A Pathway of Hope near Chennai, India, connects an American Idol pop star with the children of leprosy-affected individuals. David Archuleta's fans have purchased 150 engraved, granite bricks for a pathway at Rising Star Outreach campus and school, a project to raise up India’s outcast families.
The pathway and other campus buildings were dedicated recently, and Archuleta has told Becky Douglas, the founder of Rising Star Outreach, he will see her soon to walk the walk inspired by his music.
“When I read the stories, it was so touching,” Archuleta said. “They’re banished from their homes and really misunderstood. And their families are cast out with them. It’s sad that there are people out there who are forgotten.”
Douglas, an Atlanta housewife – and now a New York City resident – could not forget them. She first went to India in 2001 to visit an orphanage her daughter had supported. Amber Douglas committed suicide while attending college, after struggling with severe bipolar illness for many years. Douglas asked that donations be made to the orphanage in lieu of flowers. She went to India to deliver the thousands of dollars that poured in to honor her daughter’s memory.
When Douglas arrived at the orphanage, she saw it had sufficient support. But on the streets of India, the sight of the leprosy-affected and their children, whose only means of support was to beg, caused her to turn away in horror.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said. "Those images. I thought, ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something?’ “Then I thought, ’You’re somebody.’”
She founded Rising Star Outreach in a two-bedroom cottage to educate the children who were ostracized from society because of their parents’ disease. Today, the non-profit agency has 14 acres of land, a school for grades K-12, computer and science labs, a dormitory for volunteers, a library, a Meditation Hall and a Pathway of Hope.
Douglas, now an empty-nester, has reared 10 children – seven biological and three adopted – with her spouse, an international banker and attorney. Three to four times a year, she visits her 180 new children in India for three or four weeks and while in the U.S. spreads the word about her humanitarian efforts.
Douglas said, “From begging in the streets, they are learning that through education they can achieve their dreams. Truly it is a pathway of hope for a brighter future for some of the most disadvantaged children in the world.”
Archuleta adopted the project after his dentist, Scott McGavin, pledged to take dental care to the families of Rising Star Outreach. Soon Angels for a Cause, an umbrella website that raises funds for Archuleta-endorsed charities, featured Rising Star Outreach and Dr. McGavin’s goal to purchase portable dental equipment. In 2009, McGavin and a team took the equipment and their expertise to the children and adults who had never had dental care.
Other projects followed. To date, AFAC has raised more than $35,000 to support Rising Star Outreach initiatives, the most recent being The Pathway of Hope. Established by a fan, Cheryl Wheeler, AFAC was inspired by an old family friend of the Archuleta family, Todd Pennington, who started an Archuleta fan site in 2004, three years before American Idol made the singer an international star. The site was re-established after AI as www.archuletafanscene.com.
Rising Star Outreach has attracted major corporate sponsors like Marriott and Dell Computer, civic clubs like Rotary Club International and 200 unpaid volunteers every year who donate to the cause by coming to India and giving time and dollars. Videos about the project have won an Emmy and Gracey Award.
Padma Venkataraman, daughter of the former president of India and an anti-poverty activist, partners with the Rising Star Outreach to provide micro loans for leper colony members. Instead of families begging on the streets, parents run their businesses while the children go to school.
The children study, learn English, math and become skilled on computers. On the AFAC website, they sing an Archuleta song, Somebody Out There, to thank donors who gave them a new life. One day, the lowest caste children will rise to high-paying jobs in the businesses of India, Douglas says.
Starting with four housewives and a secretary, Rising Star Outreach has laid a pathway to success for the children and their families. When asked what her agency needs, Douglas quickly replies, “Everything. We just picked up two colonies in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, the poorest states in India.”