Suzanne and Mike Mayernick lead with love to save children’s lives in Uganda.
Words by Laura Drummond
Suzanne and Mike Mayernick didn’t plan on having eight children. They also didn’t plan on running an international nonprofit organization in Uganda from their home in Nashville. “There’s my plans, and there’s God’s plans, and my plans really don’t count,” Suzanne said.
The Mayernicks founded Love One in 2018 with a mission of helping critically ill children suffering from malnourishment in Uganda. The organization provides medical care, rehabilitation services, and support to children between infancy and 12 years old.
A winding path of faith led the Mayernicks to this point. “The Lord opened doors, and we walked through them,” Suzanne explained. Suzanne and Mike had four biological children before feeling called to adopt two sons domestically. They thought their family was complete, but God had other plans. The Mayernicks began going on service trips, traveling to Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and Uganda. These trips would bring two more of their children into their lives, one whom they met in Uganda and the other in Honduras.
Their experience of bringing one of those children into their lives would inspire them to establish Love One. When Suzanne and Mike met Josephine, now called Josie Love, in a Ugandan orphanage, “the Lord stirred in our hearts that she was supposed to be a Mayernick,” said Suzanne. The family understood Josie had some developmental delays but couldn’t obtain a diagnosis prior to adoption. When the time came to bring her home, she was too sick to travel. A doctor’s visit revealed Josie tested positive for malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV.
They remained in Uganda, navigating a gauntlet of medical care. Once she was well enough to come home to Tennessee, Josie received treatment from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. It took time, but her health improved dramatically, and she came into her own. “She went from being a little withered flower to this little sunflower, beaming sunshine everywhere,” Suzanne said.
Watching Josie blossom left Suzanne thinking about the children who weren’t as fortunate.
“I would lie in bed at night and think about all the other babies who were in Uganda and weren't getting the care they needed,” she said.
The Mayernicks wanted to help more children like Josie, so they worked in cooperation with the Ugandan government to found Love One as a community-based organization.
Headquartered in Gulu, a city in northern Uganda, Love One serves seventeen districts and counting. Malnourishment is of particular concern in this region because many families are fleeing war as refugees, displaced across long distances with limited resources. Most of the children in Love One’s care have secondary illnesses, such as malaria and tuberculosis, and/or are HIV positive. It is also common for children suffering from malnourishment to experience developmental delays.
Ugandan staff manage day-to-day operations, while the Mayernicks make regular trips there. The organization’s name originates from a motto Suzanne embraced throughout her parenting journey to focus on one child’s needs at a time. “If I look at the number of babies who are malnourished in Uganda, it's staggering, and I'm so overwhelmed that I get paralyzed,” she said. “But if I look at one, and I focus on one, then we can love one, and then another, and then another.”
Today Love One helps hundreds of children at a time, serving more than 800 children in 2022 alone. They cover hospital stays for children needing medical treatment before transitioning to the Love One Center for rehabilitation. The Center provides physical, occupational, and speech therapy depending on each child’s needs. While children stay at the Center, Love One consults with their families, providing resources for hygiene, nutrition, and more, including spiritual guidance. “Our goal is always to share the love of Jesus and to explain to everybody that it’s because of God that we’re there,” said Suzanne. Families reunite once the children have healed and their caregivers have obtained assistance.
The Love One Center currently cares for up to forty-five children at a time, and they are in the process of constructing a new building that will expand their capacity to 100. At any given time, Love One may also be supporting up to 10 children receiving treatment at the hospital. To address high demand, the organization offers a home-based care option for children who need only nutritional assistance, and hundreds of families benefit from that service. “I know there's always going to be poverty; the Bible tells us that,” Suzanne said. “But if we can just care for one child at a time and make it from one to 100, to 1,000, to 10,000—that's my goal.”
If you’d like to support Love One’s work, the organization asks that you keep them in your prayers, consider joining their ambassador program to raise awareness of their efforts, or join their recurring donor program. Learn more at www.loveoneinternational.org.