Being a growing media empire means we sometimes have to look outside of Raleigh. Today, we’re covering an amazing story out of Panama with deep ties to Raleigh. Since it’s also Giving Tuesday, we’d like to encourage everyone to donate to Heart’s Cry Children’s Ministry to benefit the work being done in Panama.
Starting an orphanage for special needs children in a foreign country, where adoption law is basically nonexistent, is simple. You just need a couple with a background in international adoption law and real estate development to drop everything they’re doing, move to that country, and devote their entire lives to the cause. Fortunately for Panama, that’s exactly what Matt and Misty Hedspeth did.
I met Matt Hedspeth in November of 2016. I was just beginning to run my media empire as a full time job and Matt was entering his 9th year living in Panama with his wife Misty and saving orphans with special needs through their non-profit, Heart’s Cry Children’s Ministry. We were both doing the Lord’s work. Matt and I were introduced by a mutual friend (Broughton legend Will Roach) and met for lunch in Cameron Village to talk about an upcoming banquet for Heart’s Cry.
“You’re coming to Panama, you just don’t know it yet.” That was one of the first things Matt said to me during our lunch. I quickly learned how intense and passionate he was, about everything. He had some incredible stories about his time in Panama. From having machine guns pointed at his face by local law enforcement over a simple misunderstanding, to how Heart’s Cry literally wrote the adoption laws in Panama, their current life seemed like a movie or a TV show.
Their former life in Raleigh was much more relatable. Matt and Misty had met on a blind date while they were both attending NC State. Misty was studying accounting and Matt was pursuing a degree in Forest Management. Misty earned her law degree and MBA from Campbell University and eventually opened her own law practice in Raleigh. She began focusing on adoption law and became an expert on the Hague Convention. She went on to help a local adoption agency, Amazing Grace, form a new adoption program in Panama.
As Misty progressed through her career, Matt was busy finding his niche in real estate development. As the manager and owner of a 95-unit town home development, Matt honed his skills in management and building rehabilitation. In his spare time, Matt pursued his love of music by writing and playing in a band with John Teer and Chandler Holt, two of his Broughton classmates, who went on to form the band Chatham County Line. Years later, they would play together at the Heart’s Cry Banquet that Matt and I had discussed over lunch.
Another clip from an incredible dinner last night. Matt Hedspeth and Chatham County Line put on a show. Check out Heart's Cry Children's Ministry and donate to help Matt and Misty with the unbelievable work they're doing in Panama. More on this story soon. @chathamcoline @theumstead #bluegrass #chathamcountyline #charity
Shortly after marrying, Matt and Misty discovered they weren’t able to have their own biological children. They decided to adopt internationally from Panama through a new program Misty had helped forge at Amazing Grace. They booked a 2-week trip to submit the adoption paperwork, establish the international adoption program, and go on vacation in Panama.
The vacation never happened. Upon arrival, Matt and Misty somehow ended up meeting with prominent Panamanian officials who were desperate for someone to help the government fix the adoption and orphan care system. They even ended up talking with Vivian Torrijos, the First Lady of Panama at the time.
The main crisis was, and still is, within the government. However, a few other factors contribute to Panama’s unusually large amount of orphaned or abandoned children. Panama is a Catholic country, where abortion is illegal and birth control is frowned upon. Somehow prostitution is legal and you can actually get a prostitution work visa. This combination results in a lot of abandoned babies. The Panama Canal also provides a gateway to the world for every kind of human trafficking, which also contributes to the crisis. Poverty obviously plays a role, with the mean annual income per family in Panama at $5,500 per year.
After several trips, Matt and Misty realized they needed to move to Panama to help fix the country’s orphan crisis. They sold everything, shut down the Hedspeth Law Firm, kept the real estate Matt owned as a source of income to live off of, started their own non-profit (Heart’s Cry Children’s Ministry), bought a condo in the middle of Panama City, and began the adventure. What they thought would take a few months turned into six months. Nine years later, they are still in Panama.
Over those 9 years, Matt and Misty adopted Peter, a brilliant, beautiful child with special needs. They then adopted Rosemary, who was hearing impaired and now thriving in the family.
In 2013, against all odds, the Hedspeths had a child, Isaac (also a special needs child with Autism). As if one miracle wasn’t amazing enough, Matt and Misty are now currently expecting their fourth child, Josie, in April.
While taking care of a growing family they also ran Heart’s Cry, which has made an incredible amount of progress to date. They set out to evaluate the systems in place in Panama, create improvements or new systems, then implement those solutions with their ongoing in-person support. For example, here’s Matt at Panama’s medical distributor buying $7,000 worth of Pediatric HIV meds for orphans who, at the time of the picture, had gone 2-months without medicine critical to their survival. The Panamanian Minister of Health had forgotten to order it that quarter.
Heart’s Cry, but mainly Misty, wrote the new adoption law (Law 46, passed in 2013) which shortened the time and limited the number of family members requiring investigation by the government for the Family Investigation period. The law also included guidelines for a new foster care system.
They also funded the creation of Case Manager, a software enabling the government to track every case file (orphan) according to the requirements of Law 46. They then created and implemented Panama’s first Foster Care system, so that the orphanage is no longer the only choice of placement once a baby is abandoned. They also established Heart’s Cry Family Services, Panama’s first local adoption and foster care agency. The agency currently has an attorney, social worker, clinical psychologist, and office administrator to provide free services to Panamanian residents.
The project that Matt currently gets most excited about is the renovation of a 43,000 square foot former U.S. Army building. This building will house Casa Providencia, Panama’s first and only special needs orphanage and therapy center. Scheduled to open in February 2018, it will house some of Panama’s most severely disabled orphans, and provide the best in all therapies, education, nutrition, and healthcare.
Matt called me a few weeks ago to see if I’d be able to make it to their second banquet in December. His day had consisted of managing the renovation of the new orphanage, bartering with local Panamanians for some hard to find construction supplies, and visiting with orphans at several orphanages. Misty had spent the day in and out of the Heart’s Cry offices scheduling short-term missions teams to help with construction, negotiating foster care legislation over the phone with Panamanian officials, and taking care of their three children in their own home. The least I could do, before going to Panama at some point, was to share their story here.
So on this Giving Tuesday I’d highly encourage everyone to visit their website to donate to Casa Providencia. Donate $100 and send me the receipt and I’ll send you a free soon to be released ITB t-shirt and koozie.