Hope’s In Style Student Fashion Show Aims to Help Guatemalan Families Devastated by Pandemic

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Hope’s In Executive Director and Co-founder, Courtney McGovern, says families living in Guatemala City’s garbage dump communities have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. She says funds raised during this year’s 9th annual student-run Hope’s In Style fashion show are more desperately needed than ever.

Coming up from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, April 11th, theme for this year’s virtual event is Hope’s In Style: Masquerade, Hope Disguised. Close to 100 Barrington High School student stylists, models and volunteers have been busy producing the show filmed at various locations around town.

They hope to raise $75,000 to build homes and fund Hope’s In programs that support families living in communities surrounding Guatemala City’s garbage dumps. For these families, the COVID-19 pandemic made dangerous living conditions even more dire.

Click here to purchase your tickets to the virtual fashion show today.

For a look back at what Hope’s In has accomplished in nearly a decade and a look forward at what the organization’s goals today, we caught up with Hope’s In Executive Director, Co-founder and 2014 BHS graduate, Courtney McGovern. Here’s what she shared about the state of their work in Guatemala and their efforts to inspire and develop humanitarian leaders here at home.

How has the COVID pandemic changed the needs of those in the communities you serve?

Courtney McGovern: Initially, the shutdown of entire communities within Guatemala City had a devastating impact on families. Families couldn’t even go in the garbage dump to work. This is extremely hard on families as they depend on each day’s wages to survive and put food on the table for their families. Also, as families were forced to stay home, the sole municipal water source that services the communities became extremely overwhelmed. This left families without running water during the day to drink, wash their hands with, or even shower in. All essential measures to live and prevent the virus. That is why we provided over 195,840 meals to families over the course of the first few months of the pandemic.

Through our conversations with partner organizations, local leaders and families we work alongside we have also learned about the challenges the pandemic has created for children. As schools shifted to entirely online platforms, many families in Zone 3 struggled as they don’t have wifi or computers. In fact, some high school students we work with were forced to complete school on a mobile device. Can you imagine trying to write an essay on a cell phone? It has been very challenging for parents who work in the garbage dump all day to offer any support to their children as they try to navigate online school. As some students have given up school entirely during the pandemic, it has made them particularly vulnerable to getting involved in organized crime, recreational drug, and alcohol use and falling into detrimental cycles that have been in their families for years such as teen pregnancy.

In fact, this is part of the reason we have committed to doubling the size of our Fortaleza program from 10 to 20 young women. We also created and distributed informational pamphlets for young girls that included crisis hotline numbers, educational material about domestic abuse, and information on where to go if they needed help.

365: How many years have you been hosting Hope’s In Style? How much has this fashion show raised over the years and how have those funds been used?

Courtney McGovern: This is our 9th annual Hope’s in Style fashion show fundraiser! Over the years we have raised about $325,000 in the past eight Hope’s in Style events. This year our goal is to raise $75,000. Over the years the fashion show has truly equipped us to further our mission to empower families living in Guatemala and help develop the next generation of humanitarian leaders. As an organization, we’ve built 43 homes, hosted medical clinics that have seen over 1,650 patients, given away over $17,000 to support Guatemalan medical initiatives, and have started and run a community group and mentorship program for at-risk girls and teenage mothers in the communities we work alongside. Additionally, in regards to humanitarian leadership development, we run an internship program for high schoolers, service-learning programs for high school freshmen, middle schoolers, and young adults with disabilities.

365: How would you describe the level of help & hope you are giving to these families and why?

Courtney McGovern: A goal of our organization has always been to listen to the needs of the communities we work alongside and respond in an appropriate, generous and sustainable way. In some instances we provide relief, meaning a family is in a crisis situation where their basic needs or rights are not being served. Our relief efforts are projects like building homes, providing food during the pandemic, and short term medical relief. In other instances, we look to provide holistic development that aims to empower families to stand on their own two feet and grow. These efforts are seen in our Fortaleza program. This program aims to holistically come alongside the young girls and mothers in the group. We offer them mentorship, access to a licensed therapist, scholarship opportunities, medical care and education about their reproductive health. Another example of this is our Inclusion Alliance Program. This program aims to empower persons with disabilities in Guatemala. Through this program we have worked with Barrington educators to train special educators in Guatemala. We have also sponsored a special educator, who worked full time, at a residential home for young women with disabilities who have aged out of the child protective care system in Guatemala.

