Chance 4 Children (C4C) History – It wasn’t planned that way!
By C4C’s Founder and Chairman, Manfred Franke
I often get asked how Chance 4 Children (C4C) came into being and what actually gave the impetus to its inception. Looking back, it certainly was never my intention to start a humanitarian association when I first came to this country in 1995. Things evolved… Let me try to explain.
I guess it all started with being a father of five rather rambunctious kids myself. Children will change your life. Five will turn it upside down, literally! Children of your own will also make you notice other children, perhaps less fortunate than your own. And in my case, I guess that’s where the story of Chance 4 Children started.
Upon arrival in the Czech Republic in 1995, I first moved to set up my business, marketing niche-market music CDs. After overcoming the aftershocks of relocating and settling in, and a fair amount of “home-making“ by my wife, Heidi, it was time to look around and get acquainted with the neighborhood. It was then when we first became aware of the dismal conditions of rural orphanages at that time. Especially one of them, right in our back yard so to speak, the Desky Domov Ledce, caught our attention. Touched by the plight of the children and the management, we decided to get involved. We kicked things off with a visit for Christmas with presents, then one more around Easter time. Small steps. Our kids got involved as well. They practiced little dance and clowning routines, made fun balloons, and were happy to contribute by sharing a little love and joy with their less fortunate peers. One thing led to another and we soon found ourselves organizing outings for the children as well, calling on bus companies to transport the children to complimentary events, concerts and outings, etc. It worked.
Next, I made some phone calls to friends I happened to know in positions of responsibility with some of the leading merchandisers in Germany. Some not only responded – they responded generously! Brand name clothing, home furnishings, cleaning supplies, house hold items and much more came, literally, raining in. It was much more than this one institution could absorb. This actually marked the beginning of our Robin Hood program.
Actually, it was a “no name“ program at first, until a bus driver christened it. He had come to pick up children for a “cinema and restaurant treat“ we’d arranged that afternoon in Prague. Watching the children boarding, scratching his head, he tried to understand what exactly was happening here. This was something new for him. After all, Communism had ceased to exist only 5 years prior. “You called my boss for a bus ride, for free. I‘m taking the kids to Prague for a movie, that’s also free, and then I’ll take them to a restaurant, which is also free. Who are you? ROBIN HOODS?“ The name stuck and the rest is history.
Soon we needed help. Friends and volunteers filled the gap, since there was no budget to remunerate folks from. We found more institutions in need of help, and my friendly German merchandisers were outdoing themselves. Whole truckloads of excellent quality seasonal clothing for children and other useful merchandise were coming into our warehouse.
After a few years, what first was a hobby, turned into an almost all-consuming effort. As word got around, the phone kept ringing, more people got involved and we even found a name–East European Missions, or later, EEM for short. 1999 marked the inception of the Dr. Clown program! What started as a freelance effort, had begun to take on life and momentum all of its own.
Meetings were held and something like a management structure evolved. Financing, or the lack of it, entered the picture as well. Up to this point EEM had subsisted from personal savings of mine, contributions from volunteers and random donations from friends in time of need. A dear friend in Canada got involved with a few substantial checks which each came at a crucial time and juncture. (Daryl, if you read this – THANKS!) We were beginning to wake up to the fact that we were watching the birth of an organization. We incorporated into the legal form of a non-profit, humanitarian civic association in 2000 and, from then on, there seemed to be no stopping it. We established our partnership program in 2003-4, and that was a step forward in the right direction. We’re still not quite where we want to be in regards to income, as fundraising is still a daunting challenge on a monthly basis. But we have a basic budget and that helps tremendously. Thanks, dear partners, keep “walking the walk“ with us! Without you we’d be sunk!
This is getting long. If you’re still reading, you must be truly interested. Thanks for bearing with me. Anyway, to wrap it up, in 2005 we re-branded and now have a new name, Chance 4 Children, or C4C for short. A regular office is now in place, located in our local city. Besides our wonderful and ever present volunteers, we now also have full time staffers, handling matters ranging from office work and program management/development to finances and fundraising. Our focus has shifted slowly from rendering purely physical aid – to providing educational services to needy children, as a springboard to a successful integration into society and life. Consequently, 2003 marked the launch of our Springboard to Life program. From just taking care of one orphanage in 1996, we served over 200 last year, rendering 800 million CZK in aid! That’s more than US $ 30 million! Almost unbelievable! A big thumbs up to our dear volunteers, who are still the backbone of the operation! Incredible folks! A big thank you to all others who so tirelessly have helped, supported, advised and gave – until it literally hurt. We couldn’t have done it without you! Each one of you is very much part of us!
Here’s a closing thought: If anybody would have told me twenty years ago I’d be at the helm of a sprawling and far-reaching organization like Chance 4 Children (C4C) today – I would have shaken my head in disbelief and wonderment. It really wasn’t planned that way.
C4C Chairman and Founder C4C