Monday, 27 of March of 2017

Transforming Spaces Becomes a Reality

 Dramatic makeovers are not just limited to reality TV shows. Friends of Cozumel (FOC) volunteers transformed a “bodega” storage space into a sensory therapy room for special needs children served by Corazones Unidos (means United Hearts).

The therapy center was previously known as “Casita Corazon”. It was founded by Carrie’s Heart, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization based in Houston, Texas dedicated to improving the education, community involvement and overall quality of life of children with disabilities worldwide. Corazones Unidos is now an independent Mexican “civil” (non-profit) organization that serves 8-12 youth, some of whom are severely impacted by multiple disabilities. Therapists work as a team with family members to provide therapy for the children three times a week.

Carlos, lead therapist, met with FOC volunteers to share his vision of transforming a disorganized storage area you could hardly walk through into a multi-use sensory therapy room that includes a gym, sensory board and light therapy.

BEFORE photos:

The room had become a depository for excess items

The ball pit was unusable in its current state



 

The team had recently moved to this location with no time to finish organizing

 

The team had a daunting challenge but jumped into the process by cleaning out and organizing items stored in the room, designing the room layout, acquiring materials needed, constructing and installing the therapy equipment.

DURING—work in progress photos:

Sandy, Dianne and Lee work on gluing foam letters to backing prior to installation

Paddi and John discussed the layout of sensory items to be attached to the board



 
Assembly team

Mike and Larry assembling ladder for the gym

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


A Ball Therapy Pit was located in the corner surrounded by foam mats with letters in bright colors and extra padding installed to protect the children from sharp edges or corners. The Sensory Board mounted under the window was created using a wide array of colors, shapes and textures for children to feel and experience. A “lap top” sensory board was constructed using common hardware items (slides, latches, knobs, etc.) to further develop children’s fine motor skills.


AFTER-the results photos:

Assembly team

The assembly team working to install everything

Ball pit

The ball pit and foam letters were placed in the corner



 

The gym will help children develop muscle strength and balance

The sensory board is completed and ready for the children

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Special “black out” curtains were made for the windows. Black lights will be utilized for special light therapy sessions. The gym design containing a hanging ladder, overhead bars and hanging balance swings was inspired from an idea Carlos found on Pinterest.

The room is completed and ready for the children

The therapy team is excited to put these new tools to work with the children. Many thanks and congratulations to the team of volunteers who contributed their time and talent to make this transformation a reality: Sandy Ham, team leader, with volunteers Mike and Hettie Legg, Lee and Dianne Wilson, John Killoran, Paddi Davies, Larry Pedersen, and Ilene Kendrick.


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A Safer Home for Cristina—February 5, 2017

The family (from left): Manuel, Christina,Victor, Evelyn and Behlen.

Cristina’s family (from left): Manuel, Christina,Victor, Evelyn and Behlen.

 

Cristina is deaf and communicates using her own system of signs. She and her spouse Victor live with their three children in a neighborhood of families with limited resources. Unfortunately, their house had no means to secure the windows or doors, allowing thieves to rob the family of their meager possessions.

 

A small team of Friends of Cozumel volunteers visited their home to learn how they could help.

 

“We’re very excited to come along side this beautiful family,” said Shelley, a returning volunteer from Minnesota.

 

Volunteers went to the recycling center, finding things to repurpose for the family.

Volunteers went to the recycling center, finding things to repurpose for the family.

The house has no heating, air conditioning or plumbing. The bathroom has two, five-gallon buckets filled at an outdoor hydrant. One is used for bathing and washing dishes. They other is used to flush the toilet. Their furniture consists of a bed, hammock and two plastic chairs. Only one fork, two plates and a couple of pots blackened from wood-fire cooking remained in the small collection of kitchen items. Nonetheless, it’s a happy home. Cristina has made the best of their resources despite the limitations.

 

“In meeting Christina’s family, what stood out to me is the love and care shown, especially between the young sisters,” said David from Minnesota. “It was beautiful. I feel honored to help this family create a safer, more functional home.

 

David and Shelley install window security mesh.

David and Shelley install window security mesh.

To create a safer home, window security fencing and door locks were installed to prevent break-ins. Dangerous electrical wiring was also repaired and lighting was added in the room used as a kitchen.

 

Functionality was improved by constructing two countertops with easy-to-clean laminate. One was for food preparation and cooking on a single burner hotplate, and the other surrounded a new stainless steel sink where water could be carried in and then drained after use. Shelves were made from reclaimed materials from the recycling center and stocked with enough plates, silverware and cooking utensils for the entire family. The finishing touch was a gently used refrigerator, dining table and chairs donated by generous FOC supporters.

 

Before: This area had a drain in the corner

Before: This area had a drain in the corner–a perfect place to put a sink.

After: Cristina was delighted with the sink, countertop and recycled shelving.

After: Cristina is delighted with the sink, countertop and recycled shelving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the first time, the family of five could sit together around a table for their meals. But the first meal at that table included more than just the family.

 

Victor used the new cooking surface and utensils to create a special breakfast.

