By Alyssa Sharp
Very little remains of the past communist holdings since The Smiles Foundation from Oradea, Romania purchased the property in Salonta. Their vision is moving forward with The Joint Centers of Love as a top priority. When you walk through the alley way of Smiles in this rural town, you’ll find a scene that is normal in Eastern European terms. The walls are concrete, the paint is chipped and there are three to four different buildings. These are a stark contrast to the old gothic architecture seen in the larger cities of Romania. Instead, they exhibit a cold industrial factory atmosphere. At one point each building served many different purposes during the communist era than the future use, but Smiles has big plans for all of these buildings.
Walking with Kevin Hoy, the founder of Smiles, through the rugged corridors and construction, it’s easy to grasp his vision for the property. His excitement over transforming the cold buildings to The Joint Centers of Love is contagiuous. Volunteers for Smiles labor away at the massive project with the help of donations from around the world. Their intent is to provide a care center for the elderly and children with disabilities. This endeavor not only benefits those who stay in the facility, but it will improve the lives of locals from the surrounding villages. From the street you can see a wedding and formal dress shop. To the right of it is the second-hand clothing store. It bustles with locals searching for affordable garments to clothe their families. These stores will not only provide affordable clothes to those in need, but the profits will go right back into The Smiles Foundation in an effort to be a self-sustained ministy. As a secondary effect, the stores create much needed jobs for those in the village.
The founder of Smiles, Kevin Hoy, took us on a tour of the facilities. He explained that the recent financial crisis in Romania has caused many families to live on very little. Many families make the equivalent of $60 a month, or less. This makes it impossible to afford transportation to acquire a higher paying job. The price of groceries and clothes remain very high, while gas is comparable to $8 gallon. The country has yet to recover from the repercussions of the harsh communist dictatorship that has affected so many families. With the economy in such a state, there is little hope for most Romanians to support their families. Once the Joint Centers of Love is in full operation, Smiles will be able to shine some light and reach out to those in need. And with the support of Project 3:17, we can help Romanians in Salonta and the surrounding area have a better quality of life.
As we walked through the facility with Mr Hoy, Smiles projects and vision stirred my curiosity. He explained the renovation and construction that needed to be completed. We walked around the buildings, taking in the details, bareness and random leftovers from the communist era. This helped us to formulate a picture in our mind of what was to become of the remnants. The shops up front, which had been fully operational for a few months prior to our visit, had already taken in a successful amount of revenue. The second hand shop was filled with clothes that had been donated to Smiles from former teams from the United Kingdom. The stores have created a buzz about town. The dress shop is also supported by donations, and is off to an equally impressive start. It already has provided local girls with dresses to wear to their school formals, and gowns for brides on their wedding day, all at a low cost. But, behind these two shops, the larger project exists.
Smiles is taking large industrial buildings and turning them into a center for disabled children on one wing, and a center for the elderly on the other. With this, they will also have a café to provide food for both facilities. This café not only serves those in the centers, but it will also open up to the public as another source of revenue for Smiles while creating local jobs. Many times throughout our mission trip we were amazed by how well Smiles uses everything they have as a resource for the organization. They are a picture of what it means to be good stewards with God’s blessings to them. From the dual purpose of the café, to the scraps from the building renovation that were saved to re-use in the future, it was easy to see how God has blessed them in a great way.
When I chaperoned a mission trip, which consisted of mostly high school students, I prayed, “What can I contribute using my gifts to support Smiles?” I knew the answer to this question when I saw the second-hand store and dress shop in Salonta for the first time. As a college business major and entrepreneur, my heart jumps at the chance to support missions through enterprise. I’ve learned that God gives us certain skills and abilities to reach those who would not otherwise be reached by others. We may not all be called to a mission field in a foreign country, but that doesn’t mean that our influence stops in our city. Because I believe this and live it, I knew we had to create a way to support The Joint Centers of Love.
After arriving back in the U.S. from ten days in the beautiful Romanian countryside, the team was filled with the hopes to supply a forty foot container of clothes to send back to Smiles. Project 3:17 was created on the principle of 1 John 3:17-18,
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
We have already seen a great response from the people in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area and hope to expand the response region. Most have never heard of The Smiles Foundation, nor know where Romania is located on a map. Seeing the stacks of bags and boxes of clothes at our drop off location displays how people can actively take part in something small, and in return, be a part of not only providing clothes for the needy, but bring precious souls into the Kingdom of God. Every piece of clothing sold means one more dollar towards The Joint Centers of Love, and one more opportunity for a disabled child or elderly Romanians to encounter the Love of Christ through The Smiles Foundation.
You can contribute to Project 3:17 by shipping or dropping off your NEW or LIGHTLY used clothes, or FORMAL DRESSES to:
10560 Perkins Rd
Baton Rouge, LA 70810
Alyssa Sharp is currently a senior Business Management major with an emphasis on Entrepreneurship at Louisiana State University. Her goal is to own a business to support missions for widows and orphans, and people in need. Alyssa’s passion to help others and spread the Gospel started young, and at age sixteen she spearheaded her first mission trip to the unreached in Costa Rica, and subsequent trips followed. And in the Spring of 2011, God presented an opportunity to go to Romania. She said “Yes!” Project 3:17 was birthed from that trip. In her spare time, Alyssa enjoys old movies, reading, writing, baking sweets, and exploring plantations and old buildings with family and friends.