Ottawa children’s charity lands $1 million endowment from Vancouver donor

Bonnie Cappuccino poses with some of the many children she and her husband Fred have helped throught their charity Child Haven International. Ottawa Citizen.

MATTHEW PEARSON
OTTAWA CITIZEN 

There is a good chance Bonnie and Fred Cappuccino’s lifelong mission to help destitute women and children across South Asia will endure long after their deaths thanks to a generous $1-million donation.

The founders of Child Haven International, which operates nine homes in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Tibet out of its headquarters in Maxville, a tiny hamlet about an hour east of Ottawa, received the fateful call on Halloween from a donor in Vancouver.

The woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, normally gives $100,000 a year, but this time she told them she was sending a larger donation.

It was only after the Cappuccinos were notified by their broker that the transaction for $1,019,424.41 was completed that it sunk in.

“The best thing about it is this woman had gone around with Bonnie on at least two of her trips,” Fred explained Friday in a telephone interview (Bonnie left on Nov. 4 for a six-week trip to Asia).

“She saw all of the programs (and) her evaluation was that this program was worth $1 million, and that was very gratifying.”

The money is a huge boost to an endowment fund created in July – on the occasion of Bonnie and Fred’s 60th wedding anniversary – to ensure Child Haven’s longevity. People have been asking for years what would happen when Fred and Bonnie aren’t around anymore.

“Our friends said, ‘Let’s parlay that into some money for when you guys croak, so we set up the croak committee and they set up the Diamond Jubilee Endowment Fund,” Fred said with a laugh.

They’ve already collected about $1.25 million, and hope to reach $6 million.

The Cappuccino’s backstory is fascinating.

Fred was born in Scranton, Pa., and Bonnie in St. Paul, Minn., but they met in Evanston, Ill., in 1953.

He was in his last year of school at a Methodist seminary and she was in her first year of nurses training.

Soon after they married, they vowed to have only two biological children because they didn’t want to increase the world’s population, an uncommon notion at the time. “If she wanted more than two (children), then we would adopt one or two,” Fred said. “But she gets carried away.”

They eventually adopted 19 children from all over the world and moved to Canada in 1967 so Fred could take up a position as a unitarian minister in Pointe-Claire, Que. It was there that the couple’s mission to help poor women and children took on global proportions.

The Vietnam War was raging at the time and Bonnie wanted to rescue “at least one baby,” as Fred recalled.

She eventually prevailed and, after a local newspaper wrote a story about the adoption, other local couples contacted them to figure out how they could do the same thing.

They soon started the organization Families for Children out of the church basement and brought between 700 and 800 children from Vietnam, Bangladesh, India and Cambodia to Canada for adoption.

In 1972, the organization led a Canadian group to war-torn Bangladesh to rescue starving orphans. Fred recalled returning with 15 babies less than a year old, all of them piled into a 747 for the 14-hour flight from New Delhi to New York.

Two years later, the family bought an $8,000 farm near Maxville and it was from there that they launched Child Haven International in 1985. Even though they had already adopted 19 children, Bonnie realized she could take care of even more children if the organization set up homes in the countries where they were needed.

Following the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi – equality, non-violence, vegetarianism – they began by establishing homes in India, eventually expanding to Bangladesh, Nepal and Tibet.

Approximately 1,300 children live in the nine houses now, and about the same number have lived in them over the years.

“Once in a while a child comes back … which is very gratifying,” Fred said.

The children arrive at age six or younger, he said, and they stay until the end of high school, at which point Bonnie and the house manager sit down with the child and decide on a vocation for them to pursue.

Child Haven has no corporate sponsor or ongoing government support, instead relying on annual donations of about $1.5 million.

It has about 150 overseas staff and five others who work out of the Maxville office. Fred

and Bonnie share an annual salary of $45,000.

At 79, Bonnie still goes on four overseas trips a year, while Fred, 87, stays behind to keep the home fires burning. “She goes over there and has all that fun, and leaves me stuck here doing all the work,” he said.

But it’s those fires that have fuelled him all these years.

“What’s kept me going is Bonnie. It’s just such a privilege to have somebody like that in my life.

“I think when Bonnie’s gone, there’s going to be a real shock to the system. There’s only one Bonnie and I think it’s going to be harder to raise money.”

To learn more about Child Haven International, visit www.childhaven.ca.

mpearson@ottawacitizen.com
twitter.com/mpearson78

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