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Education Changes Everything: Mission Santa Maria

When Jim Campbell made his first volunteer trip to a foster home in Ecuador, he wanted to help but was unsure how he could make a difference.  

“My Spanish was terrible,” he recalls. “I didn’t have a back-ground in medicine or social work. I felt like I lacked the skills to make a real impact.” 

Campbell quickly found a way to make a profound impact on the lives of the children in the foster home, many of whom came from abusive homes and extreme poverty. “I realized education was the answer. Without an education, they would be consigned to poverty forever,” Campbell says. “I realized that’s how I could help.” 

Campbell started Mission Santa Maria in 2007 to deliver a high-quality education to these children with the goal of lifting them out of poverty. His work on Wall Street at BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, and the Layton Road Group gave him valuable experience connecting investors with clients, a crucial skill to raising funds for the mission. 

In 2019, Campbell left everything behind and moved to Ecuador with his wife Grace, a nurse practitioner, to dedicate himself full time to Mission Santa Maria. They have since been joined by Ragan, their 16-month-old baby. “We want to help these children reach their potential,” Campbell says. “Education is the surest way to get them there.” 

Since its inception, the mission has provided more than 2,500 scholarships. This year, Knopman Marks focused its charitable giving on Mission Santa Maria’s work changing lives through education. Read on to learn how Campbell made the decision to leave Wall Street and pave new pathways for children in Ecuador. 

How have the educational opportunities expanded since your first trip to Ecuador?   

The foster home for children I visited on that first trip was created by Ecuadorian missionary sisters more than 30 years ago. The accompanying school educates the children from the home and has become one of the best schools in the state. The mission builds on that work. Our hope is that these children will heal and have greater opportunities as a result of education. 

What services does the mission provide?         

We pay their tuition, and buy their uniforms, books and materials. We also provide for their basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. You can’t focus in class if you’re hungry. We’re also starting to provide support for learning opportunities beyond high school, both at the university level and vocational training. We’re exploring and building opportunities for stable income generation in adulthood. 

How did you make the decision to leave Wall Street?       

I had been thinking about it since that first trip in 2007. I knew I wanted to do this full time, but I was fearful. I had 45 reasons why I shouldn’t go. I struggled with that for 10 years. My friends commented on how happy I was every time I returned from Ecuador. I also met my wife, Grace, and she was on board with living and working with the poor. I thought, this is great. Let’s go. 

What are your current goals for the mission?                 

We want to increase the number of students in the college scholarship program, that we started in 2014. We currently support 11 students attending university. We want to help them with contacts and connections when they graduate so they can land jobs. How can we help them network? We also want to provide vocational training so that if they don’t go to college, they can still secure a sustainable, dignified income. These programs were both started from scratch and are the ones most in need of support.  

What excites you about your work? 

I know that when we can get these children an education, they can get out of poverty forever. This is hard to do, and it’s costly. It involves connecting someone poor with someone wealthy. But it’s the most satisfying feeling in the world.  

What’s the best way to support the mission?                       

We can’t do anything without the generosity of so many people who make donations. You can also come to Ecuador for a visit and join us in our work. If you can’t make the trip, know that your donation will make a big difference. You will be changing lives.  

 Make a charitable contribution to

Mission Santa Maria HERE.

To personalize the spirit of giving this season, Knopman Marks offered each employee $500 to gift to a charity of their choosing. Learn about other causes close to our hearts here.

Suzanne Riss is an author and Director of Communications at Knopman Marks Financial Training. Previously the award-winning Editor-in-Chief of Working Mother magazine, she is a fierce advocate for issues facing working moms and an authority on work/life trends. Her expertise has been tapped in interviews by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and CNN. Suzanne's third book, Work Disrupted, published by Wiley, was released in January 2021.