RJ Johnson said he always wanted to help orphans but never knew how to do it.
In 2010, Johnson, of Randolph, Wis., crossed paths with Liz Presley of Gainesville at a youth mission camp in North Carolina.
Presley invited Johnson to go on a mission trip to an orphanage in Honduras with her church, Gainesville First United Methodist Church on Thompson Bridge Road.
That December, Johnson, who works as a political consultant, visited Orphanage Emmanuel in Honduras and realized just how he could help.
“I spent the next two weeks with the most amazing kids you’d ever want to know, and most of them have been through some of the most horrible things,” Johnson said. “I came back and I started the World Orphan Fund in 2011.”
The World Orphan Fund is a nonprofit organization that aims to help orphanages with transitional and emergency needs. The volunteer-led group provides funding for a number of emergency and transitional projects and programs in orphanages in Guatemala and Honduras.
The organization averages one new project a month, including digging wells, providing food and water, hiring teachers and creating vocational programs.
Because of the organization’s strong ties with the Gainesville community, it will hold its first Georgia Gala on Thursday evening at Lake Lanier Islands Resort. Gov. Nathan Deal will be the keynote speaker.
Individual tickets can be purchased for $100 on the event’s website, www.georgiagala.com.
One project the organization is currently funding is a new vocational training program at Orphanage Emmanuel.
The program will be taught by former West Hall High School construction teacher Michael Madsen and will provide older orphaned children with job skills training that will help them find gainful employment when they leave the orphanage.
Madsen will teach the boys building and construction trades starting in 2015, after he completes mission training and language classes.
He said the children are often lacking in skills that can earn them an income because they grow up in a group setting without the individual attention they would have had in a family — which creates a self-defeating cycle.
“These kids are longing to get something to go out and make a living with,” Madsen said. “They want help. They need help.”
While Madsen is working to prepare the children for their futures, his wife, Karen, a licensed counselor, will be working with the children to help them recover from their pasts.
Karen Madsen said many of the children in the orphanage have been victims of abuse. She said she hopes to help the children build self-esteem and healthy relationships.
Johnson said since he first came to Gainesville he’s met a lot of people like the Madsens, who want to help others.
Johnson said he’s been impressed with the community’s desire to help those in need.
“And you’re not just doing it here,” Johnson said. “You’re exporting it. The things people are doing here are affecting other people outside of (Gainesville).”
Johnson encourages anyone interested in learning more about the organization or how to help to visit its website, www.theworldorphanfund.org.