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Trip of a Lifetime

This Project SPAMMY® employee engagement trip is a dream come true for Jennie-O corporate purchasing manager Keri Crotteau and her family.

BY MARY BURICH
CATEGORY | OUR COMPANY

As the Project SPAMMY® bus drove through the Guatemalan countryside, Kendra Crotteau looked out the window and wondered if the kids she was seeing might be her brothers and sisters.

“It was mind-blowing,” the 13-year-old says. “To think I could have been one of those children. It’s so different from where I live.”

Kendra was adopted as an infant by Keri and Kevin Crotteau, a family from Cameron, Wis. “She came home when she was 5 months old,” says Keri, who works as a corporate purchasing manager for Jennie-O. “So, obviously she doesn’t remember living in Guatemala.”

Returning To Guatemala

For years, Kendra longed to travel to her birthplace, especially when Keri learned about Project SPAMMY®. Hormel Foods was starting a program in Guatemala to improve childhood nutrition with a shelf-stable, fortified poultry spread called SPAMMY®, and it was inviting employees to go on discovery trips to help support the initiative. The only problem? Kendra was a number of years shy of the minimum age requirement of 13.

Keri promised her daughter they would go as soon as she was old enough. “It was our dream to take that trip,” Keri says. “Kendra made a special SPAMMY® bank out of a coffee can. She would put all of her money in that can.”

According to Kelly Braaten, manager of external communications for Hormel Foods, Project SPAMMY® employee engagement trips take place three to four times a year. Employees pay for their airfare, while the company picks up the cost of lodging, meals and other expenses incurred during the weeklong trips.

Kevin, Keri, Kendra and Keri’s parents made their Project SPAMMY® trip in June 2017, 15 days after Kendra’s 13th birthday. Keri’s mother accompanied Kevin and her when they traveled to Guatemala to meet their newborn daughter, so the return trip was special for them. But it was Keri’s father who caught Kendra off guard.

“Our first night there, we gathered in a conference room to meet each other. We were all sharing a little about ourselves,” Kendra says. “When it came to my grandpa’s turn, he stood up and gave a long, emotional speech. I didn’t expect that.”

Kendra and her family
Kendra in Guatemala
Kendra in Guatemala
Kendra in Guatemala

Kendra and her family got an education in Project SPAMMY®, visited homes and traveled to boarding schools where Hormel Foods has provided scholarships. They also went to Chispa Centers, which teach children basics such as math, reading, nutrition and motor skills to help position them for long-term success. Then there was a surprise for the Crotteaus: a drive by the hospital where Kendra was born.

Meeting and interacting with the people of Guatemala was Kendra’s favorite part of the trip. The residents of the Myan villages touched her deeply. “I’m of Myan descent,” she says. “That part of the trip was amazing.”

As far as Keri and Kevin are concerned, the journey met every expectation and then some. “We wanted Kendra to see where she came from and the beauty Guatemala has to offer,” Kevin says. “And also the struggles that the people go through every day.”

Guatemala is a democracy of less than 20 million people; it’s had its share of challenges in recent years. For starters, it endured a decades-long civil war that ended in 1996, only to be devastated by a volcanic eruption and tropical storm in 2010. At the same time, Guatemala had the fastest population growth in the Western Hemisphere during the 20th century. Today, well over 100 countries in the world enjoy a higher Human Development Index, a measurement of life expectancy, education and per capita income. (By comparison, nations such as Norway, the United States, Canada and Australia are in the top 10.)

Making the trip “is the best thing that’s happened to us,” Keri says, not including having Kendra join the family. In that regard, memories of learning she would become their daughter came flooding back.

Keri remembers vividly being at work when she received an email from the adoption agency. Attached was a photo of a newborn baby girl. She forwarded the email to Kevin and called him immediately. “We counted down and opened the photo together,” Keri says. “When I saw her face, I somehow knew she was our daughter.”

Kendra was underweight at birth, a reality Project SPAMMY® is working to combat. The Crotteaus sent clothes for Kendra and made arrangements for her to live with a Guatemalan family – versus an orphanage – until she was “ready to come home” to Wisconsin.

Now an eighth-grader, Kendra is thriving. “She has a huge personality. She loves theater, choir and band. She plays softball and runs track,” Keri says. “She’s just a well-rounded, happy kid.”

She’s also a tenderhearted one, who would return to Guatemala “in a heartbeat.”

“I wanted to see where I’m from, [and also,] I wanted to give them something. Like SPAMMY®,” she says.

“It feels so awesome to give back. Why wouldn’t everyone want to do it?”