North Fulton family turns love for Peruvians into ministry

Jack and Carolyn Canouse of Alpharetta in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru. The couple founded the nonprofit Make a Miracle to help students from this area get a college education. Courtesy of Brooklyn Etzel and Make a Miracle
Jack and Carolyn Canouse of Alpharetta in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru. The couple founded the nonprofit Make a Miracle to help students from this area get a college education. Courtesy of Brooklyn Etzel and Make a Miracle

Credit: Picasa

Credit: Picasa

Alpharetta’s Canouse family had the familiar story of going on international mission trips then returning home with full hearts and a longing to do something more.

Peru had been their destination for several years, and they had fallen in love with the people subsisting in poverty-stricken districts near the capital city of Lima.

“We just kind of felt our calling there,” explained Carolyn Canouse, the mother of three young adult girls and guardian to a teen boy. Carolyn, her husband Jack, and their children participated in various ministries in Peru, even building homes on the desert hillsides. But when the family paid for a Peruvian student to go to college, it was life-changing.

For the tuition price of $100 a month, the student became part of their family. They had given her an immeasurable gift, and one other young Peruvians were longing for themselves. The Canouses’ decision to take on two more students brought tears and hugs.

“That’s when we said we need to expand this because there’s so much need down there,” Carolyn said.

In 2015, Jack and Carolyn formed a nonprofit, Make a Miracle, to help families in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru, with the primary mission of sending students to college. Currently, 80 students are in the scholarship program, and another 10 have graduated. Sponsors, who are mostly from metro Atlanta, agree to help financially.

Scholarship college students with Make a Miracle in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru. The nonprofit currently sponsors 80 students, and 10 more who were provided with tuition assistance have graduated. Courtesy of Gracie Blount and Make a Miracle
Scholarship college students with Make a Miracle in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru. The nonprofit currently sponsors 80 students, and 10 more who were provided with tuition assistance have graduated. Courtesy of Gracie Blount and Make a Miracle

Credit: Picasa

Credit: Picasa

Make a Miracle students are first-generation college kids with dreams of becoming professionals, staying in the community, and helping their families. Carolyn said the average family income in San Juan de Lurigancho is $292 a month, and government assistance is limited.

“I feel like education is the key to getting, not just them, but their parents and their siblings, out of poverty,” she said. “These students are so resilient and so focused on their education. We’ve had kids during this pandemic studying by cellphone, so they could get their work done.”

Make a Miracle scholars in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru, demonstrate their love during the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy of Lady Caceres and Make a Miracle.
Make a Miracle scholars in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru, demonstrate their love during the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy of Lady Caceres and Make a Miracle.

Credit: Picasa

Credit: Picasa

Tuition is paid directly to colleges, and students and sponsors become friends. Charlie Feehan sponsors three students and is also a Make a Miracle board member.

“I was really captivated by the opportunity to help people rise above and get a step up in life,” said Feehan, of Alpharetta. “These college degrees mean the world to them and their families.”

His own two young-adult children keep in touch with the Peruvian scholarship students, who are like extended family. “It’s been an awesome experience,” Feehan said.

Make a Miracle creates a family atmosphere for the students, too. They have use of study centers with internet, a stocked kitchen, and two house moms who oversee their needs.

The students in turn help in the community, serving in the ministry’s Star Kids Clubs, helping to build houses, and participating in community projects such as feeding families. During a seven-month COVID-19 lockdown, many families went without jobs and food. Make a Miracle created pop-up soup kitchens, providing two meals a day and feeding as many as 15 surrounding communities every day.

Make a Miracle also sponsors Star Kids Clubs. More than 130 children from San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru, have participated in clubs with games, teaching and worship. The scholarship students are volunteer helpers.  Courtesy of Make a Miracle.
Make a Miracle also sponsors Star Kids Clubs. More than 130 children from San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru, have participated in clubs with games, teaching and worship. The scholarship students are volunteer helpers. Courtesy of Make a Miracle.

Credit: Picasa

Credit: Picasa

Make a Miracle scholars help build a house in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru. Courtesy of Lady Caceres and Make a Miracle
Make a Miracle scholars help build a house in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru. Courtesy of Lady Caceres and Make a Miracle

Credit: Picasa

Credit: Picasa

Next year, the nonprofit will open a three-story community center to provide medical, dental and animal services. There will be space for student dorms and rooms for community workshops.

Board member Judy Davis said Carolyn and the Make a Miracle team are always looking for ways to serve the Peruvians and help make their lives better.

“Carolyn puts her whole heart into this and does not take a single penny,” Davis said. “She is truly making a difference in this world, and it is continuing with such a ripple effect.”

Before Peru captured her heart, Carolyn lived a suburban mom’s dream life: taking care of her children and playing a lot of tennis. Volunteering wasn’t on her radar.

Now, she can’t expand Make a Miracle fast enough. An initial budget of $17,000 increased to $250,000 last year, with 88% vested in Peru. About $94,000 went to college students, tuition, meals, wellness, a study center and technology.

The Canouses’ middle daughter, Rachel, runs the Peru operation onsite as director of global relations and program development. The other Canouse children are also involved as volunteers. All other employees are Peruvian.

Rachel Canouse, Make a Miracle director of global relations and program development, surrounded by children from San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru. Courtesy of Brooklyn Etzel and Make a Miracle
Rachel Canouse, Make a Miracle director of global relations and program development, surrounded by children from San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru. Courtesy of Brooklyn Etzel and Make a Miracle

Credit: Picasa

Credit: Picasa

“I really do love it. I love what I do. We have a great team down there that makes things happen,” Carolyn said. “We’re making an impact by taking the kids who have a desire to help others and to stay in that same area and help.”

MORE DETAILS ABOUT MAKE A MIRACLE

WHAT INSPIRES you most when looking back over the past five years of this work?

Jack Canouse: “Watching the people we have been able to help has been very inspirational. They are very eager and excited to be involved with paying it forward, whether it’s building houses, community projects or working with children.”

Carolyn Canouse: “Every time we approve someone for a scholarship or build a home for a family in need, Giovanna our director of operations says: ‘I hope this shows you there are good people in the world. People who help others expecting nothing in return.’ This inspires me...we are not just providing a need, but restoring faith in humanity.”

What do you hope it will become in the next five years?

Jack: “Over the next five years we want to see our mission continue to grow...it becomes a ripple effect that creates more miracles in the daily lives for the people of San Juan de Lurigancho.”

Carolyn: In five years we will be bigger, and expand to other areas of San Juan de Lurigancho and maybe beyond Lima. We will have over 100 college graduates, young people who are set out to change the world."

To get involved: www.makeamiracle.net, or email info@makeamiracle.net

HELP US INSPIRE ATLANTA

We recognize a big part of our journalistic mission is to shine a spotlight on wrongdoings and to hold our public officials accountable.

But we also understand the importance of celebrating our region’s moments, milestones and people. That’s exactly what we hope to accomplish with Inspire Atlanta.

Each week, Inspire Atlanta will profile a person who makes metro Atlanta a better place in which to live.

We can’t do this alone: We need your help in finding extraordinary people and identifying inspiring stories across our region. We learned about Make a Miracle from Judy Davis, a board member for the nonprofit who has known Carolyn Canouse for 25 years.

Know someone who inspires you or makes metro Atlanta a better place for others?

Email us at AJC-InspireAtlanta@ajc.com.

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