Rangers pitcher and wife, deeply moved during honeymoon visit to continent, devote efforts via their foundation
By T.R. Sullivan
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Cole Hamels and Heidi Strobel were married on Dec. 31, 2006, and spent their honeymoon traveling through the southern part of Africa. They found it a beautiful land, but the harsh, wide-spread poverty was also hard to miss.
"Obviously it was breathtakingly beautiful, but we still saw some of the villages of the refugees," the Rangers pitcher said. "You have to stop and wonder, what kind of life do they get to live, what kind of opportunities are they going to get out of that situation. When you do travel to a couple of Third World countries, we went to Zimbabwe, it kind of shows you we have it a lot better than you think and they they don't have the means to get out of the situation."
Hamels grew up in San Diego with the benefit of an excellent public school education. Heidi is from a small town in the Missouri Ozarks, a region where 25 percent of the population lives under the poverty level. She was a public school teacher and has a Master's degree in education with a specialty degree in international education.
What they learned and absorbed from their backgrounds, travels and experiences led them in 2008 to establish The Hamels Foundation. The foundation's mission is dedicated to enriching the lives of children through the power of education by giving them the tools to achieve their goals.
To date the foundation has donated a total of just over $3.6 million, roughly split between their projects in the small, impoverished African country of Malawi and here in the United States.
Over the past six years, the foundation has been working with the Global AIDS Interface Alliance to build a multi-million dollar primary school in the Malawi village of Namunda along with new wells for drinking water. Malawi is one of the countries hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic. Approximately 11 percent of the adult population has been infected with the disease and approximately 650,000 children have been orphaned as a result.
"We thought, how do you break a disease?" Hamels said. "We have to give them ways to not want to go get the disease … because of prostitution, because of rape, because they don't have any way to get money. So we try to give them other ways to earn a living. So they don't have to go in that direction, they can start going as a community.
"You can't go in and just throw money at the problem. You really have to get people involved, you have to tell them and show them they have self-worth. That's what gets them to really push themselves and their family and their community out of the situation."
Most of the foundation's work in the United States has been done in Philadelphia and the Ozarks region. The Hamels have funded classroom, school, library and playground renovations, provided for academic programs, books and clothing, classroom and sports equipment, and endowed academic scholarships.
The foundation is the largest provider of grants to the Philadelphia school system, and the Hamels want to get involved in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well.
"We're really excited to be able to open doors there, get to know the community," said Hamels, traded from Philadelphia to Texas last season. "This whole year we are really going to just explore and let people know we are here and we want to make a difference. We want to be a part of it. We are open to suggestions.
"We are really fortunate to be where we are, and when you have a platform where you can make a difference, and be a good citizen, that's what has ultimately driven us to give back. Not to do it for publicity, but truly deep down we feel obligated and a desire to give back and see improvements in a lot of different areas that get overlooked."
The Hamels Foundation is run by associates out of Springfield, Mo., but all operating costs are paid for the Hamels. That means 100 percent of every donation goes directly to one of the foundation's projects.
"We like to give people the opportunity to voice their wants," Hamels said. "If they want to donate to the international school, they can. If they want to give to the school where they are from, that's what we do. We just don't thank them for their money and do what we want with it; we want to give people more power and we like to show people what it's actually gone for."
Hamels said it's all about trying to break the vicious cycle of poverty and disease that have imprisoned people. They also want to make sure their projects have a long-term impact.
"We are not going to be able to solve every problem," Hamels said. "But hopefully there are going to be a few people every year that are going to have an epiphany that this opportunity will help push them. That makes a difference with their kids. You want to break the cycle. If you can break the cycle one kid at a time, you are going to make a difference. So instead of a cycle, you have a pyramid where you can reach five, 10, 20 people. That's what we're hoping for.
"We really need to know the community is going to do it, everybody is all in. We have to know that certain promises are going to be upheld, otherwise we are not going to waste our time. We don't want it to be there for one or two years, we want it to be there for 10, 20, 30 years. That's how you make a difference."