Cartersville resident appointed Chinese Agape Foundation CEO
by Marie Nesmith
Jan 12, 2014 | 1626 views | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mike Gifford shows artwork created for him by children benefiting from the Chinese Agape Foundation. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Mike Gifford shows artwork created for him by children benefiting from the Chinese Agape Foundation. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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As the CEO of the Chinese Agape Foundation, Cartersville resident Mike Gifford is helping enhance the lives of underprivileged children more than 7,000 air miles across the globe.

Along with assisting with medical procedures, the humanitarian aid organization operates five care centers, also referred to as orphanages, in China: Refuge of Grace in Luxi, Neil Taylor Care Center in Rongshui, Wesley’s House Care Center in Ping Guo, Jackson Family Care Center in Zigong and John Connor Brown Care Center in Tian Deng. At these facilities, more than 500 youth receive shelter, clothing, food and financial assistance with their educational endeavors up through university.

Assuming his leadership role this month, Gifford visited the care centers at the end of 2013 to survey the Chinese Agape Foundation’s efforts firsthand.

“We have five centers right now and we’re expecting to establish two more in 2014,” Gifford said. “So we went to each of our centers. From the time we landed in Beijing till the time I left from Shanghai two weeks later, we traveled about 5,300 miles over there — plane, train, taxi, bus, you name it.

“[Seeing the children] made me smile, because I had seen the way some of them lived [before] and the difficulties they had faced, like parents who had passed away and having to be cared for by elderly relatives who were doing the best they could. But it is hard to take care of a little one when you’re elderly like that. So we were able to help them, give them clothes that fit and [provide] a nice place to live.”

Based in Lewisville, Texas, the Chinese Agape Foundation was founded by Ron Brown, who currently serves as the nonprofit’s chairman.

“I made a trip to China in 1998,” Brown said. “There was a tremendous flood and there were thousands of people that were killed in that flood, had drowned and their homes [were] destroyed. I saw those children that were suffering and dying and that really bothered me a lot. So I came back and went to the Chinese Embassy and told them what I wanted to do. They said, ‘OK, well you just give us the money and we’ll take care of it.’ I thought to myself, ‘If I don’t trust my own government, why would I trust yours?’ So finally I received an invitation from the Beijing Poverty Prevention Department of the government inviting me to come to China and to begin work.

“I was shocked. At first, the government assigned me locations where we were to work but then eventually they opened up all of China for us to establish care centers, hospital, all the different works that we’re doing,” he said, adding the majority of the nonprofit’s care centers are located in rural areas, where residents’ earn between $200 to $300 per year. “... I’ve worked in China for 15 years and ... [in the beginning if I were told] 15 years from now we’ll be at this point, I wouldn’t have believed it. But we’ve had cooperation from the government. We’ve had tremendous support from the foundations in the United States, from individuals. Most of our support comes from foundations and individuals. So it’s just been overwhelming.”

To help strengthen its operations, the Chinese Agape Foundation is seeking individuals to sponsor children residing at the care centers.

For $35 per month, a person can participate in the nonprofit’s full sponsorship program, which will provide resources, such as food, clothing, school supplies, medical care and daily necessities. In addition to receiving quarterly reports about the youth, the sponsors have the opportunity to correspond with the orphans and build relationships.

“There’s so many children who need help,” Gifford said. “... This is a perpetual issue that’s going to have to be dealt with. So we’re not going to run out of children who need our help.

“We have our directors at our care centers go out on a regular basis looking for children that [our foundation] can help in Wabian, where we’re looking at putting perhaps a new orphanage. I think he’s already found 20 potential children in the area. And we get on a pretty regular basis, one of our workers gets emails from the workers over there with photos and reports of the children explaining why they feel like they should be accepted into the orphanage.”

For Cartersville resident Bobby Gayton, becoming a sponsor was an opportunity to help a child in need. Over the past year, he and his wife have provided financial assistance for a 14-year-old boy residing at Wesley’s House Care Center.

“We have always had children in our home in the sense that we raised our nephew, when he was 6 months old to 19, and then other children who would need places to stay at times,” said Gayton, preacher for Cartersville Church of Christ. “So we did that. So as we’ve gotten older, we just thought we’d do this. This young man needed a sponsor, so my wife and I decided to sponsor him. ... What happened was his father had died from a tumor and then the very same year his grandmother had died and shortly after that his grandfather died.

“So his mother actually abandoned him and sent him to some other members of his family to take care of him. His uncle and aunt ... had two children and they were very poor, so he went to [Wesley’s House Care Center]. ... We have pictures of him right when we started supporting him and pictures after when he got our support. So we can see from a physical standpoint, clothing and things like that, he has a better life. He gets to go to school now. So we know that his life is going to be a lot better because of what we’re trying to do.”

Along with its orphanages, the Chinese Agape Foundation also is known for providing medical assistance to children with congenital heart disease and cleft lip and palate. Since its inception, the nonprofit has conducted more than 500 open-heart surgeries — mostly executed in the United States — and more than 100 cleft lip and palate surgeries each year.

“Lives are being saved through the medical part [of our foundation] and perhaps through the orphanage part as well,” Gifford said. “But through the medical part, certainly lives are being saved. We’re giving them a chance. ... If it can be done in China, we try to have it done in China. A lot of the children have had issues with cleft palate and so there have been several of those surgeries [conducted] in China.

“If however it cannot be done in China ... we’ve got hospitals across the [United States] that are asking us to bring them children and these are all children whose families cannot afford to do this for them. These children would die, eventually would die. So we’re able to bring them over through the help of our donors and these foundations and these organizations. ... [The number of open-heart surgeries] is significant. There’s a lot of children [receiving assistance]. One is too many who can’t afford to get the care.”

For more information about the Chinese Agape Foundation, visit www.chineseagape.org.