Victor uses the new cooking surface and utensils to create a special breakfast.

“We want to be able to thank you in some way,” Victor said to the FOC volunteers working on the project. “You have done something wonderful for my heart and for my family so we want to feed you a special breakfast.”

 

The breakfast included a traditional beverage of horchata, guacamole, tortillas, refried beans and heaping servings of a savory pork dish seasoned with gratitude.

 

“We may have given them a sink,” said Kristin, a returning volunteer from North Carolina, “But they gave back so much more.”

 

Cristina and Victor’s family gave FOC volunteers an opportunity: to problem-solve, to give reclaimed materials a second life, and to cope with language limitations—both our own and Cristina’s.

But perhaps the most valuable opportunity was to be engaged with this family to build a sense of pride and connection for everyone involved.

 

“It was wonderful and humbling to see the smile on Cristina’s face as the improvements were made in her kitchen,” said Gary, a member of the FOC leadership team. “The enthusiasm the family had as they worked along side us and the gracious spirit of thanks given to us made me smile.”   ###

 

 

Breakfast with the family was a celebration of all we'd accomplished together.

Breakfast with the family was a celebration of all we’d accomplished together.

 

Cristina_PLshelDavGaryAdhesive

(from left) Phyllis, David, Shelley and Gary apply adhesive for the countertop.

John (left) and Victor work together to install a light.

John (left) and Victor work together to install a light.

 

 

David (left) and Victor use a grinder to create a security door for part of that house that was open to the alley.

David (left) and Victor use a grinder to create a security door for part of that house that was open to the alley.

Gary (left) and David measure wood for the countertop.

Gary (left) and David measure wood for the countertop.

Kristin sands the wood for the countertop.

Kristin sands the wood for the countertop.

Cristina and Victor's son, Manuel, learned to use the caulking gun.

Cristina and Victor’s son, Manuel, learns to use the caulking gun.


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Puddles Don’t Dampen Gran Bazar ~ February 3, 2017

The Gran Bazar drew a good sized crowd of shoppers.

The Gran Bazar drew a good sized crowd of shoppers.

Fifteen minutes before the scheduled time to load the 13,783 items (give or take a few) for the Gran Bazar, the skies opened up and dumped a deluge. Friends of Cozumel volunteers had spent hours, days and months preparing for the twice-yearly yard sale. They were ready to transport dozens of suitcases and plastic crates to where hundreds of people were expected to show up. But when the rain comes, the streets flood and people stay home. And the place where the sale was to take place is an outdoor church with only a partial covering overhead. Uh oh. Problemo.

 

A few minutes later, the clouds began to move and Maria, a local volunteer, said “Es cambiado. No habrá más lluvia.” It’s changed. There won’t be any more rain.

 

Volunteers made the Gran Bazar a fun experience for kids.

Volunteers made the Gran Bazar a fun experience for kids.

 

 

Despite the puddles, yesterday’s Gran Bazar went off without a hitch at Vida Abundante Church. Some of the donated clothing, shoes and household items were new and some were gently used. Prices were kept low to help families that only have a few pesos to spend. Then proceeds from the bazar are used to support Friends of Cozumel projects, scholarships, and churches serving families with limited resources.

 

“No matter how many times I do this, it never ceases to amaze me how big the crowd is and how they rush to come in when we open,” said Kristin, a returning volunteer.

 

Volunteers Rita (center) and Pastor Salomon (right) helped fit reading glasses.

Volunteers Rita (center) and Pastor Salomon (right) helped fit reading glasses.

GranBazarTania

Tania (left) helped a young woman find the right strength of reading glasses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While some volunteers helped with sales, crowd control or entertaining the children of shopping parents , others worked with adults to fit them with donated reading glasses. The goal was simply to connect with people who need some of the things we could easily provide.

 

“I like the diversity of the people we see at the Gran Bazar,” said Larry, a member of the FOC leadership team. “You see people of some means buying a mountain of things for their family and then the next person may be a 70-year old senora who buys a single piece of used clothing that she is very proud to pay a few pesos for. I have total respect for both cases.”

 

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“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 


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The Fire in Facunda’s Kitchen — February 2, 2017

Children playing near the worksite were anxious to greet the gringos.

Children playing near the worksite were anxious to greet the gringos.

Facunda is the matriarch in a large family where she helps care for the children.

Facunda is the matriarch in a large family where she helps care for the children.

Cooking over a wood fire is a novelty that we might enjoy occasionally when camping. But imagine cooking that way every day, rain or shine, for a large group. That’s what Senora Facunda does.

 

Facunda is an 82-year old Mayan grandmother. She’s the matriarch in an extended family living in a group setting that includes 15 children and several adults.

 

Facunda’s outdoor cooking area includes a cement floor, a grate over concrete blocks and a couple large pots, blackened by the fire. She struggles to keep her kitchen functioning throughout the hurricane season’s wind and rain. When the fire goes out, there’s no food for the family.

 

Lamina sheets (foreground) were used to protect the outdoor kitchen of the family group living here.

Lamina sheets (foreground) were used to protect the outdoor kitchen of the family group living here.

