Wilton charity reaches out to African orphanage with open arms

Six years ago, Tom Mustico first laid eyes on Hanna's Orphans' Home in Ethiopia, upon which he says he felt "a lightning bolt go off in his heart," and was compelled to join in the effort against abject poverty and sheer destitution.

He was in Ethiopia on a visit to the Evangelical Theological College, of which his former seminary classmate is now president. His friend, a fellow graduate of Gorden-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., had asked him to consider working as an educator at the college — an offer Mr. Mustico is still considering.

On the trip, Mr. Mustico met Hanna Teshome, and was introduced to her orphanages for destitute and starving children.

"I was very moved by the depth of poverty," he said. " I felt I had to do something about it."

Upon returning to the U.S., Mr. Mustico opened Hope for Orphans of Ethiopia Ministries, a nonprofit also known as HOE Ministries, which was launched on Wolfpit Road in conjunction with Hope Church, of which Mr. Mustico is a 15-year member.

After graduating seminary school with the intention of becoming a pastoral minister, Mr. Mustico spent about 30 years in the New York textile industry, as the role of a minister proved to be too demanding for his family, in terms of relocation and travel.

Over the course of his career in New York, he has remained active in church and service work. He currently resides in South Salem, N.Y.

HOE Ministries now routinely sends volunteer groups and resources to Hanna Teshome's Ethiopian orphanages in Addis Ababa, the country's capital.

Since his first visit, Mr. Mustico has made about 15 trips to Africa, taking eight separate charity groups to villages in need, the most recent was a 10-day visit in late July with a group of eight volunteers, three of whom live in Wilton: Suzanne Schintzius, Anne McArdle and Christine McArdle.

The team helped deliver 4,000 pounds of grain, rice and macaroni to families in Kora Village, a small town that has long been assigned to cast-out lepers, Mr. Mustico said.

The orphanages currently provide food, shelter, clothing and education to about 250 children, most of whom were taken off the streets, while others were taken out of prisons because of a unusual Ethiopian policy. By law, children are forced to live with incarcerated parents, despite themselves committing no crime.

"The mothers and fathers have to take their children with them," Mr. Mustico said. "These are really dreadful places."

Orphanages also provide children with a "house mother," in order to give children a family lifestyle.

Some orphans live in the facility into their 20s, as the charity aims to keep them until they finish school and find a job and safe livelihood.

HOE Ministries is a nonprofit organization and donations are tax-deductible. Information: hoeministries.org/html/donate.html.

For more information on Hope Church, visit hopechurchct.org/about.htm.