For 17 years, Eileen Humphrey dedicated her life to meeting and empowering new people around the globe. Creating a team of volunteers that would span through all regions of the United States, she and her husband, John, generated a movement they truly believed in—a movement that spread a surprisingly attainable goal: ending world poverty.
You might say Eileen has always had a passion for helping others. In her professional life, she taught special education and first grade. And for the last 12 years of her career, she worked with high school dropouts, helping them get their GED certificates and go on to find employment.
Eileen is an idealist, to say the least. But it was her activism that would allow her to impact hundreds of lives worldwide.
One day in 1990, after years of working with youth, something unfortunate and unexpected happened. Eileen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
It was a new obstacle she and John never thought they’d have to face, forcing them to take a new perspective on their lives and their careers. They had both been working full-time jobs since they married, and raised five children, leaving them little one-on-one time with each other.
Soon after the diagnosis, she and John decided to retire and start a new life –one that would allow them to spend more time together. But little did they know then that a new adventure was in store for them.
For years, they had been Outreach International supporters. But one day, after talking to Director of Field Operations Dennis Labayen and former Executive Director Jack Knapp, they decided to do something a little crazy: They would move from their Houston home to Outreach International headquarters in Missouri. Eileen and John wanted to rededicate their lives to Outreach’s mission of fighting poverty.
It came as a burst of spontaneity, and was a bit startling at first, but they decided to disregard hesitation and jump right in. “After we made the decision, things went so smoothly,” Eileen said. “Our house sold right away, and we found a great place to build a house in Missouri. We took it as a sign.”
Once they got there, they weren’t sure what exactly they’d be doing for Outreach, but they were ready to start a new chapter. After years of leading busy lives, they were excited to do something together—something they both believed in.
Not more than a couple months after their move, Eileen and John helped found Outreach’s volunteer network.
Building a base of volunteers all over the United States, they were able to broadened the voice of Outreach. And soon, much to their excitement, hundreds of people across the country became advocates for Outreach’s mission.
Volunteers would meet every year in locations all over the United States to talk about their successes and failures, and what they could do to improve and reach more people.
“These are people who believe so strongly in Outreach International. We all knew in our hearts that with enough support, we could make a big impact,” said Eileen.
“John always said not being paid employees was a real strength for us because people would know we really believed in the mission,” she continued. “They would know that it really mattered.”
Looking back, she considers the volunteer network to be a truly tremendous experience. “We met wonderful, beautiful people all over,” she said. “And it was a beautiful time for John and me. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time together before we retired. So in some ways, I got to know him again. And I was able to really enjoy his company.”
Eileen feels blessed to have been able to spend 17 years with her husband, working toward a goal they believed in so strongly.
Years later, they found out John had cancer. Eileen spent his last days by his side. But she knows the time they spent together for Outreach will live on forever. They impacted hundreds, and helped change the fates of thousands living in poverty.
Lucky for John and Eileen, they got to see their work in action before John passed away. On a site visit in the Philippines, Eileen said they met amazing, hard-working people eager to step out of poverty. The families built each other up and worked together; they were really progressing.
She and John were genuinely impressed, and it made everything worthwhile.
But there was one moment in the Philippines that stuck with her for all these years.
“A mother was mourning the loss of her son. She wasn’t able to afford the medical treatment that could have saved him,” Eileen said. “She needed our help. And she said something I think all Outreach supporters should keep in mind. Before we left, she turned to me and said, ‘Don’t forget us. Don’t forget us when you go.'”