Equipping orphans to thrive

Who We Are

We are a training, research, and advocacy organization which found its genesis on the campuses of Hope Unlimited for Children, a residential facility in Brazil. At Hope Institute, we transform the lives of high-risk orphans and vulnerable children by using evidence-driven methodologies to improve the quality of care at orphanages around the world. We advocate for the residential model as the setting that provides the best opportunity for high-risk orphans and vulnerable children to become well-adjusted, self-sufficient, and productive members of their larger communities.

At Hope Institute, we focus on high-risk OVC. Making their lives better is our heartbeat. We don’t build orphanages; we share tools with those already doing the hard work of orphan care. We teach orphan care practitioners the very best methods to make their work successful, equipping the children in their care to thrive!



DAVID Z. NOWELL – Executive Director

David is an experienced leader in the fields of nonprofit fundraising and management. He values research, and he understands how to get from the theoretical to the practical, taking the ideals of orphan care to practical implementation in the field. While serving as president of Hope Unlimited for Children, he observed first-hand the effectiveness of outcome-focused orphan care. David is the author of several books, including Dirty Faith:  Bringing the Love of Christ to the Least of These. A widely recognized speaker, David holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from Baylor University.


MEREDITH NORTON – Program Director

Meredith leads program development and implementation. She believes that raising a child is a sacred responsibility, and she is a constant advocate for the rights of orphans and vulnerable children. Meredith knows that the most effective approaches are holistic, and she enjoys gleaning best practices from all possible disciplines.



SEAN RUTTER – Board Chair

Sean is a senior partner at the firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers. His heart connection with orphans and vulnerable children began along a dirt road in Honduras in 2002. Since then, his passionate search for highly-effective residential care models for orphans has led him to places such as Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras and Tanzania. Sean seeks an intersection of his heart passion for orphans and his strong business and leadership experiences to bring excellence to the life transformation of orphans. Sean has undergraduate and masters degrees in Accounting and Taxation from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.


Our History

Founders of Hope Unlimited for Children (L-R) Philip Smith, David Swoap, Jack Smith

In 1991, Hope Unlimited for Children began rescuing children from the streets of Campinas, Brazil. They did orphan care a little differently: from the very beginning, their focus was on the next generation. They wanted the children of the children they raised to grow up in a stable, healthy family. And today, 27 years later, they are enjoying the fruits of this labor! Hope Unlimited for Children certainly lives up to its name – 90% of their graduates are meaningfully employed and in stable living conditions. The children of their graduates are growing up in stable, healthy families!

We know we can change the outcome for high-risk orphans and vulnerable children because we have seen it!

“Let’s hang a sign over the front gate that says ‘Please copy.'” – Jack Smith, co-founder of Hope Unlimited for Children

Hope Institute grew out of this success. Our expertise in vocational training and independence transition programs for OVC has its genesis in the visionary work of Philip Smith and his team at Hope Unlimited. It is our mission to share their hard-won lessons with programs around the world. Often we see programs that are focused on immediate necessities, but we must never lose sight of the big picture: helping children prepare to live successful, independent lives.

That is our heritage and our future.