Friends of Cozumel volunteers offered help to Facunda by purchasing lamina—tin roofing material—to surround her kitchen area, protecting it from the elements. They also installed overhead lights in the kitchen and near the room where she sleeps.

 

The children were excited to try out their English hellos when the FOC volunteers (los gringos) arrived. As the tin was installed, the kids covered their ears to soften the noise of the grinder’s cutting wheel and the drill.

 

“This fix may seem a little rough,” said Gary, a volunteer from Nebraska. “But the senora was happy and grateful that she’ll be able to keep the fire burning in bad weather. We’re trying not to impose our own values here; we’re just offering to help with things that will make her life a little better.”

 

After: FOC volunteers enclosed Facunda's outdoor kitchen.

After: FOC volunteers enclosed Facunda’s outdoor kitchen.

Before: Facunda's kitchen was open to the elements.

Before: Facunda’s kitchen was open to the elements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Food is not just fuel. Food is about family, food is about community, food is about identity. And we nourish all those things when we eat well. “ ~ Michael Pollan


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Preparing School Supplies is a Year-Round Effort – February 1, 2017

Charo's family is grateful for donated school supplies.

Charo’s family is grateful for donated school supplies.

Each year, the demand for help in accessing school supplies seems to increase. Many families struggle supply the required materials in order for their child to attend school.

 

What began as a modest effort to help a few dozen families send their children to school has now grown beyond 500 students. And what started as the need for a few extra pens, pencils and markers has now grown to thousands.

 

That means Friends of Cozumel volunteers must begin months in advance of the July distribution time to gather, sort and assemble the necessary supplies.

 

Local FOC volunteers work alongside visitors to sort school supply donations.

Local FOC volunteers work alongside visitors to sort school supply donations.

 

A group of 10 resident and visiting volunteers gathered recently to help begin the sorting process. They followed lists in an assembly line that sorted writing utensils, erasers, highlighter, scissors, and more into handmade pencil bags according to the grade level requirements. FOC volunteers made the zippered pencil bags from recycled denim and other fabric scraps. Some of the bags were also made by local people learning to sew.

 

“We taught how to make these at the sewing workshop,” said Ilene from Texas. “Everyone made two—one for themselves and one to donate to the school supply project.”

 

After about three hours, the 10 FOC volunteers had filled 350 of the pencil bags. Then the momentum stopped.

 

Ilene shows one of the many pencil bags she and other volunteers made.

Ilene shows one of the many pencil bags she and other volunteers made.

“Oh no—we’re out of blue pens,” said Shelley, a volunteer from Minnesota. “And dry erase markers, too.”

 

Larry, FOC leadership team member, explained that donations are still being accepted and that we hope to have enough to serve 500 students, kindergarten through university, come mid-July.

 

“People will help,” he said. “If they let us know when they’re coming, we can connect with them. We’ll make sure their donations get into the hands of students in need. And we appreciate every single pen, pencil and calculator.”

 

 

 

Greatest needs: Friends of Cozumel School Supply Project:

Each grade level requires a different set of learning materials.

Each grade level requires a different set of learning materials.

100 backpacks

300 two-pocket folders

100 pencil sharpeners

300 blue ink pens

50 sets of markers, preferably washable

100 dry erase markers

100 highlighters

100 basic calculators

100 scientific calculators

 

If you’ll be coming to Cozumel and could bring a few of these items to donate, we’d love to talk to you. Please email Larry at: Pedersenll@hotmail.com

 

Muchas gracias.

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“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” ~ B.B. King


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A Sense of Progress – January 31, 2017

 

This place that many call paradise, is a feast for the senses.

(from left) Kristin, Ray and Lori paint shelves as part of the construction project.

(from left) Kristin, Ray and Lori paint shelves as part of the construction project.

 

The tropical sounds of wind in the palms and unfamiliar birds mix with the din of electric sanders and a table saw. Rather than a smell of coconut oil on the beach, we can smell sawdust and adhesive used to create a laminate counter top. And though there’s a clear blue body of water near by, no one is jumping in to cool off. Not yet anyway. Instead, highly skilled volunteers work alongside others with only a hint of construction experience. They sense progress in their work for a variety organizations and individuals in need.

 

One project is to construct 32 sturdy wooden shelves to hold educational materials in classrooms and offices. After cutting, assembling and sanding the local pine lumber, the shelves were coated with several coats of fast drying enamel paint to protect them from the extreme humidity of the island.

 

 

Larry built many of the shelves that will be used for educational materials.

Jerry and Ray built all of the shelves that will be used for educational materials.  Larry is doing some final sanding and preparing for painting.

“Very few people here know how to build these types of things or have access to the needed tools,” said Karen, a local resident and member of the FOC leadership team. “Using the talents of these volunteers, we’re are able to custom design things that fit specific needs and spaces.”

 

The finished shelves will be installed at the CAM schools (Centro de Atencion Multiple), CRIM (Centro de Rehabilitación Integración Municipal), and Centro de Autismo—all organizations that provide education and therapy for children and adults with disabilities in Cozumel.

