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Nancy Bell, Founder of Mayor Potencial
"Mayor Potencial is not only improving access to education in rural Latin America but is also providing children in these areas with mentors and role models who can inspire them. At the same time we are breaking the stereotypes that people might have about why developing communities are living in poverty. We are connecting students in the USA with students in Honduras and learning from each other. Most importantly, Cornell students are learning resilience, different views and solutions to problems, and that you can find happiness everywhere. Also, students in the USA are applying what they learn in classes to the real world. In the process they are learning about the different constraints that these communities face as they develop cultural competency. Mayor Potencial values this opportunity to positively impact students all across the world. We are changing the world by helping one school, and one community at a time."
In the rural Honduran village where Nancy Bell ’09 was born, the nearest high school is a two-hour walk along hilly, rock-covered dirt roads. With no transportation other than donkeys, teenagers in the village of El Rodeito typically drop out of school after sixth grade and work on their families' farms. By the age of 16, most of the girls in the village are already married and having kids.
Bell was one of the few lucky ones. When she was four years old, her parents moved from El Rodeito to the capital of Honduras; Tecucigalpa. Her parents worked 18-hour days, often without eating, so that they could send Nancy and her younger brother to private school. After graduating from high school, Bell enrolled in Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana in Tecucigalpa. She was the first person from El Rodeito to attend college.
Shortly after starting at the university, Bell learned about a collaborative program offered at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3). She applied and received a small scholarship to study at the college in Dryden, New York, for two years. In 2007, she transferred to The Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, and graduated with a bachelor's degree two years later. Bell is now working on her master's degree in human resources at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
While she lives more than 2,000 miles from Honduras, Bell has not forgotten the struggles of the people who live in El Rodeito. In 2013, she founded Mayor Potencial, which means "Greatest Potential." Her nonprofit organization raises money to improve education for children, helps business owners expand to the global market, and provides experiential learning for Cornell students.
"I strongly believe that education can play a critical role in helping a family and community break the cycle of poverty," Bell says. "Unfortunately, many children never get to make the choice for themselves, and are removed from school before the true value of an education becomes evident. Sadly, many poor communities also consider education a luxury. This is the type of thinking we need to change."
Cornell Commitment, a group of programs that emphasizes community service, is partnering with Mayor Potencial. Cornell students learn about social entrepreneurship and its impact on impoverished communities. In the past several years, Cornell students made four trips to El Rodeito to visit the village's elementary school and work with the children.
The opportunity to visit El Rodeito changes misconceptions many students have about people struggling with poverty in developing countries. "Thanks to Mayor Potencial, students understand the challenges these communities face," Bell says. "Once they actually can connect the challenges with a family, everything becomes real."
One of Mayor Potencial's first projects was raising money to install electricity in the new elementary school after it was expanded and relocated in 2014! Cornell students have taught English and math lessons, donated school supplies, and planted trees at the school.
Mayor Potencial is now raising funds to build a high school in the village. A crowdfunding campaign in 2016 raised money to clear the land and prepare it for construction. Our current campaign is raising money to build the first classroom. As we approach our goal of $15,000, construction materials are being purchased.
Chief Operating Officer
Khanh Phuong graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Human Biology, Health & Society, and a minor in Policy Analysis & Management. She joined Mayor Potencial at Cornell in 2013 after meeting with Nancy and seeing how much it meant for Nancy to give back to her underserved hometown in Honduras. Khanh Phuong led the collection of funds, clothes and school supplies that were sent to Honduras. She also established partnerships with local groups and schools in Ithaca.
“There are thousands of NGOs or charity organizations but I chose Mayor Potencial because of Nancy’s genuine passion towards helping her community and family in El Rodeito, Honduras. As a family-oriented person myself, this was extremely important to me. This familial value makes our organization stand out from others because we embrace the unique culture and values of the community, and address broad challenges in education, health and development accordingly. In that regard, we will realistically and effectively help individual communities throughout the world.”
Growing up with a strong supportive network, Khanh Phuong believes that putting in place collaborative programs will allow youth to explore various educational opportunities and to pursue their goals. As COO, Khanh Phuong oversees all of Mayor Potencial's projects and partnerships and works to ensure that activities are aligned with the organization's mission and goals.
Chief Development Officer
Allison graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Biological Engineering. She joined Mayor Potencial at Cornell in 2013, with an interest in helping to develop stronger education systems for impoverished communities. Allison was in charge of leading fundraisers for the club.
