The early 1970s were a particularly dangerous time in Northern Ireland. In 1972 Sarah Hughes was moved to seek an escape from the violence for her children by a bomb in 1972 that left body parts of three young men strewn over a neighborhood and was witnessed by one of her sons. In 1973 she devised a plan to send children to America (her son’s idea) and wrote to 30 newspapers. The Fargo Forum was the only newspaper to print her letter. The letter appeared in its Easter Sunday edition, April 22, 1973.
As a non sectarian group we wish to appeal to our American friends to open their homes for a holiday for our children. We will charter a plane to bring the children away from the bomb and bullet. If possible we will bring their mothers and the wives of the men who have been assassinated and killed by the bomb. We will bring Protestant and Catholic children together. I have hospital ‘reserves’ who for three and one-half years have given their service willingly during the bombing and burning, risking their lives for our city. They are helping me to organize this trip. During the last war we opened our homes to your boys and we were very proud to do so. Even a small donation will be gratefully received if sent to me.
In spite of North Dakota’s lack of Irish American connections, Doris Eastman’s Easter column generated replies from 60 readers offering to take an Irish child for the summer of 1973. From these, Sarah and her Non Sectarian movement selected Ruth and Roy Lerud, a farming couple from Twin Valley.
Thousands of youth from Belfast have followed David Hughes, the first youth to make the journey to the United States with the program. Hughes was 9 years old. In 1974, the Hibbing Minnesota Rotary Club sponsored 150 children from Northern Ireland for the summer. In 1975, the program moved to the Twin Cities. During the summer of 2000, 101 children were hosted by families in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin (along with 28 repeat children).
Somewhere along the line, Hughes’ Non Sectarian Movement became the Children’s Program of Northern Ireland (CPNI). CPNI believes that the experience the children gain from the cross-community programs in the United States and in Northern Ireland as well as the experience of living with an American Family for four weeks, promotes the possibilities for them to develop positive and constructive relationships with persons from the other traditions throughout their lives. Thief River Falls Times & Northern Watch