Both relief and development programs are incredibly important. The families we work alongside live in communities with high levels of violence, economic poverty, and various challenges. However, giving them these various tools and resources allow families to get the support they need to reach their potential and access basic necessities. Our team truly cares for the families we work alongside and have learned so much from them about resiliency, strength and hard work.

365: How have Hope’s In programs directly impacted the lives of those you serve in Guatemala? What has that impact looked like over time? How are these funds changing lives?

Courtney McGovern: I’d love to share a story about a young woman in our Fortaleza program. I will not share her real name as these are some personal details but for this article’s sake, I will call her Marta.

Marta became pregnant with her first child at age 15. By age 19 she was a single mother of two children. The father of her firstborn never got involved in the child’s life and the second child’s father was killed tragically in a motorcycle accident. At age 19 she also found herself as the sole caretaker of her four younger siblings as her mother was imprisoned. She describes this period of her life as one of the hardest times she has ever gone through. In fact, the trauma of all these events is something she is still actively working through with our team.

At age 22 she got involved with our Fortaleza program. She now calls this community group the “most important family she’s ever had”. Over the past three years in our program, she has grown in her confidence as a mother, leader, and student. During group meetings, she often takes on a leadership role helping the younger participants out and offering advice. Marta has completed our year-long course about reproductive health and has learned about how she can protect herself from having a third child before she is ready. Marta has also enrolled in an amazing educational program that will allow her to get her G.E.D. in one year. She is thriving, excited about her future, and a dear friend to many.

This year through Fortaleza, in addition to recieving educational support as she pursues her G.E.D., Marta will gain access to counseling, mentorship, and medical care. Marta is an incredibly strong young woman with a bright future. We are grateful to have walked alongside her through many challenging moments and can’t wait to watch her continue to unlock her potential.

365: How has Hope’s In grown over the years? 

Courtney McGovern: Over the past three years HOPE’S IN has grown our impact in both areas of our mission. We often look at our mission as two fold, the first element is empowering families in Guatemala and the second is empowering the next generation of humanitarian leaders. In regards to empowering families in Guatemala, just over the last three years, we have launched the Fortaleza program and Inclusion Alliance program. These programs have also meant growth in our volunteer leadership. Each program now has a committee of volunteers that think strategically for each program and are made of members from the Barrington area who are passionate about each program.

In regards to humanitarian leadership development, we have launched the Hope’s In Academy for high school freshmen and two additional tracks–the Hope’s in Academy Jr. for middle school students and the Hope’s in Academy Young Adults for young adults with disabilites. Each program is focused on giving the participants the confidence and skills to change the world. We also have a record number of Interns this year, 53 high school students are part of this program! They are the ones who lead, organize and facilitate the fashion show fundraiser.

365: What’s on the horizon for Hope’s In? What do you envision for the future of the organization?

Courtney McGovern: Empowering Families – We hope to continue to grow our impact in Guatemala and especially our programming that focuses on some of Guatemala’s most vulnerable populations such as at-risk girls, teenage mothers, and persons with disabilities. In the future we want to have a special community center that resources families with holistic care. We also plan on continuing our home building projects and are committed to seeing families live in a dignified home.

Developing Humanitarian Leaders – Our vision is to be the most impactful, inclusive service experience in the country. We want people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to engage with service in a meaningful way. On the horizon, we have really amazing projects launching for Barrington Area volunteers that we can’t wait to share soon!

365: Will you be bringing volunteers to Guatemala to build homes this summer?

Courtney McGovern: This summer we do not plan to bring volunteers to build homes in Guatemala. Though many families in our area may gain access to the vaccine and medical support they need should they need it during this pandemic, this is not the case for the families and partner organizations we work alongside in Guatemala, like Potters House Association. We wouldn’t want to put anyone at risk and have decided not to have teams build homes this summer. However, we are investigating having a medical team travel with us to Guatemala this year.


365: Will you remind us the story behind your decision to create HOPE’S IN back in 2012?