 

“There’s a need for higher quality and more substantial materials than what is available to people here,” said Byron, a volunteer from Texas and a member of the FOC leadership team. “’They don’t have funding to buy these things and we can provide them with something that will give them good use for a long time.”

 

Byron took on an individual project of a lectern and offertory box for a church.

Byron took on an individual project of a lectern and offertory box for a church.

Byron is also working on an individual woodworking project of a custom designed table-top lectern and offertory box for Vida Abundante church. Hours and hours have gone into the project.

 

Why do this? I guess you could look at the theological side,” said Byron. “In Matthew it says to let your light shine before others so that they can see your good works and glorify God.”

 

Volunteers will continue their construction work on projects such as a sensory therapy board. Children at Corazones Unidos will use the board to feel various shapes and textures—perhaps creating their own sense of progress.

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“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi



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Work Hard, Play Hard – January 28, 2017

The 30 or so children who come to the Centro de Autismo in Cozumel have a new place to call their own. It may look simply like a cool place to play, but it also extends the therapeutic options for children living with autism.

 

Autism affects brain development and may cause difficulties in social interaction, motor coordination and communication. Therapy often includes behavioral work in social and play skills and opportunities to interact with peers. And what better place to conduct that therapy than in a colorful setting of swings, slides, and climbing structures ripe for exploration and interaction?

 

Playground equipment donors stand in the space before volunteers prepared it for use.

Playground equipment donors stand in the space before volunteers prepared it for use.

A playground set was recently donated to Centro de Autismo through Blue Skyes Over Autism, a nonprofit organization in Houston, Texas that provides support and education to families living with autism. But before the playground could be put to use, a safe space had to be created for it. And it was going to require a lot of hot, sweaty work.

 

That’s where Friends of Cozumel and 10 youth volunteers from Vida Abundante church were able to help. They did all the work by hand, yanking weeds out by the roots and spreading gravel with shovels. It was all part of a goal to continue involvement by local youth and adults in serving others through FOC projects.

 

After the outdoor space was cleared of rocks, weeds and debris, the surface was smoothed out. Then a fine gravel base was spread under the playground equipment. Plants were trimmed and soon the area looked like a well-manicured park.

 

Lee (on knees) helps local teens with their service project to prepare the playground space.

Lee (on knees) helps local teens with their service project to prepare the playground space.

“It’s a true joy to see the willingness of these youth to assist in a project like this,” said Larry, a volunteer and member of the FOC leadership team. “I hope that one day they can also learn about autism and the impact it has on local families.”

 

Lee, a returning FOC volunteer from Alabama, did his share of hauling rock, too.

 

“It was hard work but the rewards are worth every minute of it,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be able to serve the people and these children on this beautiful island. Thank you Friends of Cozumel for this wonderful opportunity.”

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“Enter into childrens’ play and you will find the place where their minds, hearts, and souls meet. ” ~ Virginia Axline

 

AutismAfterGrp

Teen volunteers helped FOC prepare a great space at Centro de Autismo for play therapy.

 

 


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Sewing Blessings — January 27, 2017

Perla gets sewing advice from FOC volunteers Marion and Tania.

Perla (left) gets sewing advice from FOC volunteers Marion and Tania.

By Ilene, a volunteer from Texas who is part of the Friends of Cozumel leadership team

Two years ago the pastors at Vida Abundante asked if we would provide costumes for the children to use in skits and other activities at the church. We made them costumes and they’ve used them ever since. Last time Byron and I were here in Cozumel the pastors asked if they could get some biblical costumes for the teenagers and adults. Knowing the ladies at the church love the opportunity to learn new things, especially using the electric sewing machines, I told them “Sure. We’ll hold a sewing workshop and teach you to make your own costumes.”

Now the time had come to launch that idea. Our volunteer team serviced the sewing machines donated previously to Friends of Cozumel, measured the donated fabric brought from the U.S., cut out and surged all of the pieces and then took them to the church. The participants for yesterday’s workshop were to be people with some sewing experience because the goal was to produce costumes for the church, rather than teaching basic sewing skills.

Rita (left) had never used an electric sewing machine, but FOC volunteer Ellen helped her learn.

Rita (left) had never used an electric sewing machine, but FOC volunteer Ellen helped her learn.

At the first of our two-hour sessions, we had seven participants. One lady had never sewn before and another had never sewn on anything but a treadle machine.

“I’m so nervous, I’m sweating through my clothes,” said a workshop participant named Martha.

We were fortunate to have the assistance of Elena, a local sewing teacher, who learned to sew in some of FOC’s very first sewing classes several years ago. She helped our new seamstresses have a successful day, completing a vest and several belts.

We had lots of fun with Rita who had never used an electric sewing machine. She had a hard time not moving her foot up and down, so the machine would barely start, then stop. Then when she would get started again, she had trouble getting the concept of taking her foot off of the peddle to make it stop. She never got discouraged and laughed and had the best time. We all had lots of laughs and everyone completed at least one item.

