by Maret Williamson
College of Charleston alumna Kaitlin McWhorter ‘14 lives by a personal motto: “Life is all about the adventure.”
Between overcoming a learning disability, battling through constant injuries as a student-athlete on the track and field team and discovering her passion for helping people in need, the exercise science major taught herself how to be her own advocate. And she set off on an adventure that has taken her all the way to Central America.
The New Jersey native’s set off to open an orphanage in a developing country by the time she was 30 years old. Now, at just 25, she is in the process of launching the Hope Haven shelter on the island of San Pedro, Belize.
“It is important for the kids to understand that just because you’re different or learn a different way, doesn’t mean you should ever give up on your dreams,” she says. “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
The orphanage, currently under construction, is set to open in May 2017 and will care for 36 children in partnership with the Women and Children’s Home of Belize.
McWhorter first traveled to Belize the summer before her senior year at the College to study and write her senior thesis on holistic medicine.
“During that experience I learned that I love San Pedro, I love Belize, and I love the people because of their way to connect,” she says. “That trip made me realize I’m meant to work abroad and help people.”
After earning her degree and working for nonprofits and medical missions, McWhorter landed a job as a volunteer coordinator for medical programs in Sri Lanka. From there, she went to Belize and joined the board of Raise Me Up, a non-governmental organization that focuses on empowering the members of the community.
She also has a full-time career working for a real estate company in Belize. The company is in the process of opening a gym where she will oversee special programs to promote fitness in the area.
The first floor of the orphanage will be dedicated to providing counseling to people dealing with mental illnesses, support for which is lacking on the island, says McWhorter.
“There is one mental health specialist who is on the mainland, an hour and a half boat ride from where we live.”
She says Hope Haven’s motto is “walk by faith,” but it is made up of many different cultures and does not cater to one particular religion.
“We want the kids to have a sense of being able to believe in whatever they want,” says McWhorter. “They just need to believe in something. ‘Walk by faith’ is a representation that no matter what is going on in life, you need to have faith that tomorrow will be a better day.”
McWhorter says she wants to encourage others to pursue their dreams and embark on adventures, just as she has been able to do.
“Being a self-advocate is one of the biggest messages you can teach anybody in the world. Speak up for yourself. You are good enough,” says McWhorter. “Having a learning disability, I learned how to better myself and be a self-advocate, which is exactly what we’re teaching our kids here.”
For more information about how to get involved with “The Women and Children’s Home of Belize: Hope Haven” and how to support the project, contact Kaitlin McWhorter at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about Raise Me Up on Facebook.