Courtney McGovern: HOPE’S IN began with a dream to build one home for one little girl named Monica and her family living in Zone 3 of Guatemala City. This particular Zone is home to over 13,000 people who are partially or completely reliant on the Guatemala City garbage dump to survive. Whether it be work opportunities, things to build their homes out of, or items to wash and sell–the garbage dump is their resource for so much.

My family had grown up doing international service work with an organization called Kids Around the World. Our primary focus with them was to build playgrounds in at-risk communities. We built a playground in Zone 3 when I was going into my freshman year of high school. While we were there we were being hosted by an organization called Potters House Association. I really loved their work and returned the summer going into my sophomore year as an Intern for one month. That is when I met Monica. My family got to know Monica and eventually became her sponsors through Potters House Association which meant we helped sponsor her educational, personal and nutritional needs. When my twin sister, Ashley, and I found out her sister who was our age at the time was pregnant we knew we wanted to do something to change the living conditions for the next generation of her family. We knew our friends loved fashion and we decided to host a fashion show fundraiser. Thanks to the support of our family, friends, a mentor by the name of Cindy Cowdrey and the Barrington community we hosted the first-ever Hope’s in Style. The event was very successful and we raised double what we needed- just over $15,000. So we decided to build Monica’s home and then invite Barrington community members to pay their own way and help build the second home we had funded. That first summer we had 27 people travel with us to Zone 3 of Guatemala City. Then everything began to snowball. People became passionate about the families they met and the communities they spent time in. The rest is history.

365: What does it feel like to do this work and to have witnessed both the suffering seen in these communities and the solutions HOPE’S IN has been able to provide over the years?

Courtney McGovern: Whenever people ask me what this work is like I often say it is quite an adventure. Adventures are so thrilling at times, heartbreaking at others, challenging, beautiful, and develop in ways you’d never expect them to. This is what working alongside extremely vulnerable communities can be like. There are so many highs and lows when you open your heart up to a place that has fragile systems for success. It has been my greatest privilege to have met so many amazing people in Guatemala City and to have been invited into their lives in some of their hardest moments. I think all our volunteers that have traveled with us to Guatemala and have been involved with our work feel the same way. Seeing families build their new homes with us is such a blessing.

As an organization, it’s very motivating for us when we see how the Barrington area has embraced our mission– both our local and global impact. Like any lifelong adventure, you don’t want to go at it alone! The amazing volunteers and supporters that we have has encouraged our team to keep fighting for families we love in Guatemala.

365: How can we as a community support your mission? 

Courtney McGovern: We invite you to join us at Hope’s in Style this year! You can learn more about this virtual event and get tickets here: https://www.betterunite.com/HopesIn-hopesinstyle2021

It is going to be an incredible event and our high school interns have worked so hard to make it happen. It is going to be a powerful program as the theme is Hope’s in Style: Masquerade, Hope Disguised. High school students will share their experiences about the pandemic and the challenges they faced. They will also share the hope they discovered unexpectedly during the pandemic and how it has made them even more empathetic and motivated changemakers.

Click here to purchase your tickets to the virtual fashion show today.

Beyond the fashion show, we invite people to join our Catalyst Club! This is a special monthly giving program. For just about $1.17 a day, you can join this program! It allows you to gain access to special events, quarterly newsletters, and a community of people who are passionate about impacting the world. Each of our Catalyst Club members are featured in our Catalyst Club Gallery which can be found here: https://hopesin.org/the-catalyst-club/.

Beyond supporting our programs with resources, we invite people to give their time and talent! We can be found on the BAVC website and also share volunteer opportunities via our social media pages on Facebook and Instagram. We always are looking to sharpen our programming and invite Barrington area volunteers to learn about our programs and work with us to make them better.

Co-founded in 2012 by twin sisters, Courtney McGovern & Ashley Quigley during their junior year at Barrington High School, HOPE’S IN is dedicated to impacting and empowering the Guatemala City garbage dump communities and developing the next generation of humanitarian leaders. To-date, Hope’s In volunteers have built dozens of safe homes and inspired hundreds of student volunteers to travel to Guatemala to help bring hope to families living in poverty. Learn more about the mission at HopesIn.org.

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