March is a hectic time of year for Dr. Tim Long, M.D.
For several weeks for each of the past 20 years, Dr. Long, president of the Washington Overseas Mission (WOM), travels with a large team of local medical professionals and volunteers to Honduras to provide care to those in need.
During the rest of the year, he and his wife Jan are busy preparing for the trip, all the while Dr. Long manages to see patients regularly at his office in Marthasville.
The doctor and the nonprofit have a lot in common.
WOM got its beginning 20 years ago after a chance meeting with a former St. Francis Borgia High School teacher.
Dr. Long came to the local area somewhat by chance too.
Thirty years ago, he came to Marthasville on a four-year commitment to a public service scholarship. He’s been there ever since.
In December 1992, about 20 people including Dr. Long, four dentists, two nurses and other volunteers — including Borgia high school Spanish students — traveled to Honduras to provide needed care in Urraco and surrounding areas.
Earlier that year, Tim and Jan Long had a chance meeting with Sister Laurinda Mayer, a former Borgia teacher who was serving in Honduras. They met at a dinner party.
Mayer’s stories about people and living conditions in the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere tugged at Dr. Long’s heartstrings, he said.
Two decades later, he still spends about 10-14 days each March in the Central American country which is roughly the size of Tennessee and home to about 7 million people.
Dr. Long remains humble about his involvement and role in the group. His friends aren’t so reserved in singing his praises.
Janice Meyer, a Spanish professor at East Central College, has been going on the mission trips for the past 15 years.
“Tim is always so responsible while we’re there,” Meyer said. “He takes to heart the whole group, he’s like the dad of the whole thing.”
She said to those involved, it’s no surprise.
“Someone had to step forward to volunteer and organize this,” she said.
“He stepped forward and has touched and saved and changed so many lives,” Meyer said.
“Our mission is to help people who could not otherwise get help and you have to have a leader who can pull that kind of wagon,” she said.
Jay Quattlebaum said Dr. Long often describes himself as a figurehead for the group.
Quattlebaum said in reality the doctor is much more.
“He gives other people a lot of credit, but we wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for Tim,” Quattlebaum said. “To start it and continue it over this many years is something.”
Dr. Long said for the first trip he called other people he knew who had traveled to foreign countries to try to prepare.
Those discussions didn’t prepare him for what he saw.
“I don’t think I had a clue what it was like to try to practice medicine in a Third World country,” he said.
On the first trip, volunteers brought medications down in carry-on bags and suitcases. Those supplies lasted only three days.
Since then, the mission has developed contacts in Honduras, expanded to provide building construction and water filtration supplies and services during its trips and begun shipping supplies — from clothing to school desks to medical supplies — in large shipping containers.
Those containers, shipped to the United States by companies like Dole, full of fruit, are sent back, at a cost of $2,000 to $4,000.
Dr. Long said volunteers try to fill every corner of the containers to make the cost worthwhile.
And to Dr. Long, the cost — both time and money — is worth it.
“It is a very humbling feeling when people who have nothing thank you for the sacrifice you’ve made,” he said.
Quattlebaum, who has been going on the mission’s trips since 2001, said there have been some scares over the years.
Quattlebaum said once Dr. Long and others traveled in a medical team to “ a very remote location in the mountains and they had never been there before.” The trip was arranged by a local priest who said the village really needed medical care.
“It was really a treacherous drive up this mountain trail. They considered turning back several times, but finally made it to the top and set up a clinic,” he said.
“Dr. Long told me one of the first patients he saw was a very elderly lady from the village. Her comment was ‘Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you all my life,’ ” Quattlebaum said.
“Dr. Long said at that moment, at that time he knew he was where God wanted him to be,” he said.
“He’s very much the spirit behind the whole group,” Quattlebaum said.”
The trip was equally taxing on the way back.
Meyer said the brakes in one truck were sparking and the vehicle caught fire as it rolled into town.
Sometimes people question why the group helps Hondurans when plenty of people right here in America need help too, but Dr. Long said there is a key difference.
“In these places, there’s just no form of a safety net,” he said.
Dr. Long himself began taking a number of Spanish language courses after his first trip.
Now, the entire Long family speaks Spanish, but Dr. Long said his skills are the worst.
“(The mission) has affected our family,” he said.
Meyer, Dr. Long’s teacher, joked about her friend and pupil.
“His Spanish is much better than he lets on. He’s taken every class I offer,” she said.
“But he still looks at me sort of confused whenever he says something to someone in Spanish, they give him a blank stare and I repeat it and suddenly they answer,” Meyer said.
“I don’t think it’s that they don’t understand him, it’s just that they’re surprised this American doctor would take the time to learn their language,” she said.
Dr. Long estimated about 400 different volunteers have been involved over the past 20 years.
Meyer said the mission and Dr. Long have impacted far more people.
“Dr. Long has changed lives in Honduras because he’s made it possible for us to go down and deliver care to those who otherwise might not get it,” she said. “We go to areas purposefully where they have no medical care.”
