“I learned Spanish, but God taught me something entirely different.”

Scott Sabin had just completed seven years in the Navy and was working on the final year of a master’s program in international relations so he could enter the Foreign Service. A friend suggested he go to Guatemala for an immersion program in Spanish to meet his language requirement. That’s where Scott’s life changed.

The immersion program lasted ten weeks. Every weekend, Scott spent time with different missionaries, aid workers, and local pastors. He was particularly inspired by the work of Pastor Salomon Hernandez. By the time he left Guatemala, Scott knew he wanted to devote his life to working with the poor.

Back in San Diego, he volunteered to work with a tiny nonprofit named Floresta, which hoped to help hundreds of subsistence farming families in the Dominican Republic by planting trees. To feed their families many farmers in many nations harvest trees faster than they can grow, which leads to deforestation. When the Executive Director resigned the Board named Scott “Interim Programs Manager” on a part-time, month-to-month contract.

Plant with Purpose Today

Fast forward 30 years, Scott is the Executive Director. Plant with Purpose (the name was changed in 2010) and their farming partners have planted more than 57 million trees in nine countries on three continents. Scott began with two other staff members. Now there are 40 staff people, and the organization does more than plant trees.

Plant with Purpose has developed their “Watershed Model,” based on the idea that if they reach only about half the families within a watershed, the entire area experiences a reduction in poverty and restoration of the environment. The effort is led by local “Purpose Groups” that bring neighbors together to work together and support each other.

“Farmer’s Field Schools” help people learn regenerative agricultural methods. A community-based microfinance program helps people reduce the impact of poverty. The rural poor they serve have collectively saved $11 million in cooperative savings groups. Planting trees has changed micro-climates. Their kids are healthier and better educated than anyone imagined 30 years ago.

It Almost Didn’t Happen

Plant with Purpose is in the 1% of non-profits that have retained the same leader for 30 years.

It could have been different. About six years into his assignment, things got very tough and Scott quit. A common friend recognized and affirmed Scott’s calling. Our friend listened to, prayed, reasoned, persuaded, and talked with Scott. Within a few weeks our friend “talked him off the ledge.” Scott accepted the affirmation, summoned his courage, and went back to live out the initial vision.

Faith Matters

Scott is a man of faith. When he spoke at the 30th-anniversary celebration for Plant with Purpose, he quoted Isaiah 58. The prophet told God’s people about both good and bad times ahead. Chapter 58 encourages the community to help the poor, weak, and needy. The divine promise was that good things will happen with and for the community that protects and assists the powerless.

Scott is a transformer. Scott’s character and contribution are remarkable. He recruited and retained a world-changing team. Hurray for Scott and Plant with Purpose! What a powerful role model for the rest of us.

Life is not a race. When your neighbor wins that doesn’t mean you lose. Instead, consider the notion that we’re interdependent by design. Each of us can improve others’ lives.


What will you do today that will improve another person’s life?


Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.

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