Grand Valley State University international student Dayana Flores, Public and Nonprofit Administration major and Advertising and Public Administration minor, has her very own feeding center that has helped individuals in her hometown in Nicaragua persevere through difficult times. However, her efforts to support her community go far beyond home-cooked meals and food packets.
Her family has been volunteering with multiple nonprofit organizations since she was six years old. The main nonprofit they worked with was called Manna Project International, which focuses on community development. The Manna Project International helped host programs such as English classes and child sponsorship opportunities. Flores’s family hosted a lot of the volunteers that would come in from all over the United States. Some of them came for a week, a month, or a year. Since her family hosted so many of them and for so many years, she was able to learn how to speak English.
Once she became fluent in English, Flores started teaching with the volunteers at the age of 13. The English classes were held in her community, just a block from her house. When Flores learned English, she saw all the benefits that came with understanding the language.
“I was able to start working at the age of 13 translating for so many missionary teams in Nicaragua,” Flores said. “I was able to help my family financially, and I also learned the value of working and earning my own money. With that money, I was able to help my mom pay for a lot of bills, buy school uniforms and school supplies for the whole year.”
Because she was able to see all the benefits of learning English, she wanted to help more people from her community get there as well. She taught an English class every Tuesday and Thursday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Combined with the other volunteers; they helped teach over 100 students. The youngest of the students she helped was eight, and the oldest one was 65.
“I miss my students every day, but it has been rewarding to see a lot of my students get jobs where they can use their English language skills,” Flores said.
Since Flores grew up volunteering, she knew this is what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. One day Flores went up to her mom and told her about her dreams of starting a community program.
“Since I grew up in a poor community, I was always able to see the need all around me,” Flores said. “Many of the kids in my community still today cannot have more than one meal a day.”
On August 6 of 2016, just a few days before her senior year of high school began, she started her feeding program with six kids from her community. That is when her dreams finally begun to come true. The program is still going on to this day, but they now have 32 kids.
Due to political issues in the country, Flores has not been able to make the program into an actual nonprofit organization, but her hope is to do so whenever they are able. Recently she decided to name her food center Unidos por Cristo (United By Christ) because she believes “we are all brothers and sisters, and that is how we should treat one another.”
A large part of her food center is feeding kids lunch twice a week after school. Once they are done eating, they get a lesson about respect, diligence, love, friendship, hygiene, or any other lesson that would be easy for them to put into practice. Flores and her family also play games with them and make sure to remind them that they are loved and cared for. On top of that, they help them with their homework since a lot of their parents do not know how to read or write. Since she currently does not live in Nicaragua, her mom, sisters, and nephew run the program while she manages all the fundraising and all the budgeting.
“Our program mainly helps the kids, but it also helps the parents since they do not have to worry about feeding them twice a week at least,” Flores said. “This also helps my community as a whole because I can see these kids become adults one day. My vision is to see them use all their potential and all their tools to reach success and become people of good.”
Other than the 32 kids from their after school program, Flores has helped 40 families to be fed for a week over this past holiday season. Every family they helped has at least five people to feed.
Nicaragua is a developing nation that has recently been hit by two hurricanes within weeks of each other during a pandemic.
“It was so devastating to see so many people lose the little bit that they had. Many families lost their jobs, and on top of that, their homes were destroyed,” Flores said. “I remember sitting in my room, crying, trying to figure out a way to help from afar, and I decided to record a video explaining what was happening in Nicaragua to raise awareness. I posted on every social media platform I had. I also shared my Venmo username to give people a chance to donate. In a week, I was able to raise $1,390!”
Flores sent the money she raised to Nicaragua, and her mom and sisters were able to deliver the food. The money raised also allowed her to buy other necessities, including medical emergency kits. In total, 232 people from her community were fed this year by her program.
Just last month, Flores and her husband decided to sponsor three kids from the feeding program and pay for these kids to go to a private school all the way through high school and college.
“My whole career as a student, I have been on a complete scholarship,” Flores said. “In fact, I even have a full ride to go to GVSU now. I know what it’s like to get a chance to succeed in life through education, and that is exactly what we want for the kids.”
She has faith that the children she helps support will be the next leaders in the community and become the ones leading the feeding program one day.
“They are very smart kids, and I know that this chance will help them reach their potential,” Flores said.
The professors at GVSU have helped her to fall in love with her major even more. Flores’s classes have taught her the skills that will help to turn her feeding program into a nonprofit one day.
Flores and her efforts are a wonderful example of how GVSU students display excellence in and out of the classroom. Her thoughtfulness and valiant dedication for doing good is something to admire.
To donate to Flores’s food center Unidos por Cristo (United By Christ), you can Venmo her at @Dayana-Flores-2.