Helping children find a better life

By Bruce Stambaugh

Joe Heatwole, 33, of Dalton, Ohio went to Nicaragua to help a friend inspect some land and came back with an idea to help scores of children.

Heatwole has turned that idea into reality thanks to his own hard work and the help of several others. The production manager at Valley View Oak near Mt. Hope put his management skills to good use.

Joe Heatwole by Bruce Stambaugh

Joe Heatwole displays a bag of Better Life Coffee.

While visiting in the rural Nicaraguan mountains, Heatwole saw the needs of many poor and orphaned children. He was determined to help them if he could.

He came up with what he thought was a logical solution. Americans love coffee, and San Marcos, Nicaragua just happens to produce great tasting, high altitude, shade grown coffee that is low in acid.

Better Life Coffee was born. The name reflects the purpose of the mission.

“If you can help a child,” Heatwole said, “you never know their potential.”

The conditions Heatwole saw in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Central America, drove his passion to help.

“What I saw was a life of hopelessness,” Heatwole said. His hope is to raise enough funds by selling Better Life Coffee, which is labeled fair market coffee, to build a boarding school for up to 60 children.

Heatwole said there would be six homes built for the children, three for boys, and three for girls.

“We don’t want to westernize them,” he explained. “We just want to give them a good education.”

Heatwole, who was born in Alberta, Canada, said local people would be used to build the boarding school. He said the goal is to have the construction completed in a year.

While waiting for a plane at the airport in Managua, Nicaragua, he randomly met Bill Sullivan, who works with indigenous tribes there.

“Bill is looking to translate the Bible into their native language,” Heatwole said. “He also wants to start a coffee plantation for them.”

Coffee berries by Bruce Stambaugh

Shade grown coffee berries ready to be picked.

With Sullivan’s support and contacts in Nicaragua, Heatwole was able to put his idea of selling coffee into action. First, though, he and his wife, Heather, decided to dip into their own savings and purchase the first 960 pounds of coffee.

Since the coffee beans are shipped green, Heatwole needed to find a place to roast the beans. He turned to the proprietors of Wallhouse Coffee in Sugarcreek for advice since they roast their own coffee. They agreed to store and roast the coffee as needed.

Heatwole said Better Life Coffee is a recognized nonprofit company in Ohio.

“That means that everything earned goes to help the children in Nicaragua,” he said.

Heatwole’s philosophy is simple. “Since most people drink coffee,” he said, “why not have your money go to a good cause?”

Better Life Coffee by Bruce Stambaugh

The label says it all.

He said the coffee may be purchased at Jitters and Surplus 61 in Millersburg, and at P. Graham Dunn in Dalton. The coffee can also be ordered online at Better Life Coffee on Facebook or by emailing betterlifecoffee@gmail.com. Whether whole bean or ground, the coffee sells for $11 a pound.

Heatwole sees selling the coffee as a great fundraiser for youth groups. He said he plans on leading a group of interested persons to Nicaragua early next year so they can see firsthand what the needs are there.

Heatwole said the goal is to raise $10,000 from coffee sales. Others will help raise additional funds through different channels to complete the boarding school, according to Heatwole.

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