A little more than a year ago, Robert Harris started feeling restless. So when members of his church announced they would be joining a mission trip to Ecuador to set up an eyeglass clinic, it seemed like just the kind of adventure the Westminster resident needed.
The nine-day trip was "life-changing," he said, but when he returned to the U.S., he felt that temporary aid wasn't enough.
"I looked at the amount of money that was spent sending 43 of us down there — and you multiply that by $2,500 a person — and I was wondering what we could do differently to specifically help," he said, "because once the missionaries get down there and come back, that's it."
With the help of his wife, Barbara; Pat Coburn, who also went to Ecuador; and several other supporters, Harris began King Lineage Outreach Inc.
The charitable organization partners with Linaje del Rey, a church in an area of Ecuador devastated by the earthquakes in April 2016, to provide financial support and material resources.
As well as a center for worship, Linaje del Rey also cares for homeless children in the community and acts as a gathering place.
On thing that made Harris' mission trip to Ecuador unique was the fact that he is blind. Because of this, he was assigned an interpreter and guide, Andreina Zambrano.
If not for her, Harris might have left Ecuador on the day he arrived. When the missionaries arrived at the Quito airport, they were delayed for several hours and had to circle the airport in a bus waiting for part of their group to arrive.
"I was sitting there trying to figure out how I could get home at that point because I'm ex-military and I kind of like things in an ordered type of way," Harris, a Vietnam veteran, said.
"This young lady comes up behind me and she goes, 'Are you Bob Harris?'" he recalled. "And she says, 'I'm your interpreter, and I'm going to sit down and explain to you why it's important for you to stay here, because you're exactly what I prayed for.'"
They bond the two formed over the course of the trip was so close that Harris refers to her as his "adopted daughter." Robert and Barbara Harris communicate with Zambrano almost every day via text message and Facebook.
They also communicate regularly with the church about what resources are most crucial.
A future goal of King Lineage is to set up a medical clinic in the area. Currently, one use for donated funds is helping vulnerable people get medical care.
"If you don't have money [in Ecuador], then you wait for the next available appointment at the clinic," Harris said. "If you have appendicitis and you don't have money, you could die. … We're trying to change that."
In the U.S., the process for starting the charity has gone smoothly so far. A graphic designer helped the Harrises design the charitable organization's logo. Another friend donated time to help them develop their website, which was recently cleared by the bank to receive donations online via credit card.
In early June, they were approved as a 501(c)(3) tax deductible organization after only two weeks of waiting, far sooner than they had hoped. Their lawyer told them to expect closer to six months turnaround time.
"It's been just rolling right along," Barbara Harris said.
The funds donated to the organization go directly to the Linaje del Ray Church. The Harrises currently cover all operating costs like the domain for the church's website.
They are also raising money through Boscov's Friends Helping Friends Day. King Lineage Outreach is currently selling shopping passes for $5. They keep all of the money they raise through this. Those who purchase the passes are entitled to 25 percent off their purchase at Boscov's on Oct. 17, as well as entertainment and refreshments in the store.
Harris plans to visit Ecuador again once the organization is sending donations in greater volume.
"We are not just going to send them money, and stuff and not monitor it," he said.
It will also be a chance to visit Zambrano. "Had it not been for her, I would have never started any of this," he said.
It was so difficult leaving [Ecuador] and understanding the need, and how sincere and honest and giving they were themselves," Harris said. "It was an experience that was truly life-changing. That's the best way to put it."