Sept. 19, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
In 2009, former Michigan State Academic All- American defensive tackle John Shinsky raised money to build an orphanage and attracted national attention by riding a bicycle 2,000 miles.
His next major objective is to see that the route he pedaled with erstwhile MSU teammates Joe DeLamielleure and Eljay Bowron from Spartan Stadium to Matamoros, Mexico is a two-way street.
"One of my biggest dreams is that some of these children are going to come from the streets of Matamoros to study at Michigan State University some day," Shinsky said. "I'm serious about that. That would be indicative of the whole story because Michigan State has had a tremendous impact on the state, the nation and the world.
"What's ultimately going to happen for our children is they are going to move from their home of opportunity in Matamoros, Mexico onto secondary education and then they're going to end up moving here to Michigan State. I think it will happen within five years. I have some young ladies and some young men that have a lot of potential."
Like that 18-day border-crossing journey, progress at Ciudad De Los Ninos has been sure and steady. More than 60 children have been provided housing, nutrition, health care, hygiene, clothing and education over the past three years. Kids who once were doomed to a life in unspeakable conditions are now thriving in modern facilities.
The vision Shinsky expressed in words as a freshman student-athlete in his dorm room at Wilson Hall in 1970 is producing real-time, tangible results well beyond the more than $1 million his efforts have already raised.
"I think it's important for people to know that our program is moving along successfully," said Shinsky, who found himself orphaned at the age of 8 by his widowed mother. "We have a number of children who have never ever been in school all the way up to age 17. These children live in the city and some of them have lived on the outskirts and in rural areas, but their common thread is the fact they all have been abandoned. We have children from families whose parents have gone to prison and here's a kid who has nobody.
"We've established a home for these children where they've been able to build trust, love, care and support."
"We've established a home for these children where they've been able to build trust, love, care and support. We deal with the spiritual side, we deal with their character and leadership in spite of the fact Mexico is a very dangerous place to be with the drug cartel. Matamoros is a place of danger."
Nevertheless, the orphanage is providing a safe haven in a 22,000-square-foot facility and hope for the future for many of the city's most at-risk young people. Shinsky and his wife Cindy visit the children on a regular basis because the journey didn't end with the final stroke of the crankset on his Giant bicycle.
Shinsky was back in East Lansing providing community-wide updates while continuing his fundraising mission during the week leading up to the MSU-Notre Dame football game in Spartan Stadium. Included in his efforts was the kickoff of the first Kesler for Kids at the Shinsky Orphanage 5K Walk/Run the morning of the game at Hawk Hollow Golf Course north of MSU in Bath Township.
"We have to raise over $300,000 a year to keep the program going," Shinsky said. "In spite of that, in spite of the conditions and challenges in Mexico, the challenges with finances and with time, and the situations our children have faced in their lives in relation to abuse, neglect, abandonment and lack of education..., the things that people have already contributed to for these children is working in every aspect of their lives."
Although five-to-seven children at the home continue to be tutored on-site because of their severe lack of academic preparation, most have been integrated into the public school system. And, six of Shinsky's children were accepted into the Matamoros' top private school in the orphanage's first year, the number grew to 14 in 2011-12, and 18 are currently enrolled.
The Shinsky orphanage reached another significant milestone when it entered into a collaborative agreement with Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos International, one of the largest orphanage organizations in the world with facilities in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.
"This takes nothing away from us or our oversight of the operation or our care for the children," Shinsky said. "What it does is make us part of a bigger entity, so if anything ever happens to me or Cindy, the orphanage will be sustained."
The arrangement officially takes effect in January and NPH executive director Miguel Venegas and Rafael Bermudez, the head of NPH-Mexico, were to be Shinsky's guests at the MSU-Notre Dame game.
"They're both former orphans and they're both leaders and they are coming here to celebrate our third year," said Shinsky, who called the financial and moral support provided by the Spartan community, former and current coaches and players, exteammates, student-athletes' families and business leaders "a Godsend."
In addition to donating directly to the orphanage, people can sponsor a child for as little as $1 a day via Shinsky's website, www.shinskyorphanage.com. Sponsors are encouraged to develop a relationship with their selected child via letter-writing and emails and even personal visits arranged by Shinsky.
The overriding goal of the orphanage, Shinsky said, is to develop well-rounded individuals through education, arts and crafts, athletics and extracurricular activities. Some are A-students, some are playing on their school's soccer team and some are cheerleaders. Those who aren't bound for college will attend a technical school. Each graduate of the Shinsky orphanage is required, after turning 18, to give back a year of service to the program, and college tuition is provided to those who give back two years.
"They're getting a whole array of support and services because my perspective is, we're not taking care of these children just to take care of them," Shinsky said. "We're preparing them to be the leaders of the future that are going to be able to impact their communities and children who are just like them, and reverse the devastation of abuse, neglect and poverty.
"I understand what it's like to be abandoned. I understand their struggle to figure out where they fit in."
This article was originally published in the Sept. 15 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.