A Life of Exploration and Service

March 19, 2018

Travis C. Kumph shuns conversation about himself but lights up when he talks about his travels to Nicaragua and Peru and the important work being done in housing projects in impoverished regions of those countries through his nonprofit organization.

He gets animated when he speaks about the logistics of the group’s different initiatives, or when he remembers students who participated in international trips.

In 2011, Kumph, and college friend Michael Cipoletti, established FNE International. FNE stands for Facilitate, Network and Empower. The nonprofit focuses on housing, health and education. In addition to offering education programs and scholarships, it establishes health clinics, primarily in Peru.

Efforts are aimed at increasing awareness of dangers such as sun exposure and improper lifting techniques in rural areas where agriculture is the economic driver. Clinics offer cataract surgeries and physical therapy.

Kumph is also the philanthropy coordinator in the philanthropy department at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, a position he’s been in for three years. His strong analytical and people skills are a difference-making combination, wrote Laura Gingras, vice president of philanthropy and community relations for the hospital, in her nomination letter.

Kumph, 30, is married to his high school sweetheart, Kristi, and they live with their 16-month-old daughter, Charlotte, in Dublin, along with two dogs and a couple of cats. Kristi, too, works at Monadnock Community Hospital as a nurse.

As a freshman at Stonehill College, Kumph says he lacked direction and didn’t know what he wanted to study.

“Somehow, I found myself on an alternative spring break trip to Peru,” he says, “which had profound impacts on my life, specifically from a career perspective.”

During the eight-day trip, Kumph worked in rural Canto Grande, at a rehabilitation center for physically and mentally disabled children.

“That really … pointed me in the direction of health care,” Kumph says. “Both my parents worked in health care, and so it just kind of fell into place that I would do that, too.”

His mother is a social worker, and his father is the director of materials management at Monadnock Community Hospital.

“I grew up at MCH,” Kumph says with a laugh. “Even in college, when I’d be home for the winter breaks, I would go and help shovel the roofs off and stuff like that, so kind of always familiar with it.”

Working at Monadnock Community Hospital made sense, he says, noting that it wedded his interest in health care and his passion for helping others.

Around the same time, he joined the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce; today he is president of the Chamber. Kumph also joined the Jaffrey-Rindge Rotary Club and serves as chair of its international programs committee, which has expanded greatly since his involvement.

Kumph’s first trip to Peru, in 2007, accomplished more than just turning his attention to health care.

“It’s a degree of poverty that I certainly have never experienced, and it really kind of opened my eyes,” he says.

After his freshman year, Kumph returned to Peru several times throughout college, including as part of a three-month internship.

After graduation, though, he worried that he had lost that pipeline.

Then he met with Cipoletti, a Stonehill alumnus who shared a deep interest in international aid work. The two traveled to Nicaragua, where Cipoletti was informally running relief efforts of his own.

It was shortly after that trip, Kumph says, that Cipoletti invited him to start a nonprofit.

FNE International partners with 40 to 50 colleges and universities across the country, most from the Boston area and New England. High schools — ConVal Regional in Peterborough being one — are participants, too.

Students raise funds for the cost of the house they will build before traveling to Nicaragua or Peru, where they work for eight to 10 days. Kumph says they live in “solidarity” with the community, sleeping on cots and eating local food.

The group meets the family that will receive the home, and then the students support the foreman during construction with tasks such as digging the foundation and prepping cement. Afternoons are spent in cultural immersion, learning the country’s history, but also sightseeing and activities like hiking a volcano or visiting a local beach.

“One of the things we don’t want to do is bring (them) down and just show (them) … rural poverty and then have you go home thinking that’s all Nicaragua is, because it’s not,” Kumph says.

However, for him, he adds, “it really opened my eyes to poverty in my community.”

This is perhaps as valuable, if not more valuable, than the actual project work they do, he says.

“It is trying to, you know, build a generation of people who think less about themselves and more about everyone else.”

Often, Kumph says, he asks participating students a question toward the end of the journey: “When you go back home to Boston or to Keene or Jaffrey or wherever you’re going, how are you going to take this experience and apply it?”

Kumph says he’s interested in finding a more concrete way to track the impact on those students.

“Anecdotally, the number of people that I’ve worked with who have gone back to college and changed majors, or opted to join Peace Corps, or take a gap year and go do some service somewhere, it's incredible,” Kumph says.

Some colleges and universities are exploring the concept of alternative spring break trips similar to the relief trips, which don’t necessarily have to be outside the country, he says. Students can do disaster relief work in the U.S. and have a similar experience. Whether a trip is in rural Peru or storm-ravaged Texas, Kumph says the idea is the same: A person can still learn something about community and potentially make a difference.

“It’s such a powerful thing to watch someone go through that process,” he says.

Kumph, born and raised in Jaffrey, says he’s honored and humbled to be recognized as one of the region’s Trendsetters. He says highlighting individuals who are engaged in the community could be reassuring when so many younger residents are leaving the area.

“You see the average age of our members, of our business owners, is getting older and older, and there aren’t that many younger business owners in the community,” Kumph says.

While he enjoys access to the outdoors and the atmosphere of a small town, Kumph points out that not everyone may recognize those qualities immediately.

“I think one of the most important things is to show younger people that you can live in a place like this but still be connected, really anywhere,” he says.

Showing that someone can live in a quaint small town and still have access to the world is important, he adds.

“That’s one of the reasons that I’m so passionate about getting kids from local high schools to a place like Nicaragua, to show them that you can travel,” he notes. “You can still do all these wonderful things, even though you live in a place like Jaffrey or Peterborough or Dublin, wherever it might be.”

He envisions a partnership between chambers of commerce, rotary clubs, local high schools and his nonprofit for “larger-scale collaborative work in Nicaragua.”

“It’d be kind of neat to have, like, our entire community support their entire community.”

Volunteer groups would partner together for a housing project, but local business owners would also get a chance to meet their Nicaraguan counterparts. Kumph hopes they could find common ground and learn from one another.

Kumph says his support network — family, colleagues and friends — have made it possible for him to achieve what he has. His wife often accompanies him on international relief trips, and he calls it “refreshing” to have a supervisor, the hospital’s Gingras, who supports participation in outside activities and organizations.

Gingras notes that Kumph “models a life of service in every aspect of his life.”

His philosophy is chronicled in “A Peace of Me,” a book he wrote in college. It is a simple premise: Introducing young people to different cultures and helping those in need translates to a more peaceful world.

“I push myself, but also others, to explore beyond whatever they know.”