The string of events that led to Kidstown International started in 1990 when a colleague in London phoned Mike Hollander, founder of Bellingham-based hotel group Hollander Hospitality.
“Mike,” the man began, “you like adventure.”
He went on to describe the plight of colleagues in Hungary.
“People need medication,” he said.
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Hollander replied, “I think I can make some phone calls to get some meds shipped out.”
He made the calls, received boxes of medications — heart drugs and antibiotics, he recalls — and set out for Eastern Europe.
“I had not thought this through,” said Hollander, whose company has hotels in Tacoma, Puyallup, SeaTac and Portland. “The U.S. was at war with Serbia. We had to post a bond.”
The medications found a home, and the effort continued.
“I kept doing that for three years,” Hollander said. “It’s part of my sense of Christian duty. The other half is pure adventure. I’ve met the most interesting people.”
After seeing a report concerning child welfare in Romania on the ABC newsmagazine “20/20,” Hollander asked to visit state orphanages there.
“The squalor was truly shocking,” he said. “I can still see the infants, just rocking back and forth.”
The children were not held and did not walk or play. They simply stood and rocked, holding the railings of their cribs. It was their only stimulation, for days, for years.
“I thought, ‘Why? Why do you allow this?’ ” Hollander said. “You come away with a sadness and shock, and a resolution to do something.”
Hollander established Kidstown International in 1995.
“I’m a preacher’s kid,” he said. “It can be in your DNA as a child, to do what you can for the world. I see myself as God’s agent. When opportunity strikes, make yourself available.
“God used me to light a match, but there have been very, very many others who carried the torch.”
His initial goal, he said, “was to help 28 kids.”
Today, Kidstown supports 50 orphanages — 11 in Romania, 25 in India and 14 in Nepal. This year it will open two orphanages, one in India and one in Romania.
One of the Kidstown representatives in Romania estimates the organization has helped at least 1,000 children in her region alone. Over the years, 1,100 children have found sponsors through Kidstown.
With Kidstown, Hollander said, the reward is “pure joy.”
“It’s the joy of knowing that I did light the match, and watching Kidstown become a viable organization, just the joy of knowing I made a difference.”
He does not speculate on future expansion.
“I just let it go where it does,” he said. “You can’t look at the big picture.”