Thinking big leads students to found International Organization for Youth Education

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 1:00pm

In February 2010, Cory Bronenkamp ’11 and Michael Lysek ’11 participated in a weeklong immersion trip to El Salvador through Spring Hill College’s campus ministry. Coordinated by Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ), the students visited Guarjila, a rural village in which they spent three days living in solidarity with a Salvadoran family.

In Guarjila, Bronenkamp and Lysek heard stories from those impacted by the Salvadoran civil war and were inspired to do something to effect change in the small towns of El Salvador, starting with the community’s youth. They returned to El Salvador in the summer of 2010 and began working on what would become the International Organization for Youth Education (iOYE).

The following is Bronenkamp’s and Lysek’s story, in their own words.

The Immersion Trip

Cory says...
Our trip to El Salvador in the spring of 2010 was one that I will never forget. The difference between this one and other service/immersion trips that I have been on is that we lived and learned in solidarity with the people, especially the people of Guarjila. This had an enormous effect on Michael and me because we were able to establish a personal connection with some of the youth in Guarjila.

That is when it struck us: the realization that once the kids graduate high school, there is no hope of continuing their studies in higher education, despite having the will and the intellect to do so. It was something that stuck with us once we got back to the States.

Michael says...
The thought of iOYE started during our first trip to El Salvador through Spring Hill College. After our stay in Guarjila, Cory and I knew we must do something to help these people. We mentioned this to Billy Kavula (SHC campus minister) and Francisco Mena Ugarte (CRISPAZ delegation leader), and they sort of "blew us off" because they hear these remarks after every immersion experience. Everyone gets that "mission trip high" toward the end of a trip to a place with extreme poverty. What made this different, however, was the home-stay in Guarjila and having Francisco stay with us at our family’s house. We got to hear more firsthand accounts of what happened during the war in some of our late-night conversations.

Our Return

Cory says...
While in El Salvador on our immersion experience, we expressed to Billy Kavula and Francisco Mena Ugarte that we wanted to return to El Salvador to establish some kind of organization that would help these kids. They both sort of blew us off as if they have heard that a lot; however, they didn’t know that it was something that we were both passionate about and determined to follow through with. In June 2010, both Michael and I returned to El Salvador for about a month each.

While there, we met with everyone we could who would be able to offer us some kind of assistance and direction in our program. We were able to gain new insights and establish a new direction for our program, based on the facts and realities that we learned through our interaction with people in El Salvador.

The group that was the biggest blessing to us was Centro Arte para la Paz (the Art Center for Peace). They, too, run an education program, much like the one that we envisioned. With the help of the director, Sr. Peggy O’Neill, S.C., and her assistant, Berty, we were able to get insights on what makes their education program successful and incorporate those principles and ideas into our organization.

With the help of many generous people in El Salvador, especially the people at Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ), Michael and I were able to develop a good plan for our organization so that when we returned to the States, we would be able to solidify the idea and begin fundraising.

Michael says...
After much talking and planning, Cory and I were able to return to El Salvador during the summer of 2010. We returned with a picturesque idea of merely providing housing for these students so they could attend university, and that was it. I even remember a conversation between Cory and me about the planning in El Salvador only taking a week or two and how we were going to travel for the last couple weeks Cory was there, since I stayed longer.

As we started to meet with people, such as representatives from the University of Central America (UCA) and the National University, we realized there was more to our original idea. We even talked to a prominent person from the UCA who has a scholarship program. He basically told us to go home and don’t waste our time.

Even though we were discouraged, I kept telling Cory we need to meet with Sr. Peggy, a nun with whom we met during our initial immersion trip. Once we visited her, she informed us that she and a man named Berty run a program similar to what we wanted to emulate, CAP Suchitoto ( Our goal is to provide scholarships that cover tuition, food, transportation, and housing for the top students in rural high schools, as recommended by various people in the community.

Our meeting with Sr. Peggy instilled a new fire within us, because we knew we could make our dream a reality. We also met a man from the States who ran a high school in Ashapuco, El Salvador called Casa La Atarraya ( He expressed interest in our program and wanted to lend a hand. Throughout our second visit, we met many people who wanted to partner with us and extend their help in any way possible. It amazed Cory and me how much these people from El Salvador wanted to help even amongst all the poverty they are faced with. After our trip was completed we felt well grounded with the support we had received.

Establishing the International Organization for Youth Education (iOYE)

Cory says...
Upon returning to the States, Michael and I worked very hard to solidify the organization in order to begin accepting donations and educating students. We wrote our business plan and added an additional member to our staff, Mackie Duhon ’11. From there, we created a board of lawyers, accountants and businessmen who would offer us their expertise in how to proceed with our organization. Through their help and generosity, along with the dedication of all of our staff members, we created the International Organization for Youth Education on Aug. 30, 2010.

Furthermore, on Nov. 15, 2010, our first two students attended orientation at the Institute of Technology in Central America (ITCA). As it stands, we have the funding to send three additional students to the ITCA in 2011. Who would have ever thought we would be sending four students to the university in El Salvador just nine months after our first trip to El Salvador? It went from just a dream that was thought of by Michael and me to an actual, concrete reality.

Michael says...
Mario Vasquez Lopez is the first student to be empowered by iOYE. We came across him and his family during our stay in his village, Guarjila. He is one of three kids in the impoverished family. Mario really stuck out to us because of his work ethic and intelligence. He taught himself basic English from a beat-up dictionary, and he is also an artist.

Mario graduated high school last year and wanted to continue studying in college; however, he comes from a family that makes about $1 a day. With the help of our donors, Mario was able to receive a scholarship in order to attend the ITCA and pursue his dream to become an engineer. Mario is commuting to one of the ITCA campuses that is close to his village.

To learn more about the International Organization for Youth Education, or for details on how to sponsor a student, visit, or e-mail iOYE is a nonprofit organization, and all donations are tax deductible.