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Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund working to improve lives in Central American country

'It's tremendously rewarding to see the smiles on the faces of our students and of our graduates,' Steve Dudenhoefer says
Posted at 6:01 PM, Dec 08, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Palm Beach County man sold his business and left everything behind to move to Guatemala and make a difference.

Creating schools, he's helped thousands of teenagers graduate and get jobs in their home country.

WPTV spoke with the founder of the Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund, Steve Dudenhoefer, about the successes and why he needs help to do more.

"Girls are expected to get married at 14, 15, 16 years of age to start a family," Dudenhoefer said. "The boys are expected to find their way across the desert to make their way to the United States to find jobs to send money back."

It's a cycle of hopelessness that Dudenhoefer is trying to break in Guatemala. Deep in the jungle, one of the schools he founded empowers young boys and girls to change their futures.

 Steve Dudenhoefer, started Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund
Steve Dudenhoefer speaks about his commitment to helping the lives of people living in Guatemala.

"To see them graduate from the school to become professionals, to get great jobs and to really lift their families and their communities and their country out of poverty," Dudenhoefer said.

His vision to build schools in Guatemala started just over 30 years ago.

"I was a landscape contractor and ended up working with a lot of amazing young Guatemalan guys," Dudenhoefer said.

His trade opened his eyes to the struggles of the local Guatemalan workforce.

"It really struck me what a tremendous sacrifice that would be," Dudenhoefer said. "To be a young man, to fall in love and start a family, have a few kids, and come to the realization that you'd have to leave your family to risk your life traveling to another country just to earn a living to send money back."

So, he sold his business and liquidated his assets to move to Guatemala and live among the indigenous villagers.

"What I found in Guatemala, the education system is very very bad," Dudenhoefer said. "Most people aren't able to graduate from high school."

He said the country has the highest pregnancy rate for girls 10 to 14 years old in all of the Americas. This puts pressure on young men to migrate to the U.S., find work and save their children from malnutrition and extreme poverty.

Migrants walk past after they were taken off a bus by police at a checkpoint in El Cinchado, Guatemala, on the border with Honduras, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. Authorities have deployed an operation at the border due to the increase of migrants attempting to cross the country seeking to reach the United States.
Migrants walk past after they were taken off a bus by police at a checkpoint in El Cinchado, Guatemala, on the border with Honduras, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. Authorities have deployed an operation at the border due to the increase of migrants attempting to cross the country seeking to reach the United States.

Remittances to Guatemala last year reached a record $15.3 billion, according to a FocusEconomics analysis.

"The family remittances right now, that people that are out here mowing lawns and washing dishes, sending money back, really are saving lives in Guatemala," Dudenhoefer said.

The Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund in Palm Beach County has helped fund schooling and boarding for thousands of Guatemalan students in the last 30 years. They graduate with jobs in the trades or careers they studied.

Dudenhoefer said the average age that female graduates start a family is now 26 years old.

The Guatemalan government contributes 80% of operational costs, but Dudenhoefer said it's the donors in Palm Beach County that really make ends meet and help the schools take in more students.

"It's tremendously rewarding to see the smiles on the faces of our students and of our graduates and to see the difference it makes in the lives of people," Dudenhoefer said.

This year 800 boys and girls are enrolled in the Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund's schools in the Central American country.

Next year they want to ramp up enrollment to 1,000 students. Dudenhoefer said there is a waiting list of students hoping to get into the schools, but every child needs sponsors to help fund their spot.

Click here to learn how you can help.