"I came from a family who always encourage the pursuit of S.T.E.M fields. My mom is a chemical engineer and my dad is a computer programmer. Coming to the U.S as immigrants, they elevated their socioeconomic level through a strong commitment to their academic studies. I am thankful for the values that they instilled in me, with an emphasis on diligence, persistence, and self-confidence. That is why I am dedicated to reaching out to communities like El Rodeito-- I believe that stimulating the academic interests of the younger generation is the first step to creating a sustainable foundation for lasting economic growth of these rural villages. Children in these impoverished areas are just as capable intellectually as I am. The only difference between us is that no one gives them the opportunity to reach their full potential. "
Coming from a highly technical background with a focus on biomedical sciences, Allison believes that putting in place a STEM curriculum will encourage children at younger ages to pursue higher degrees and ultimately expose them to opportunities that can elevate them economically and academically. She now continues her work with us by promoting Mayor Potencial in the US through social media and fostering corporate relationships.
Like Logan, Nidia is Nancy's cousin. She was born in a similar small rural community and hopes to give her community the same opportunities that Mayor Potencial is building in El Rodeito. Nidia works in Tegucigalpa and commutes to El Rodeito on a regular basis to oversee Mayor Poencial's trips to Honduras. Thus, she is invaluable in the collaboration between the US and Honduran teams when the lack of internet in El Rodeito prevents online communication.
Logan is Nancy's cousin. Having been born and raised in El Rodeito, Honduras, and currently residing there, he is invaluable to help the team initiate the programs. He is our eyes in the ground, keeping Mayor Potencial informed about the progress and impact of every single step taken on our projects.
Fundraising & Alumni Engagement Coordinator
Helena was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil. She graduated from the College of Engineering at Cornell as part of the Class of 2016. She first went to Honduras in 2016 and saw that the challenges that El Rodeíto faced were very similar to those of the cities from her country. Now as an alumni of the program, she is the Head of Alumni Engagement for Mayor Potencial and guest speaker at panels.
She works as a business analyst/program manager in New York City. Besides volunteering for Mayor Potencial, she serves as the Nominations Chair for Cornell's Alumni Class Council. When she is not working, she enjoys going to the gym and exploring NYC.
Norman Matos earned a B.S. in Operations Research and Engineering after graduating from Cornell University, where he joined Mayor Potencial at Cornell in 2015 as part of the Social Entrepreneurship Field Study course. Being passionate about helping those who are under-served, he works to raise awareness about the needs of those served by Mayor Potencial.
“I chose to help Mayor Potecial because I believe I have an obligation to use my knowledge and resources to help lift up those who have the will to improve their economic standing but not the means to do so.”
Having grown up in a low-income household, Norman knows first-hand the challenges of financial strain, and works to ensure that the future generations who go through such challenges recieve as much support as possible. Outside of Mayor Potencial, Norman manages business development projects for a tech company in Pittsburgh, PA.
Trips and Research Coodinator
Krystin is originally from Florida, and graduated from Cornell University in 2017 with a B.A. in Biology and Society, and minors in Spanish and Nutrition. She first joined Mayor Potencial in 2016 when she went to Honduras as a summer Health and Teaching intern. She immediately felt a strong connection to the community of El Rodeito, and knew she wanted to stay involved to further the mission and vision of Mayor Potencial.
Three years later she made a second trip to Honduras as the Trips and Research Coordinator, where she accompanied a group of Cornell students to survey the community about important topics like health, nutrition and water quality. She has been working with a team from Boston University to continue the research project, with the hopes of writing a paper to spread awareness of and to garner further support for the needs of the community. She currently works at a nonprofit youth organization in Washington, D.C., and is passionate about health equity and the power of education to change communities.
Liam is an Architecture major at Cornell, and joined Mayor Potencial in 2015 to collaborate with the student club on the design for the school expansion. Liam has previously worked on the design of an inclusive school in Haiti and a play-therapy garden in Valencia, Spain. He traveled to El Rodeito in the Spring and Summer of 2015 to coordinate the design with the community, and to work on the artisan project. After completing the school design, Liam has continued working with the marketing team at Mayor Potencial at Cornell to continue their mission.
Benjamin has an AS in Psychology and a BA in Human Development, concentrating in Holistic Development. Some his extra-curricular experience includes working as a certified peer specialist at a local psychosocial club, mentoring at iCouldBe.org, becoming a published writer, and being avid student of Coursera courses. Exposure to mental illness at a young age inspired his vindication to provide assistance to those with emotional difficulties, believing that people with mental illness are people first. Ben hopes to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. He also hopes to help devise methods that increase cognition of those with mental illness, as impaired thinking is a commonality that stunts education. Finally, he will serve as a life coach.
Ben joined Mayor Potencial because it allows him to help provide the impoverished and under-served with various resources, offering him the opportunity to give back to the world. He wished he had applied himself in grade-school, as he now understands the value of education. As a result, he helps promote the education that he’d once forgone.
Moira works as a graphic designer in the Central New York area. A friend introduced her to Mayor Potencial. Their mission and the work they do touched her heart. Most recently she volunteered her time in Mayor Potencial’s efforts to help Arnol Valle as he fought cancer.