As international adoptions go, Kevin Kreutner (MBA ’98) and his wife, Sheila, had a fairly smooth experience. Daughter Isabel was brought home from Guatemala in 2003 at 8 months old. She had been cared for by a loving foster mother with a large extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. Along the way, the couple was able to visit with the baby and get regular pictures, so they already felt connected by the time of the adoption. In 2005, they also adopted Isabel’s younger biological brother, Samuel.
Kreutner remembers being told that at its best, there was no adoption system better than Guatemala’s, and at its worst, none worse. He supported families going through tough adoptions in Guatemala and became so involved with the website Guatadopt.com that it was like a second job for him. Guatadopt acted as a hub for reliable information about adoptions until 2008 when Guatemala suspended foreign adoptions.
In the meantime, Kreutner fell in love with the country. “I believe if you adopt a child from another country, you have an obligation to make that country part of that child’s life. It is their heritage,” he says. “We were so engrossed with the country and the holidays that we probably went a little overboard when they were young,” he says, adding that their home is decorated with Guatemalan handiwork.
Kreutner, now an executive recruiter for WOLF Search Solutions, had spent nearly 15 years after he graduated from Notre Dame building a name for himself in developing and repositioning brands. Three years ago, he was asked to join the board of Behrhorst Partners for Development, a nonprofit working to strengthen Mayan communities in Guatemala. Kreutner’s early years of professional experience were invaluable in guiding Behrhorst through a challenging rebranding process. The organization emerged as ALDEA, which translates as “village” in Spanish.
ALDEA serves rural, indigenous communities. The homes are tiny, with dirt floors and no running water. Women spend hours a day traveling up or down a mountain to fill five-gallon jugs and carry them home again — on their heads. The cooking is done inside over an open fire. Babies are carried on mothers’ backs, creating two problems. Respiratory issues are the obvious, but even more insidious is the way that inhaled smoke impedes little bodies from absorbing all-important nutrients.
“Obviously we want to save the 6-year-old that has been chronically malnourished his whole life. But it’s also about making sure that the child that’s yet to be born never becomes malnourished,” Kreutner says. “We form partnerships between us, the community and the municipality.” ALDEA gets the approvals necessary to run pipes through property held by wealthy landowners.
Municipalities help with engineering and heavy equipment. Community members provide the sweat equity and the funds for upkeep. Kreutner tells the story of one case where a landowner agreed to have pipes run through his property only if a three-mile driveway was built from the road to his home.
The villagers went out and did it.
“The long and short of it is every home gets a faucet with chlorinated, potable water,” he says. “We get every family a latrine for their homes, and we install more fuel-efficient, properly venting stoves into the home. Then we do a lot of education — family planning, women’s rights, health and nutrition.”
Kreutner says as a Jewish guy from Southern California, he didn’t even know where Notre Dame was when he was recruited for the MBA program. Now, he says, it’s a rare day when he doesn’t have a Notre Dame logo on him. “This work with ALDEA has allowed me to take the professional skills I learned at Notre Dame,” he says, “and apply them to the more important thing I learned at Notre Dame — the need to give back.”