At the second workshop, we had new participants and were surprised when Pastor Salomon asked if he could learn to sew. He did a great job and completed several projects. We didn’t believe we would complete all the projects that we had

Pastor Salomon (left) and another workshop participant proudly show their completed costumes.

Pastor Salomon (left) and workshop participant Elena proudly show the completed costumes they made in one of the sewing workshops.

cut out, but everyone worked hard and we completed everything we had prepared: 11 tunics, 15 vests and a whole bunch of belts.

I came dragging in at the end of the day, but we were all so excited with what was accomplished.

“I loved working with the people because of all of their enthusiasm,” said Ellen, a volunteer from Texas. “And I know the blessing of this sewing experience will be a blessing to the church.”
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“That’s the thing with handmade items. They still have the person’s mark on them, and when you hold them, you feel less alone.” ~ Aimee Bender


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FOC Winter Mission Week Welcomes New and Returning Volunteers – Jan. 26, 2017

FOCwelcomeMtgJan17Nearly 45 new and returning volunteers have gathered in Cozumel, coming from down the block and across the globe. They’re about to begin work on a variety of projects for island residents in need that focus on helping organizations, families and individuals become more self-sufficient.

Volunteer teams began their project planning today and will continue their work through February 6. The 2017 Winter Mission projects include:
• Constructing shelves for schools and therapy centers,
• Sewing classes,
• Home improvement projects for two families living in extreme conditions,
• Developing a sensory therapy room for special needs children at Corazones Unidos,
• Constructing an outdoor recreation area for autistic children at Centro de Autismo,
• Distributing clothing, food, eyeglasses to families in need,
• Holding a Gran Bazar,
• Assembling drinking water systems,
• Assembling school supplies,
• Mentoring local teens and adults in community service.

Throughout the next 10 days or so, we hope to give you an insight to our experiences. Follow us on Friends of Cozumel’s Facebook page or on the web. We’ll look forward to your comments and encouragement as we combine our efforts to make a difference and have some fun.

“The happiest people I know are those in the service of others.” ~ Gordon B. Hinckley


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He Made A Difference

Jose Arcangel Castillo Moo was born on September 22, 1994. We were introduced to him in 2008. Jose was severely impacted by cerebral palsy, down syndrome and other conditions. His ability to communicate was very limited. He could not walk or perform many of the functions that many of us take for granted.

Jose passed from this earth on Thursday afternoon, January 19th at his home. He was 22 years old.

Some people would say that because of his condition he never was able to make an impact in this world. But here are the facts….

  • Jose’s smile was infectious. The determination he had to learn to sit up, feed himself, say “mama” and other accomplishments were truly inspirational
  • It was because of a request by a therapist to provide a high chair for him to sit in, we had our first project to assist special needs children.
  • It was because of Jose, donors met a family that they would support. This year, Blanca (Jose’s cousin) will graduate from CBTIS – a local high school and become the first member of this family to complete school. She plans to attend college next year.

True, Jose never went to school. He never was able to hold a conversation with any of us. He never played soccer. He was not able to do many of the things we take for granted in our daily lives. But he did touch many lives. He created memories for many of us that will not be forgotten and now he is free of the body that held him captive on this earth and I believe he is dancing in the clouds.

We should never discount the impact another person might have on other lives just because they have physical or mental limitations of any type. Jose made a difference – we should all hope to do as much.

Jose sitting in his chair playing with birthday toys


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It Takes a Village to Create a Bazar – Mon. August 1, 2016

BazarCrowdAfter our five days of school supply distribution were completed, we turned our attention to holding the Gran Bazar. This is a large outdoor sale, similar to what we might call a garage sale in the U.S. It allows us to give families access to very affordable items while generating funding for FOC efforts such as scholarships and the school supply project.

 

Pastora Mariela of Vida Abundate chuch where the sale was held, gives instructions to shoppers and volunteers.

Pastora Mariela of Vida Abundate chuch where the sale was held, gives instructions to shoppers and volunteers.

The bazar was scheduled for just three hours, but it takes hundreds of hours of preparation. Donations gathered throughout the previous months, were sorted and individually priced by volunteers. The goods ranged from gently used clothing, shoes and household items, to new items that are often purchased at clearance sales and given to Friends of Cozumel.

 

Families lined up nearly an hour in advance of the bazar, ignoring the blazing sun. Once the gates opened, people streamed in, hurrying to grab the items they needed most. More than 350 attended this bazar, many using 20-peso coupons (about $1.15 US) received during the school supply distribution.

Antonia found footwear for the many children in her household.

Antonia found footwear for the many children in her household.

 

Here’s just a taste of what a Gran Bazar is like. MOV05143

 

Thanks to all the donors and volunteers who helped make this a very successful event. It takes a village. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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The Next Generation – Mon. August 1, 2016

Local and visiting volunteers work together.

Local and visiting volunteers work together.

After our final day of school supply distribution, we’ve met our goal of helping 500 students. Increasing our reach by more than 30% in one year wouldn’t have been possible without the help of people like Cinthia, Alex, Blanca, Jefte, Sami, Nuria and Perla. These young adults are FOC scholarship recipients, and the next generation of community leaders.

