A newsmaker you should know: 'Giving until it hurts' feels good to Spear
February 21, 2013 10:15 AM
Richard Spear with children in Haiti.
By Margaret Smykla
When Richard Spear was a boy, he lived next door to a family who didn't have much stability or money and who were somewhat shunned by neighbors because of that.
He recalled that his mother, Mary, now deceased, reminded him that he should always help others. She often took him with her to help the needy family, and he would take the four children to the playground.
"I always remember how happy they were that someone took an interest in them," Mr. Spear, now 70 and living in South Fayette, said. "It gave me a good feeling."
That desire to help others became a lifelong drive, culminating in his establishment of the Cali Orphanage Charitable Fund, which has helped build and assist orphanages in Colombia and Haiti.
When not traveling to those countries, Mr. Spear volunteers at UPMC Mercy, visiting cancer patients.
"Give until it hurts," he said, is his motto, quoting one of his heroes, Mother Teresa.
His involvement with the orphanages began 15 years ago when he saw news stories of Colombian drug trafficking and guerrilla warfare that included images of suffering children.
Wanting to help, Mr. Spear flew to Cali, a city in Colombia that authorities say is a center of drug activity.
He met Sister Elsa Marie Ayala at a small, rundown orphanage and vowed to help her fulfill her wish for a new facility.
Returning to his job as intramural director and baseball coach at Duquesne University, he began telling professional contacts about the project.
As donations poured in, he presented Sister Ayala with $125,000, or half of the total cost for a new, 95-resident orphanage.
"She was quite pleased," Mr. Spear said.
His fundraising efforts resulted in a new dormitory, three classrooms, a bakery, new bathrooms and a septic tank.
One of the orphans he encountered was Marta Caicedo, one of six siblings born to a poor mother.
Ms. Caicedo, 18, was relying on funding from the Cali Rotary Club to attend medical school in Cali. When the club went bankrupt, Mr. Spear and his wife Janet, used $24,000 of their own money to fund her education.
The couple also financed nursing school for Ms. Caicedo's sister, Sandra.
For his volunteer efforts in Cali, Mr. Spear was honored locally with several awards: Humanitarian Recognition Award from Columbia en Pittsburgh, a social organization; Community Champions Jefferson Award, administered by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and Thanksgiving Tuesday Award from La Roche College.
But Mr. Spear's work on behalf of needy youngsters had only just begun.
In 2010, two weeks before a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti, he visited the island to see how he could help its poverty-stricken children. He set his sites on an orphanage that had no water or electricity, where residents slept on its flat roof.
After the earthquake hit, he learned the orphanage had been destroyed and he decided to help build a new one.
The Cali Orphanage Charitable Fund, which had acquired legal nonprofit status years earlier, was amended so its funds could be used to help any orphanage in the world.
To date, the fund has raised about $1.6 million.
Today, Mr. Spear's efforts help maintain the Cali orphanage plus three in Haiti, including the new orphanage, which opened last year to 50 youngsters.
He continues to travel to the countries at his own expense.
For his future, he plans to do more of the same --which he relishes, he said, with its endless challenges.
"I want to continue on with the orphanages and make sure they are viable and go forward with their programs," he said.
To donate to the Cali Orphanage Charitable Fund, send a check payable to the fund to 8104 Palomino Drive, Bridgeville, PA 15017.