, the charity received donations of $33,860, an amount that multiplied to $273,290 by last year — growth that in large part was fueled by its participation in Giving Hearts Day.
Amistad Worldwide is one of almost 500 charities from North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota that will take part in Giving Hearts Day on Thursday, Feb. 13. Last year, more than 30,000 donors contributed $16.3 million.
The New Life Center brought in the most donations in 2019, with contributions topping $1 million to remodel its homeless shelter in Fargo. The remodeling project enabled the shelter to expand services for the homeless, including a relapse prevention program.
Giving Hearts Day has been transformational for charities in the Fargo-Moorhead area and beyond, said Rob Swiers, the New Life Center’s executive director.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s mind-boggling, really. We have had exponential growth every year.”
During last year’s Giving Hearts Day campaign, Amistad Worldwide received $160,378, ranking it second among smaller charities and providing a major boost for its work, providing half or even two-thirds of the organization's contributions, Alin said.
“It’s been wonderful to be a part of it,” she said. “I don’t consider myself to be a fundraiser.”
She directs the charity from an office in her Moorhead home, juggling her schedule as a mother and part-time nursing home chaplain.
“I pay for everything myself,” she said, adding that her husband’s salary helps cover her expenses, meaning all donations "go to the field." Alin added: “I just don’t feel the need to take anything myself.”
She directs the charity, which has no employees and reports no expenses, with help from four or five board members and five to 10 volunteers.
Alin decided to focus on poor orphans and widows in India after connecting with a Christian evangelist who dedicated his life to that work.
“He rescues and brings them into sponsorship programs,” Alin said, who travels once a year to India, taking letters and gifts from sponsors with her and returning with photographs of those who are helped.
“Our goal is to make it as personal as possible,” she said. Amistad Worldwide is working with about 1,000 children in 16 homes run by pastors.
Jessica Offerman, executive manager of the Fargo-based Impact Institute and an organizer of Giving Hearts Day, said Alin provides regular email updates about Amistad Worldwide’s activities.
“It’s just really impactful pictures and stories that show exactly where the money’s going,” she said.
In India, Alin said, Hindus believe widows and orphans are being punished for sins in a previous life, and therefore are left to fend for themselves.
Children who are orphaned or abandoned are vulnerable to human trafficking, which is rampant in India, Alin said. Hearing of their plight was one of the reasons she founded Amistad Worldwide.
“I just wanted to do something,” she said. “I don’t have an excuse not to.”
With help from supporters, Amistad Worldwide has given 50,000 books to schoolchildren and completed 1,500 wells, providing 1 million people with clean water, Alin said.
Ideally, the goal is for the children receiving support to achieve self-sufficiency. Access to clean water and aid in obtaining education and training help to accomplish that, she said.
One man started as a well digger and now runs a business digging wells, employing 20 diggers. He moved from a hut to a two-room home with an air-conditioned bedroom, and his children attend a good school, Alin said.
“It’s a huge life change for him personally,” she said. Five teenagers, who have been helped by the evangelist Alin works with since they were young, are beginning to serve the homeless and help install wells.
“He’s multiplying himself through these kids in amazing ways,” Alin said.