 

A bit of history: When we first began, FOC was simply a few family members and friends who created small community service projects on their own. The scope of our work grew year by year and generated interest in volunteerism from other island visitors. We soon realized that having visitors and local residents working side-by-side was a win-win situation. Not only were we more productive using knowledge only “locals” could provide, involvement of residents helped develop personal leadership skills that would benefit the community as well.

 

Blanca

Blanca

Alex (left)

Alex (left)

Perla (right)

Perla (right)

 

 

 

 

 

Now a cadre of young leaders are helping with Friends of Cozumel’s work—and thinking of new ways to help the community, too.

 

Cinthia1

Cinthia (left)

Jefte

Jefte

Perla, Jefte and Sami are doing well in their high school courses. Blanca has graduated—the first in her family to do so. Nuria has completed her schooling on the island and is now in medical school on the mainland. Alex has graduated from high school, but continues to take intensive English classes. He is also training for increased responsibility at his job in a large hotel. And 16-year old Cinthia who has several scholarships for academic success, loves school. She is first in her family to continue her education and looks forward to the three additional years of education needed to become an accountant.

 

“Me encanta,” she said. “I love it.”

 

Nura (left)

Nuria (left)

The FOC scholarship recipients were invited to help with school supply distribution—a good opportunity for English practice with other volunteers.

 

“It’s beautiful to help so many people,” said Cinthia in English. “The experience was a 10.”

 

Sami (right)

Sami (right)

Having this group help out made the five-day distribution process go smoothly. It’s not hard to imagine them as the next generation of leaders. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Game-changers — Sat., July 30, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 5.30.28 PMAfter day 3 of school supply distribution, 338 children have new backpacks, learning materials and shoes for school. Receiving support for their education will likely be a game-changer for them.

 

GlassesInventoryBut there are others who are receiving only one important item from Friends of Cozumel’s distribution. And that item may be life-changing for them as well. They didn’t have to meet any qualifications. They simply had to wait in line to be fitted with a pair of simple magnifier eyeglasses—the inexpensive kind you can find in most discount stores.

 

GlassesTestThe first day of our distribution, only 18 people ventured into the room where volunteers had samples of various print sizes and an inventory of glasses from +1.00 to +3.50. People were tested to see if they needed reading glasses and which strength worked best for them. Once word got out that these people could now see print clearly with the help of new reading glasses, a line formed outside the door. Nearly 100 people needing help with their vision have showed up so far on our subsequent days of distribution.

 

One man in is early 40’s said he had never worn glasses before. He was all smiles as he discovered he could now read things that had always been a blur to him.

 

“Muchisimas gracias,” he said. “Now I will be able to read my Bible.”

 

The glasses were all donated—many of them purchased at a discount store where you can find all sorts of things for a dollar. Just a dollar for a life-changing act of charity. Kind of a bargain, don’t you think? Keep those acts of kindness coming, Friends of Cozumel supporters. We’ll do our best to connect with people in need of game-changing support. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Backpacks Filled with Pencils, Paper and Opportunity — Fri. July 29, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 3.03.58 PMDay two of school supply distribution brought more long lines of families needing help to send their children to school. It’s easy to see why school supplies are cost-prohibitive for some families. Purchasing just one set of the materials required by schools could easily cost $500 pesos—more than a typical week’s salary for a laborer.

 

Pastora Mariela (right) helped identify families in need and check them in..

Pastora Mariela (right) helped identify families in need and check them in.

Volunteers packaged the supplies needed by each grade level.

Volunteers packaged the supplies needed by each grade level.

Community leaders such as church pastors recommend names of families with financial need to Friends of Cozumel. After being checked in on the list of selected families, students picked our their “mochila” or backpack, choosing from a variety of action characters, sparkling Barbie and animal themes, to the more basic ones favored by older students. Then volunteers packed the mochila with the specific supplies required for the student’s grade level: pens, pencils, erasers, markers, glue, scissors, spiral bound notebooks, loose leaf paper, two-pocket folders, ruler, protractor, calculator and Spanish/English dictionary.

 

The backpack is almost bigger than she is, but she loved it.

The backpack is almost bigger than she is, but she loved it.

The students were proud of their new backpacks and each said thank you in their own way—sometimes a shy smile, or a whispered “gracias.”

 

“Here’s what I’m excited about,” said Larry, one of the Friends of Cozumel leaders. “In the past, about 65% of what we distributed went to children in the primary grades. But now 65% is going to students in secondary and higher grades. More kids are continuing their education. That’s exactly what we hoped to see happen.”

 

This backpack is filled with materials required by her school.

This backpack is filled with materials required by her school.

In the past, Mexican law required parents to send their children to school only until grade six. But in 2012, regulations were changed, making education compulsory through high school. Some say the requirement is rarely enforced on the island and many children drop out of school for financial reasons.

 

If you’d like to help, now is the time to find sales on school supplies, especially in U.S. stores. Bring donations to the island yourself for a wonderful tropical experience, or find someone else who might be visiting Cozumel for a vacation. FOC volunteers will be happy to help you connect with a drop-off point.

