Santiago Foundation Changing Lives in Manzanillo

2010 February 2010 Mariana Llamas-Cendon

By Mariana Llamas-Cendon  from the February 2010 Edition

Whether you are a full or part-time Manzanillo resident, I bet at least once you have attended the Santiago Foundation Benefit gala that usually takes place at the beginning of each year. You might also be aware that the event is a fundraiser to help improve local residents’ lives, but what else do you know about this non-profit organization that started locally in 1983? No, don’t try to Google the Santiago Foundation because no information will be retrieved since they don’t posses a website, at least not yet.

Santiago Foundation is a non-profit organization, no doubt about it. What really distinguishes it from others around is the fact that all their efforts go towards education as a tool for changing people’s lives. The organization that was created in 1983 by Dr. Luis Bejar and Robert Johnson now has two educational centers: One in El Naranjo and the other in Francisco Villa.

The center located at El Naranjo was acquired in 1994 through Beatriz Burton, and built by engineer Juan Culin “with a lot of donations coming in from different people,” said Glenda Meisel, one of the board members of the foundation.

These centers, according to Susan Hess, another board member, survive thanks to “goodwill and good interest”.

Nowadays, the foundation can count 13 salaried teachers, and some volunteers, either American or Canadian, who also teach English.

“We do have a financial budget that we have to meet each year,” said Susan Hess, although she stressed that most of the efforts come in the form of volunteering. Both centers specialize in trade education for work, regardless of age or sex, or to improve their skills to get a better paid job and therefore, enhance their quality of life even just by learning a second language such as English.

“They have beauticians, arts and crafts, sewing, and the carpenter shop. There is always a need for carpenters,” said Glenda Meisel.

“For us, as donors and participants, when we spend a lot of time putting it together, we really get to see what this is about,” Susan Hess said.

The Santiago Foundation also has a scholarship fund that “awards 7 scholarships, not large scholarships to students here and we do have a couple of donors that contribute to that,” said Meisel.

These scholarships are intended for a one semester college course at Colima State University and anyone can apply.

The carpenter shop was made possible by donations from Dick and Sally Fitzgerald, Bill and Ruth Kurtz, and Beatriz and Walter Burton through the Rotary Club of Vancouver, in Canada.

“Overall, an average of 600 students attend the centers each year,” says Susan Hess.

Classes follow a semester format, and “we do have graduation celebration coming up on February 3 in the building at El Naranjo at 4 p.m., and they will issue diplomas,” Glenda Meisel added.

Graduation is the time when students display their newest acquired knowledge, even the English class children participate. To see a little kid at the store that speaks a little English and when you ask ‘where did you learn English?’ and they reply ‘the Santiago Foundation’ is very heart-warming,” said Glenda Meisel.

The Benefit

On February 9, 2010, takes place the Dinner and Auction Benefit for the Santiago Foundation at the Tesoro Hotel. Yes, you may have heard about it as the best place to see and be seen, but also it is also the main fundraising of the foundation so your participation is vital for the nourishment the upcoming year’s programs, including the Food Distribution one intended to assist the less fortunate, mostly single mothers or the unemployed. “The bottom line is that there never is enough money to fill all the needs, ” Susan Hess said. “What is so appealing to me is that the money goes directly to changing people’s lives. You can actually see the results of that”. But hold your thoughts, this year’s benefit besides having the usual attractions such as the live and silent auctions, and the dinner has also a twist.

“We have done it for a number of years,” Hess said. “This year we are changing things: We are going to do a take off on Dancing with the starts”.

Three couples have been already selected among those two are well-known around: Juan Culin and his wife along with Jesus and Maria Carreño. The third couple is mostly a mystery, although we can only say that the male counterpart is a priest.

“They all do their dance and we’ll be selling votes. We’ll be selling the opportunity to vote for your favorite dancer,” Hess said.

A call for volunteers

As happen on any other non-profit organization, the Santiago Foundation is always in need of helping hands, able to donate either their time or their talents or both as a volunteer. Volunteering is “based on interests and time,” said Susan Hess. “They teach English or handcrafts”. There aren’t any requirements of age, sex, religion, color… to become one, just the will. If interested, please contact Glenda Meisel ( or Susan Hess (


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