Reston Trypetus Cooper Padmore spent her formative years living around the world. A native of Liberia, she spent time in Great Britain and the United Stated during her school years. She left Liberia with her family after the military coup in 1980.
After leaving her home country, she found a home in Reston, but Liberia stayed with her. In September 1998, in the midst of a successful career at MCI, and training for a promotion, she found the call became too loud to ignore.
“The continued turmoil motivated me to return to my native land,” she said. “God told me that I needed to help the country overcome its losses, its high poverty rates and low literacy rates and to start impacting the community in a positive way.”
Located on Africa’s Pepper Coast, Liberia was founded as an American colony for freed slaves in the early 19th century. It was governed by African-American colonists from 1847 to 1980, when a violent military coup occurred, leading to years of civil war.
PADMORE’S INITIAL EFFORTS in 1998 were the start of Hinds Feet Ministries, a nonprofit that just celebrated its 15th year. She planned for the ministry to have a threefold mission: education, evangelism and equipping.
“She started Hinds Feet just in time, in the midst of one of the toughest times in the country’s history, when a lot of people around the world were writing it off,” said Rev. Michael Mattar, senior pastor at Hope Fellowship Church in Sterling, and a Hinds Feet board member. “Trypetus had a good job, and just left. We were worried about her safety, going back to the country, to the jungles, leaving the amenities of home behind to reach the people.”
Padmore found a land where an entire generation of adults had been killed in the various wars, and she found the next generation in jeopardy as well.
“When I started, so much of the adult generation had been killed during the wars, and those that were left were concerned with rebuilding the country from the ground up,” she said. “In all of these, I found that the children, the future of Liberia, weren’t getting the attention they needed. I knew that unless someone stepped in to help them, then Liberia couldn’t have a future.”
Hinds Feet currently operates on an annual budget of about $65,000. It costs them about $250 per year to sponsor a child’s tuition for one year and around $160 per month to pay the teachers.
Currently there are about 250 children from pre-nursery to third grade, at their Heritage Early Learning Center, which is located in Monrovia. They also run four outreach centers.
Janine Stegall has been a donor and supporter of Hinds Feet for the past 10 years, and a board member for the last two.
"As soon as I heard about the mission, I understood its importance and wanted to be as hands-on involved as I could,” she said. “The education statistics from Liberia are very sad, the government there is focused on rebuilding the infrastructure, so our ministry is giving the children the support they need, giving them their educational bearings.”
Hinds Feet has been able to get Restonians involved in their mission, helping people an ocean away.
The Reston Regional Library helped collect more than 2,000 books to build a reading resource room. They’ve also worked with the National Council of Negro Women, Mount Pleasant in Herndon, Whole Word Fellowship in Oakton, the Heritage Fellowship Church in Reston and the Hope Fellowship Church in Sterling.
Later in August they will host a meeting with Northern Virginia Community College about a partnership to further their educational outreach.
“It took all these years to build the structure and the machinery, and now we’re ready to start moving,” Mattar said. “Fifteen years of trusting God, all while not knowing the future of the ministry. Fifteen years of networking, building trust, building relationships.”
A LONGER-TERM GOAL for the ministry is to build a village, a permanent settlement that can house the children they help.
“This model of community building is very important to our goal of providing continuous education, by helping provide daily protection for these children,” Stegall said. “In [Liberia’s capital] Monrovia, children who go to school are facing a lot of danger when they go home, and we want to create a situation where they’re safe during the day while at school, then they can return hoe to a nurturing family environment surrounded by people who love and acre for them.”
Padmore says they envision the children living, not in a dorm-style facility with 20 or more beds per room, but in a cottage-style village, with no more than eight people per home. Over the course of the ministry’s 15 years, they have helped a number of children.
“The children who were in school when we started were able to find good education, and now they’re graduating from college, taking positions and careers in the workplace, which is amazing to see,” Padmore said.
More information on Hinds Feet Ministries can be found at www.hindsfeetministries.org.