Melissa Sehlhorst – My ‘Why Roatán’

How/when did you first hear about Roatán?

More than 20 years ago, I added an article about turtle hatching in the Bay Islands to my “must experience this in my lifetime” file.  I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to places not yet overrun with tourists, and the Bay Islands seemed remote and undisturbed.  Little did I know then I would later be involved with an organization working in the Bay Islands.

Landscape of Los Sueños


What was it that drew you to the Abundant Life Foundation?

The Los Sueños project drew me to the Abundant Life Foundation. While I was attending St. Edwards University, I became very interested in Asset Based Community Development and the long-lasting benefit to communities when neighbors work together to build their connections.  My family has participated in Habitat for Humanity building projects, and I have seen the long-term positive impact homeownership has on families. In 2015, I answered a call for volunteers from ALF.  They needed more help preparing for Los Sueños, and I wanted to be involved in international work.  While I have supported many relief agencies, I wanted to be connected to an organization creating long-term solutions based on the assets and resources already existing in a community. I had no idea I would be the Executive Director a year and a half later! 

Discussing plans for Los Sueños


What motivates you on a daily basis to continue these efforts for Roatán?

One only has to walk the Los Sueños property to know we are creating something very special.  The rise of the property from the sea, the planned layout of the homes, the plans for gathering spaces, a library, and a cultural center – we are creating a neighborhood. I loved growing up in my neighborhood as a child – we all knew each other, helped each other, and cared about each other.  The Los Sueños homeowners have the potential to build those same connections and create a community where each person thrives.

What is one story that captures your “Why” behind Roatán?

I have gathered so many stories over the last year. I’m grateful to have shared so many moments with the people of Roatán.   From reading to the children in St. Helene to our Luci Light distribution last February to meeting with a group of young adults from Bay Islands Ocean Rescue who are the future leaders of Roatán, I am renewed and inspired every time I’m on the island.  Last February, at our light distribution in the Mi Esperanza community, I had been trying my best to talk to the residents in the Spanish I am still learning, when an elderly woman approached me.  She was holding her lights, but took my hands, and said, very slowly to be kind to me, “No tengo luz en mi casa. Esto me ayudará más de lo que sabes.”   (“I have no light in my house. This will help me more than you know.”) She smiled at me, and walked away. In the simplicity of that moment, in the connection I had with her, I knew why I was there.

What do you see for the future of ALF and Roatán?

The next few years will be very exciting for ALF.  We will finish the Los Sueños project, expand our projects to provide greater support for schools and students, and build partnerships to preserve and protect the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.  I’m looking forward to connecting with more of the communities on the island.  The Abundant Life Foundation is staying on Roatán. We are here to work with community members to build sustainable solutions for a vibrant future.  Won’t you join us? 

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