Mary Jane Henley is an educator and lawyer who dedicated her career to working with children and adults with intellectual disabilities and to the practice of family law. Now retired, she and her husband, Dave, reside in Tucson, Arizona, where they are avid students of Spanish and outdoor enthusiasts. They also enjoy travel to Spanish-speaking countries including Spain, Cuba, and Mexico.
Henley serves as a volunteer translator with Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala and is a member of the organization’s board of directors. Most recently, she launched a COVID-19 mask fundraising campaign that has generated more than $7,000 in donations. Here, we talked with Henley about her work with Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala and her passion for giving back.
How did you learn about Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala?
My husband, Dave, and I are good friends with Steve Lambros and Laurie Gerloff who are Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala supporters. Laurie shared with me a volunteer opportunity with the organization to translate students’ letters to scholarship sponsors. The students are so genuine in their gratitude, and I enjoy reading the sweet letters written by relatively new Spanish language learners. The letters have made me want to help more because they’ve provided such a personal connection with AAV’s work.
Mary Jane Henley has sewn hundreds of masks for Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala's COVID-19 Relief Fund.
How has your professional career influenced your volunteer work during retirement?
My volunteer work in retirement is basically an unpaid extension of the professional work. I landed a job right out of college with the Texas Special Olympics and was inspired to continue working to develop other community-based programs for people with intellectual disabilities. I became drawn to the issue of legal rights of persons with disabilities for equal access and accommodations, which led me to law school and a family law practice in Austin, Texas.
Dave and I eventually moved to Tucson. As a volunteer in retirement, I’ve become more focused on refugee and migrant services. Before I learned about Adopt-a-Village, I was volunteering in local shelters for asylum-seeking migrants and a few times in ICE detention centers. Those experiences have been very sad because the odds are stacked against asylum seekers from Mexico and Central America. Working with Adopt-a-Village has been a rewarding way to give back, as I know that the organization is leading the way in assisting impoverished Mayans gain the critical skills they need to remain in their home country.
What has inspired you most about Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala?
I am very inspired by the volunteer members’ group efforts, which include social media outreach, publicity efforts, office management, and fundraising. No one in the organization is paid a salary, so all funds raised go directly toward serving children and families in Guatemala. I enjoy partnering with many exceedingly kind and generous people every day.
I’m also inspired by the bright and ambitious students that Maya Jaguar serves. They come to Maya Jaguar with no other communication skills but their indigenous dialect. Some are even illiterate in their own dialect, yet they achieve impressive fluency in Spanish.
But I am most inspired and motivated by Adopt-a-Village founder and president Frances Dixon! Her 30-years of leadership with the organization has been extraordinary, and I am even more in awe of her work since the pandemic affected Adopt-a-Village in early spring. Frances puts the organization’s priorities above her own safety and has remained in Guatemala these past months to ensure that the students and underserved communities in the region are not suffering.
You have raised thousands of dollars for Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala by making masks for a fundraising campaign. Tell us how you launched this successful initiative.
My husband and I have been very cautious about protecting ourselves from COVID-19. We took the early stay-at-home orders seriously, and I occupied my time sewing masks to donate to local health facilities. I also started experimenting with mask patterns. Then one day I decided to offer masks on Facebook for a small fee that would go toward Adopt-a-Village’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. My first post on Facebook generated over $1,000 for the organization. Another volunteer, Mary Korbulic, posted my mask initiative on her Facebook page, and we raised an additional $1,300. Frances recently connected with a generous supporter who is willing to match what I have spent on supplies, so I just ordered more.
I sew these unique, made-to-order masks from handwoven Guatemalan textiles. I’m pleased by the interest they’ve generated. New donations are still coming in and the project has raised more than $7,000 for Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala. We’re asking for a minimum donation of $35 for one mask, but most are giving more.
The project has kept me busy while helping friends and family members stay safe during a horrifying global pandemic. Funds raised from the campaign have provided much-needed supplies—food, medicine, books—for poor indigenous communities in northwest Guatemala. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to help Frances with her efforts in Guatemala during this time of crisis. I’m also grateful for the many generous and conscientious people who are eager to contribute to a worthy cause and who understand the importance of wearing a mask.
Donate to Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala's COVID-19 Relief Fund here.