Instead of celebrating her 49th birthday in the comforts of her Sacramento, Callif., home, a mom of two chose to travel without her kids to El Salvador, where she celebrated with people who benefit from her support of a nonprofit called AmeriCares.

Cindy Kinney was one of 66 AmeriCares supporters who got a first-hand look at the good work the international relief and humanitarian group does around the world. The organization offers its AmeriCares Airlift events to help donors and volunteers understand better the work the nonprofit performs overseas.

“There’s no better way to understand who we are and what we do than by meeting the people whose lives we have touched,” says Carolyn O’Brien, AmeriCares Senior Vice President for Development and Communications. “Often, donors become more passionate in their support and are motivated to give more to our organization—both financially and in-kind—after participating.”

Another traveling mom and AmeriCares Airlift participant, Kathleen Lacroix, a stay-at-home mom with three children from Norwalk, Conn., says the trip reinforced her belief that the work of AmeriCares is important and worthy of whatever support her family can give them.

“When we visited the facilities I was gratified because I was able to see how my contributions were being used, who was being helped and what their lives would be like without the support of AmeriCares,” she says. ”By visiting the sites, you connect with real people and listen to their stories, and it puts a human face on why we donate to AmeriCares, something that is hard to get by looking at the website or talking to AmeriCares staff.”

“The most important thing I got out of the trip is that AmeriCares is able to do things that other not-for-profits can’t and they do it very well,” she adds. “They make a significant difference in the lives of these people and because of that we want to support them.”

It was a whirlwind visit. The volunteers traveled to New York, where they attended a black tie reception before boarding a plane for the four-hour flight to the small central American country. The traveling moms and other AmeriCares supporters landed in El Salvador at 2 a.m. and immediately boarded a bus for another 45 minutes’ travel before arriving at the Holiday Inn in San Salvador. By 6 a.m., they were up again, on their way to tour the facilities that receive regular donations of Americares medical supplies.

“I always thought of AmeriCares as disaster relief, but now I realize that’s just part of what they do,” explains Kinney, a stay at home mother of two children. “They have ongoing relationships with facilities to help people on an continuing basis.”

The day’s agenda included a visit to the San Vincente de Paul Hogar de Ancianos, where AmeriCares provides basic medical care through an onsite clinic to 87 elderly residents who don’t have family members to care for them or who lost their homes in a natural disaster. The visitors toured the facility, served the residents’ snacks and gave them Beanie Babies as gifts.

Another stop was the Hospital Nationale de Maternidad, a 199-bed facility where 15,000 babies are born each year. AmeriCares recently donated hospital beds to replace the beds that had been used since the hospital opened in 1954. “It’s an unbelievable, state of the art facility with onsite diagnostics and mammography, so far beyond what’s available to most people in that country,” says Lacroix.

Visiting the facilities was a humbling experience that made Lacroix feel fortunate to live in the United States, and to see how different people’s lives are in other countries, she says. Despite “overwhelming” poverty, the people they visited with were positive and grateful for whatever assistance AmeriCares had given them—and they didn’t feel sorry for themselves, she says.

“At the clinic, the doctors, nurses and support staff were proud to have us see the beautiful place they had and how important they were to the community,” she says. “I think they were happy to show us what our contributions were accomplishing.”

The group also visited San Vincente de Paul Hogar de Ninos, an orphanage housing 250 children, half under age 3. AmeriCares supports the orphanage primarily by donating medical supplies for its 40-bed clinic. “All of us were carrying the babies and we held these children who don’t get much physical contact,” says Kinney.

By 2 p.m., the group was en route back to the airport. They arrived back in New York by 11 that night.

All of the moms agree that the excursion was a learning experience that provided a teachable moment: The opportunity to set an example for their children.

“That’s how I spent my 49th birthday—going on the airlift,” explains Kinney. “It’s important that they know where we spend our time and where we spend our money—helping people less fortunate than us.” She adds: “It’s not what you say’ it’s what you do that matters.”

Read about these moms who say the AmeriCares Airlift was a life-changing trip.