 

The team of FOC and local volunteers worked with more than 100 students on day 2 of distribution.

The team of FOC and local volunteers worked with more than 100 students on day 2 of distribution.

Friends of Cozumel hopes to support the education of around 500 children this year and so far, we’ve served 233 children in two of our five days of distribution. Thanks to our generous donors, each child received a backpack of opportunity, ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Where They Go & Where They’ve Been — Thurs. July 28, 2016

In the movie Forest Gump, the main character says “Momma always says you can tell an awful lot about a person by their shoes: where they go, where they’ve been…”

 

Each child's foot was measured for a pair of school shoes.

Each child was measured for a pair of school shoes.

Consider the shoes of the children we’ve met in the last couple of days. Many have only well worn flip-flops or hand-me-down sandals that may be two sizes too big—or too small. Their shoes show they’ve been playing in the streets, helping out at home, or maybe on a rare trip to the beach. But it’s a safe bet that this footwear hasn’t been worn in school where students are required to have a pair of athletic shoes.

 

Unfortunately, the cost of required shoes and learning supplies is enough to keep many children from attending school. Prices are significant to families with limited resources and many simply have to make the choice between food and nonessential items.

 

 

Families waited patiently to have their name checked by local volunteer Nuria.

Families waited patiently to be checked in by local volunteer Nuria.

ShoeNuriIleneFit

Nuria (left) translates for Ilene (right) to make sure the fit is just right.

That’s where Friends of Cozumel volunteers and donors are helping out. Distribution of donated new and gently used athletic shoes began yesterday and will continue for several days.

 

Our goal is to fit shoes on each and every individual on the list of qualified families in need. Last year we were able to help more than 300 children. This year, the number of children on the list is nearly 500, so donations of shoes are always needed.

 

Alex was pleased with his "cafe and plata" colored shoes.

Alex loves his “cafe and plata” colored shoes.

Brittanny from Texas is a first-time volunteer. She delighted in working with the children—even when a precocious middle-school student named Alex corrected her pronunciation of the Spanish words for “stand up” and “is it too tight?”

 

In the end, we could tell an awful lot about these young people who held tightly to their new shoes. They smiled proudly; many said “muchas gracias” while others ventured a try at English with a shy “thank you.” And we learned a little more about where they’ll be going: to school and towards opportunity. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

 

 

ShoeFitRita

Rita (right) is a returning FOC volunteer.

ShoeDeeLisaGirl

Deanne (left) and Lisa (right) are also returning volunteers.

ShoeSmile1

She couldn’t have been happier with her new shoes.


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Ready, Set, Sweat (and smile). — Wed. July 26, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 3.12.41 PMIt’s hot and humid here in Cozumel, but that hasn’t dampened the volunteers’ enthusiasm for Friends of Cozumel’s summer mission work. The group gathered for recently an orientation meeting and activities will kick off later today.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 3.14.23 PMThis summer’s work will have three priorities:

     • Distribute donated school supplies and shoes, providing children from families of limited resources the materials they need to attend school.

     • Distribute donated reading glasses.

     • Conduct a Gran Bazar to give families access to affordable clothing and household items while raising funds to support FOC projects.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 3.15.53 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-27 at 10.29.18 PMAbout 25 Friends of Cozumel volunteers will join 10 local volunteers to carry out these priorities. Stay tuned for updates on how our work is going. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Reflections of Winter Mission 2016 – March 19, 2016

Whew!  The “official” dates this year were February 24 thru March 4.   It’s now March 19th and there are still lingering items to finish.

  • Two tables that were constructed still need coats of varnish to protect them
  • Two therapy games for the CAM school need final pictures and painting
  • Final installation of the water purification systems needs to be completed
  • Clothing not sold in the latest bazar requires sorting, repricing and storing

There are other assorted “to dos” on our list but these are the primary ones that stick out in my mind at the time of this writing.   Even though some work remains, a HUGE amount was completed and all who participated felt very pleased with what was accomplished.  Just to highlight a few of them. . .

  • 41 teens and adults participated in the learn to sew workshops and made themselves zippered bags and skirts.
  • 24 teens and adults participated in the repurposing workshop, making useful items for their homes.
  • 17 teens and adults participated in the learn to snorkel program, many of them overcoming a fear of the ocean.
  • 11 water purification systems were built and are being put into use, saving families money that otherwise would be spent to purchase bottled water.
  • Ministry activities included prison baptisms, a special film showing, music, and many opportunities to share special messages.

Personally, I think the greatest part about these projects was that they weren’t about a group of people coming in and building something for others and then leaving.   Rather, we worked alongside the local people with them doing a lot of the work (and frequently learning from it).   They finished projects with pride as they had been directly involved in the process.   That made it even more worthwhile.

I could go on with more “highlights” but perhaps it’s easier if you sit back and enjoy the 12 minute video we put together sharing the activities of this year’s winter mission projects.   Just press HERE to see the video.  Enjoy!

