Timmy Global Health’s mission is built on ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
By Marc D. Allan
Dr. Chuck Dietzen founded the Timmy Foundation in 1997, hoping to address healthcare disparities in the world by activating the next generation of medical providers. His organization, which became Timmy Global Health in 2010, has provided care to over 150,000 patients in more than 11 countries and trained 4,000-plus student volunteers on college campuses across the country.
That work earned Timmy Global Health the 2022 Kiwanis International World Service Medal, which recognizes individuals and organizations who devote a significant part of their work to meeting the needs of others. The medal was awarded during the 2022 Kiwanis International Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
“I was very pleased that we chose Timmy Global Health to be the recipient of this year’s World Service Medal — and especially so that it happened during my presidency,” says 2021-22 Kiwanis International President Peter Mancuso. “They have built a global network to combat health inequality based on respectful collaboration with the underserved communities with which they partner. This approach empowers those communities to develop sustainable health care systems that they can administer themselves. As such, they are a model for other organizations engaged in similar work and are well-deserving of our recognition.”
Dietzen — everyone knows him as “Dr. Chuck” — said the award brought him to tears because it came on the 25th anniversary of the organization named for his older brother — who died as an infant in 1957, most likely from fluid in his lungs — and because this year marks the 25th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death. Dietzen met her in 1997; her work inspired him to create Timmy Global Health.
Dietzen grew up in a family that took in 150 foster children over 20 years. He went to Purdue University with plans to become a veterinarian, but his mother said, “Are you sure you’re not supposed to work with kids?”
He ended up going to medical school, where a question arose: How do people know what they should commit their college years to, let alone their lives, without exposure to the world?
One advantage: Students interested in humanitarian or philanthropic work are bright, passionate and tech- savvy.
“It seemed like we could marry the need for them to get some experience to solving some big issues in the world, and it would help them determine their purpose in life,” he says.
When a newspaper article about his plans for the organization was published, students started coming to him. He let the organization grow organically — the full story can be found in Dietzen’s book, “Pint-Sized Prophets” — and it started to fulfill his goals: to provide medical services to underserved people and to inspire the next generation of healers.
Hannah Mann was part of that generation. In 2018, she was a member of an 18-person Indiana State University team that traveled to Latacunga, Ecuador, for a week. The team’s clinic treated nearly 500 patients, including 47 whom they referred and transported to specialists.
The trip also cemented Mann’s mission to advocate for people who are normally overlooked. At the clinic one day, a woman handed Mann her child to hold during the admission process.
“I asked her the child’s name,” Mann said, “and she explained that they don’t name children until they survive their second birthday because infant mortality was so high. I remember thinking how big of an impact ‘Timmy’ was making on this community. Our work was helping at least four generations to have a better quality of life.”
Now a registered nurse with Hendricks Regional Health outside Indianapolis, Mann can see Timmy Global Health’s impact even beyond those communities.
“It affects everyone involved,” she says. “Students and healthcare providers are able to see how big an impact their work has — and how you don’t need a lot of expensive technology to form a functioning clinic. Just a group of passionate healthcare professionals and volunteers can make a huge difference.”
Timmy Global Health now partners in four countries: Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Nigeria. Dietzen is acting executive director (as a volunteer). His continuing global healthcare work includes an ongoing project in the Galapagos Islands and development of Kirklin, Indiana, U.S., a small town where he has opened a distillery and restaurant and is putting in a coffee shop.
“We’re trying to empower the community,” he says. “We’re all just ordinary people. But the mission needs to be extraordinary.”
Dietzen hopes Timmy Global Health shows students the way to other extraordinary things. He tells them: “I don’t want you to ever think you can’t do what I do. I would hope this sets you on a trajectory where greater numbers of people are healed and the world’s a better place. And feel free to surpass me.”
This story originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Kiwanis magazine.