Volunteer Spotlight: Chris Cotten, clinical social worker, Spanish interpreter, and co-leader on service trips, answered his call to service, "What do I do for Hearts In Motion? Anything they want!"
Chris Cotten listened to Chicago Public Radio one day back in 2009 when he heard our Executive Director Karen Scheeringa-Parra talking about how American citizens could help Guatemalans. He learned about how Hearts In Motion offers a wide array of programming that provides critical and life-saving medical care and aids in developing social programs to improve health, education, and the welfare of people experiencing extreme poverty. He was so intrigued he reached out to Karen and scheduled a meeting. Soon after, Chris went on his first service trip with Hearts In Motion and was hooked!
At the time, Chris was a professor of social work at Indiana University, Northwest (IUN and a bi-lingual Spanish speaker. He organized a trip of IUN social work students to go on a service trip with Hearts In Motion. As with all of our service trips, we provide a customized, hands-on, and educationally enriching life experience for participating students and volunteers.
After a few mission trips, Chris fell in love with Guatemala and Hearts In Motion's efforts and wanted to do more. At the end of 2011, he resigned from his position at IUN and decided to take a year off and move to Hearts In Motion's Gualan Campus in Zacapa, Guatemala. Utilizing his expertise as a clinical social worker, he worked to further the development of programs helping children experiencing extreme poverty and trauma.
In 2011, Chris returned to teaching. He took a position at the University of West Florida, again bringing his students to Guatemala on service trips to enhance their personal and educational experience. During this time, Chris traveled to Guatemala 3 to 4 times per year for service trips, working as an interpreter and functioning as our lead clinical social worker for the Reese House (children's home) and our Nutrition Center for extremely malnourished children.
In 2017 Chris experienced a significant life shift. His father passed away after a years-long period of dementia and Parkinson's Disease. Also, there was a change in leadership in the social work department at the University of Florida. As a result, even though he had just gained tenure and promotion, he resigned to fulfill his dream of moving to Guatemala full-time. For the first year, he lived in Zacapa and took a position teaching online with Walden University. He then found his permanent home in Guatemala City while volunteering his time and talent with Hearts In Motion.
Chris works very closely with Hearts In Motion, functioning as our lead clinical social worker for the children at the Reese House and Nutrition Center, and supports our staff in any way he can.