Meyer said the Honduran community knows how positive of an impact Tim and Jan Long have made too.
“They’ve named the (Pimienta, Cortes) city park playground after Tim and Jan. There’s a picture of the two of them at the entrance,” she said.
“In Pimienta, lots of people recognize Dr. Long,” Meyer said.
“He’s changed lives here in the U.S. too. Ask anyone who has been on a brigade. They’re all touched by the experience,” Meyer said.
The Longs’ charity doesn’t end with the mission.
In 2007 they established a scholarship — the annual Tim and Jan Long Leadership Award. It is a one-time, $2,500 educational grant given each year to a deserving high school senior living in the service area of Dr. Long’s practice, Family Health Care of Marthasville.
Winners are chosen based on their record as a leader in their school and community and their record of service and academic excellence.
Over the years Dr. Long also has been very supportive of Emmaus Homes in Marthasville, a nonprofit residential facility for adults with special needs. Dr. Long has provided medical care for the residents and he and his wife have supported Emmaus fundraisers.
WOM has been organized as a nonprofit for 15 years under the board, made up of Tim and Jan Long, Dr. Jackie Miller, her husband, Tim Huber, Marcia Albrecht, Dr. Jerry Allen, Jen Broeder-Allen, Eileen Chalk, Mary Howard, Patty Koch, Meyer and Quattlebaum.
The group has spawned a sister group, Primero Agua, which focuses on water-related issues.
That group is headed by Quattlebaum, who doesn’t have a medical background.
“I went to help and got hooked on the trips and got involved in construction and water projects,” he said.
“After my first trip, I was thinking that some of the people involved are very wrapped up in this, it has become their lives, and many years later I’ve become one of those people,” Quattlebaum said.
He said about a decade ago while working on some construction projects, community leaders in one area approached him and asked if they could pour a concrete slab for kids to play soccer and basketball on.
“We didn’t have any more (money) for it,” Quattlebaum said. “I called Tim and said ‘They really want us to do this project, the kids don’t have a playground.’ ”
He said he told Dr. Long the cost — $2,000 to $3,000.
“He said ‘Well, Jay, go ahead and spend it. People donate to us because they know we’re going to do the right thing with their money,’ ” Quattlebaum said.
“He’s the very calm person through all the turmoil we go through during some of these trips, be it personality conflicts or troubles along the way,” he said.
“He’s the one who smoothes the water for us and reminds us to focus on helping the people,” Quattlebaum said. “Tim is the man. He’s part of the best group of people I’ve ever become friends with.”
Dr. Long said he wasn’t expecting the mission, the friendships and the impact to grow as much, or as wide, as it has.
“It started as this little mustard seed and has evolved and grown to being involved with all these other groups,” he said. “What started out so little has reverberated with so many people.”
‘A Group Effort’
Another program within the mission which Dr. Long said has been positive is the pap smear program, started by Koch and Jan Long.
Through that program, women get screened for cancer and precancers and get treatment within the country.
Over the years a number of well-known people from the local area have been involved in the missions — Dr. Frank Miller, the late orthodontist and father of Dr. Jackie Miller, was a founder of the group.
The Menkes, retired Peace Corps workers, were active with the mission for years.
The late Hilda Schelich used to quilt blankets for babies, Dr. Long added.
These days the mission sends 60 to 80 people each year and divides into teams — medical and construction.
Part of the group’s funding comes from its annual Beans and Rice Ball in November. Volunteers traveling to Honduras each year are required to pay their own way.
“WOM has been adopted by so many local organizations and people, so it’s allowed so many people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go to a Third World country and help to do so,” Dr. Long said.
“It is so much a group effort,” he said. “That’s the amazing thing to me — we have people seemingly come out of the woodwork to help and contribute.”
Dr. Long said a number of area churches, the local Rotary and many local businesses have helped support WOM over the years.
Volunteers fly into San Pedro Sula, the country’s second-largest city, and travel to rural areas where there often are no roads, spotty infrastructure and water available for only a few hours a day at best, he said.
Dr. Long said the medical issues of the Honduran people are similar to those in the United States — arthritis, dental decay, diabetes and so forth — but to the extreme.
“We want to put the money we receive in donations to the benefit of the Honduran people,” Dr. Long said in explaining why trips are funded solely by the volunteers. “That’s always been important to us.”
Preparing for the Future
Dr. Long said the involvement of students — whether at the high school or college level — is important.
“Right from the start, we had students. They’re not there as observers. They do work, whether it’s with the medical or dental teams. The youngsters provide a whole different level of energy,” he said.
Meyer said involving students provides them with a “real eye-opener.
“It is the kind of thing one can (try to) explain, but living it brings it all home,” she said.
Dr. Long said education is an important part of the mission.
“Our hope is it gives the kids a much bigger introduction to the world than just here in Washington,” he said “Ultimately, the value of the trip isn’t what you do down there but what you bring back.”