Bob Hentzen, one of the founders of the charitable organization Unbound, interacts with a native woman in Bolivia in 2012. Morris Marsolek, a River Falls native and parishioner at St. Bridget, accompanied Hentzen on this and other Unbound “awareness trips.” (Submitted photo, Unbound)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

When River Falls resident Morris Marsolek read the Catholic Herald’s May article about mission trips to Guatemala, he felt compelled to share the good news of a poverty relief organization with which he has collaborated for more than a decade.

Morris and his wife, Judith, were first introduced to Unbound through a visiting priest’s message at their home parish of St. Bridget. Parishes across the diocese have received visits, heard similar stories and felt moved to get involved.

One of these priests is Fr. Jim Horath, a retired priest of the Diocese of Superior who lives in Mosinee and has been a part of Unbound’s preacher team since 2013, visiting parishes all over the country to encourage sponsorship. Fr. Horath himself has been a sponsor for 24 years and currently supports nine children.

Unbound was founded in 1981 by brothers Bob, Bernard “Bud”, and Jim Hentzen; their sister, Nadine Pearce; and a friend, Jerry Tolle. It was originally called the Christian Foundation for Children, then Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, and was renamed Unbound in 2014. In total, Unbound has served more than 800,000 children, students and adults primarily in Central and South America, but also in Africa, India and the Philippines.

Marsolek, 83, spoke about one of the young women he sponsored. Marisela, born from an arranged marriage in which the father left soon after she was born, lived with her mother in the jungle in western Guatemala, near the border with Mexico.
Even with a strong faith, life was, and would continue to be, very challenging for the girl and her mother. They lived with her grandparents in a dirt-floor home with no electricity or running water. Life is very simple. There isn’t any other option when the average wage for an uneducated Mayan woman is “25 cents an hour,” according to Marsolek.

Through his Unbound sponsorship, Marisela was given opportunities she would never have otherwise had. He sponsored her all the way through grade school, high school and college. The organization facilitates written communication between sponsors and their beneficiaries, as well as mission awareness trips.

It was during multiple visits, both to Guatemala and Bolivia, that Marsolek got to know the organization better, in addition to co-founder Bob Hentzen. Marsolek could appreciate the knowledge and effort behind the expansive operations, as a large part of his own professional career had been in sales, product development and management.

While Marsolek had also volunteered with other secular and religious charitable organizations (Knights of Columbus, Food for the Poor, Habitat for Humanity), most of his efforts have been with Unbound. His wife Judith has traveled with him to both Guatemala and Bolivia.

He is proud of the fruits – “amazing interactions” with Marisela and others he has sponsored, and the empowerment these young people have received through education. His last trip was to Guatemala for Marisela’s high school graduation four years ago. Now 22, she has a degree in linguistics and will be able to teach English at the secondary- and high-school level.
A young woman he sponsors from Bolivia will graduate high school this fall.

The importance of an education is something very personal to Marsolek, who grew up on a farm in Buffalo County and attended UW-River Falls, graduating with a broad-area science degree. He left home with $700 and a used bicycle for transportation. He worked his way through school, setting pins for $6 per night at a local bowling alley, waiting tables, doing light construction work and serving as a gas station attendant.

Marsolek praised Unbound’s leadership and the employees and volunteers he met at their Kansas City headquarters and communicates with for updates on his sponsored youth.

He said many employees have been there since the organization’s beginning, and he was “impressed to see the fervor they had doing their job.”

Diamond Dixon, Community Outreach and Media Relations Specialist with Unbound, confirmed Marsolek’s dedication. She said he has sponsored a total of five people between the ages of 9 and 23 and was a frequent traveler on their mission trips between 2005 and 2014.

Unbound’s Sponsor Services Director, Ramiro Zelada, shared his appreciation for Marsolek:

“As an Unbound sponsor, Morris is proof that local action can have a global impact. Since joining our community of compassion, he has been a faithful partner to young people and their families in the developing world – listening as they share where they want to go, and providing consistent, steady support to help them get there.”

Marsolek has shared his love for and belief in this ministry with family, friends and in parishes. He believes almost 30 more sponsorships have been acquired through his efforts. He is a little short of Fr. Horath’s efforts, which have helped to find sponsors for 1,602 children, youths and elders, but has likely contributed to the number of total sponsors hailing from the Diocese of Superior.

Unbound staff confirmed more than 2,300 people from the diocese are sponsoring through their organization.

Even though the challenges of aging have limited Marsolek’s travels to visit those he is sponsoring, he relishes their special connections. He spoke of all he has received, in addition to what he has been able to offer.

He still has a rosary that Marisela gave him during one of their visits. It had been made by her grandfather, a family heirloom, but she wanted Marsolek to have it. He believes he received miraculous intercession through rosaries he would pray on the beads, sitting in his recliner at home. During a time of uncertainty surrounding a possible cancer diagnosis, Marsolek couldn’t find the rosary. It had fallen through the crack of the recliner, but he found it the day before his test results came back negative.

Marsolek has promised to return the rosary to Marisela when he dies. When that day comes, she will receive it as a woman with life opportunities made possible through his years of support and friendship, a legacy of his own prayers to help impoverished youths to reach their full potential.