A Connecticut planner brings help
and hope to Latin America's poorest.
By Karen DeMasters
"Hey, you know, breakdowns come and breakdowns go. So, what are you gonna do about it? That's what I'd like to know."
Paul Simon in Gumboots from the album Graceland
Carl Bailey, a certified financial planner in
Danbury, Conn., has lived with that question in mind for several years
A successful advisor with his own fee-based practice, Bailey & Beatty Financial Services Inc., a member of the Commonwealth Financial Network, Bailey is now finding a larger portion of his time devoted to some of the poorest people on the planet, as well as helping some of the more affluent handle their assets. Bailey recently traveled to Managua, Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti. To say the experience changed his life is no exaggeration.
"I am the son of an immigrant father, and I am living the American dream. We have so much-almost an unlimited amount of wealth-it would be a total waste of opportunity not to help others. You can talk about problems until the cows come home. We need to decide what we can do about them," he says during a lengthy interview from his downtown office in the working-class community of Danbury.
Bailey at age 52 is still an idealist and proud of it. He became involved with the Connecticut Quest for Peace several years ago and always gave generously, according to his friend and fellow Quest member Randy Klein. But he has recently upped the ante for himself.
"Carl has a refreshing viewpoint and a wonderful heart," Klein says. "If he did nothing more than what he has done already, he would have helped people there tremendously, but I think he will continue."
What Bailey did was decide to visit Managua by himself for two-and-a-half weeks last November. Randy and Linda Klein have taken others with them to see the work being done in the barrios, or slums, of Managua, but no one else from the group has ventured there on their own. With a few contact names from the Kleins, Bailey set out to educate himself about the needs of Nicaragua and see what he might be able to do to help.
What he found was a country locked in illiteracy and poverty. Thirty percent of the people suffer from starvation or malnutrition; 70% of the adults are unemployed, and 40% of the children never attend school. Those who do, go for an average of two years in schools with few books and no computers. Connecticut Quest for Peace builds schools and helps educate the children to break the cycle of poverty, among other projects the group undertakes.
"Our schools start where the pavement ends," Klein explains.
On his trip, Bailey set a goal for himself of spending one third of his day educating himself about Central America, one third getting to know what the people in Managua need, and one third deciding what he could do personally to make a difference. He ended up donating large amounts of money (although he won't say exactly how much) to buy and install 30 computers in a school, and install an English-as-a-second-language program. He did the work of finding the computers and getting them to the school himself. He then asked the nuns running the school what else they needed. Without a moment's hesitation, they said the children need a library and the nuns knew exactly how to stock the shelves, they just did not have the money to do it.
"Now, I just got an estimate on the cost to build a school yard. This is something kids here take for granted, but the one there gets washed out every time it rains," he explains. If word of what he has done so far prompts others to give, so that he can now undertake more projects, Bailey will be more than grateful.
"I have been involved with people addressing the inequalities of wealth in [the United States] and the world for a long time. I eventually reached the crossover place where I needed to get away and see what it was like for myself, and I needed to do it alone," he says of his solitary journey to Nicaragua, which says he will repeat in the near future.
"I would see immigrants living here in crowded houses working two or three jobs to make a bare living, and I wondered what their lives must have been like where they came from for this to be considered so much better," he remembers. "What I saw in Managua were college kids dedicating two years of their lives to helping impoverished Latin Americans. I saw nuns, who from the moment they wake up every day until they went to bed, were working to make other people's lives better, and asking nothing in return. They have only enough personal possessions so they can move anywhere within four hours."
Like the nuns and college students, Bailey says he is not out to change the world, only to help as many people as he can. "There is a story about a boy walking along the beach throwing starfish back into the ocean. A man comes along and tells the boy he cannot possibly save all the starfish washed up in the surf, so he cannot make a real difference. The boy throws another starfish back and says, 'I made a difference for that one.' The nuns are not there to change the world. They are trying to change the lives of the people they touch each day. That affected me," Bailey says.
Wulfran Polonius, treasurer of Connecticut Quest for Peace, says those who see the poverty in Nicaragua and elsewhere have different reactions. "Some say, 'It is not my problem.' Others give a little money. And others get really involved, like Carl."
Klein agrees Bailey has already had a profound impact on people. "Carl has the ability to assess a situation very quickly," Klein says. "He is a fast learner and is able to capture the essence of a community. He quickly saw the lack of dignity in these people's lives."
Bailey traces his caring to the roots he established in childhood, roots that he maintains to this day. He remains in Danbury, where his father had a factory job, rather than moving to the more affluent areas of Connecticut, so that he can stay grounded. From his third-floor office window, he can see the homes where his mother and grandmother lived, the hospital where he was born and the grammar school he attended.
Having started in the insurance business after college, he later began his financial practice on his kitchen table 25 years ago. He now maintains a practice that is done strictly by personal referrals and that has grown to include eight employees, with four financial planners, who manage a little more than $200 million in assets.
Since joining Commonwealth in 2002, Bailey has consistently ranked in the top 1% of the 1,000-plus financial advisors affiliated with the network. He is proud to note that he has 20 clients who have been with him for 25 years. "We are a critical part of their lives," he says.
Active for many years in local not-for-profit organizations, he has chaired the local United Way. His charity work, and particularly his recent efforts among the poorest people in Central America, has brought him a new compassion and a heightened awareness of those in need near him. He says he does not pressure anyone else to do or give anything, although he might try to "plant the seeds" with those clients who are very well off.
Bailey knows he already has made a difference in the lives of a large group of people in Managua, and he hopes he has been able to act as an unofficial goodwill ambassador for the United States. Some 1,500 children now have a chance at an education and have an opportunity to become connected to the rest of the world.
Concerned in particular about the plight of women in poor countries, he also hired a psychiatrist to help women who had been abused and raped. The action was taken at the request of people in the barrios. Now he wants to start more projects at more barrio schools.
"I am not trying to save the world, but I have a chance to make a difference. I am in the process of trying to raise the bar for myself. What I have given has not changed my life at all. I have not sacrificed anything yet," he says. "I still lead the same life I always did, and yet what I have been able to do has made vast differences in the lives of others. It makes no sense not to do that."