Impoverished children living thousands of miles away has inspired Charlie Proctor to do something extraordinary.
While most 16-year-olds are fixated on passing their driving test or contemplating where to hang out with friends, Charlie is thinking of ways to help a group of orphans living in El Progreso, Honduras.
Four years after first visiting the Central American city on a missionary trip, the Durham teen has made a commitment that few — including adults — will ever make.
"It was a life-changing experience for me," Charlie said.
Even though he was 12, Charlie could discern how even those in third-world countries have dignity and humanity.
"I was in the sixth grade at the time. It was eye-opening to see the difference in culture, first of all, and the difference in their economic status. Yet at the same time, they were so compassionate, so caring."
Earlier this year, Charlie, a junior at Hopkins School in New Haven, where he is class president, formed the Honduras Children's Project, a non-profit organization "dedicated to bringing social and economic improvement to the impoverished areas of Honduras."
Two-thousand miles from Durham, Honduras has a population of more than 8 million people, more than half of which live in poverty, according to the government.
That poverty is what first drew Charlie to Honduras in 2007.
"I went with my mother on a medical/dental missionary trip. We were with Cure International. My mom is a doctor and [they] brought patients in from all over the area and helped them with their health care and dental work," he explained.
During the trip, Charlie visited the Copprome Orphanage, a shelter where children, abandoned by their families or rescued from extreme poverty, are provided "food, shelter, education, and love."
"I've gotten to know the children and honestly I've just fallen in love. It's been a wonderful experience," said Charlie, who spent an entire week at the orphanage last year and plans to return again next month.
It will be his fifth trip to Honduras.
"I'm going with some friends from school and I'm going to introduce them to the culture," he told Patch.
Recently, Charlie felt the urge to do more for the children in the orphanage, so he created HCP.
"I thought, 'how can I make more of a difference?'" I really wanted to provide them with the extra steps for a better education."
Unlike American students, who receive after-school guidance from teachers or parents, Charlie said students in the orphanage do not have the opportunity to ask school related questions outside of their classroom.
"One of our main goals is to hire a teacher for them. I think that will help them advance to the next level," Charlie said, optimistically.
This Sunday, Charlie has invited members of his own community to help him reach that goal. A spaghetti dinner to benefit the Honduras Children's Project will be held on Sunday, July 31, at 5:30 p.m., at the United Churches of Durham.
"There's a suggested donation of $10, but people can give more or less," he said.
Charlie, who has also helped raise $75,000 for the Connecticut Food Bank through Hopkins School, said he plans to hold more fundraisers soon. And he has advice for teens looking to make a difference.
"There are just as many charitable causes in America that need addressing as there are in Honduras or other places. My message would be, 'do what you can, whether that's something local or international.'"