 


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Why Choose Work Over Diving?–Sat. March 5, 2016

ServDay2sawBlueShirts ServDayGreenGuy ServDay2inPlantsIt wasn’t too hard of a choice: another day of world class diving or getting hot, sweaty and filthy doing a service project. Seventeen members of the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization gave up their underwater paradise to volunteer with Friends of Cozumel for a service day at Vida Abundante Church.

 

The backs of their paint-spattered shirts read “Scuba missions: two purposes, one trip.” Some of the shirts had seen more wear than others from Friends of Cozumel project work two years ago.

 

Bill (left) served as the WCSDO group leader.

Bill (left) served as the WCSDO group leader.

“We’ve traveled to other places such as Honduras, Bonaire, the Bahamas,” said Bill, the WCSDO group leader. “This established partnership with Friends of Cozumel is working well for us. The project work has been so organized—a real blessing.”

 

Members of the WCSDO come from all over the U.S., bringing an array of talents and a willingness to help others. The service day included repair and construction work at Vida Abundante Church. The church uses an open-air structure they’ve been adding to a little at a time.

 

Denny and Heather of Texas are committed volunteers.

Denny and Heather of Texas are committed volunteers.

“We came two years ago and wanted to return because we fell in love with this church,” said Heather who traveled from Texas with her husband Denny who also volunteered. “I love that the pastors go out into the community to help people meet their needs.”

 

Mary Jo from Colorado has seen changes in the church since her first visit two years ago. “I came back because there’s great continuity in seeing progress. That’s hard to do in short mission trips. It’s great to invest in the people here to take it to the next level.”

Emile, Mary Jo (center) and Jan didn't mind getting a bit dirty in their work.

Emile, Mary Jo (center) and Jan didn’t mind getting a bit dirty in their work.

 

The pastors, church member volunteers and WCSDO as well as FOC volunteers worked side by side. At the close of the service day they sat together and shared their thoughts.

Pastor Salomon (center) explains the goals of Vida Abundante.

Pastor Salomon (center) explains the goals of Vida Abundante.

 

“All of our efforts together have an impact on our community,” said Pastor Salomon through a translator. “You are all in our hearts. We are all on the same team.”

 

“It’s a powerful experience for this close-knit group,” said Bill from the WCSDO group. “They love to serve.”

 

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Service Day photos of volunteer partners from FOC, WCSDO and VA Church.

ServDayBlueShirt ServDayByronBill ServDayKidsStamp  ServDayKristinSarahPlant2 ServDayOrient ServDayPLboot ServDaySandChair ServDay3CrewChairs


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You Get More Than You Give–Fri. March 4, 2016

 

 

Marian (right) helped with the sewing workshop.

Marian (right) helped with the sewing workshop.

Its only cost is your time, but first-timers and veterans agree: volunteering for Friends of Cozumel projects makes you feel good. Whether you’re here for just a few hours on a cruise shore stop or a longer visit , opportunities are available to meet island residents, share your skills and make a difference that you won’t soon forget.

 

Rick helped a proud participant complete a project.

Rick helped a proud participant complete a recycling project.

Rick and Darla from New York volunteered for half a day while their cruise ship stopped in Cozumel. Darla helped with sewing and Rick jumped into the recycling workshop at the senior center. Spanish wasn’t needed—just patience and good humor. They said this was the best shore excursion they’d ever been on—and it was free. “Thank you for sharing your passion with us,” wrote Darla after their departure. “We had a great time and certainly have a deep admiration for all the hard work you do.

 

Kristin (right), Larry and Loke pack donations for the Gran Bazar.

Kristin (right), Larry and Loke pack Bazar donations.

Kristin from North Carolina, a long-time Friends of Cozumel volunteer and donor, helped with the entire mission week including a Learn To Snorkel class. “It was incredibly moving to know that a child lives so close to the beach yet has not experienced life under the sea,” she said. “To watch their first time experience of fear of swimming turned to joy at seeing the colorful fish was priceless.”

 

Chris (upper right) and Ilene (left) help seniors learn to sew.

Chris (upper right) and Ilene (left) help seniors learn to sew.

Ilene, a long-time volunteer and  FOC organize visits several times a year from Texas. “Volunteering in Cozumel is like resetting my clock. It reminds me of just how blessed I am, no matter what circumstances I have been through. I have never met a group of people who appreciate more. Each year brings new and exciting opportunities to share our knowledge with people who are so eager to learn and to improve their situation.”

 

The CREW team (back row L to R) includes Dee, Anna, Sara and Deanne.

The CREW team (back row L to R) includes Dee, Anna, Sara and Deanne.

First time volunteer Anna from Delaware took part in the CREW team’s ministry activities at the prison. “It was an amazing day at the prison today—baptisms, worship, prayers with women and men. The beauty of it all was overwhelming.”

 

 

Larry helps with the senior center recycling workshop.

Larry helps with the senior center recycling workshop.

Larry, a Friends of Cozumel organizer and long-time volunteer from Iowa, now lives in Cozumel. “It was great to see 14 people being so receptive to our ideas at the senior center re-purposing workshop. The majority of the participants were women and many had an initial reluctance to use some of the tools, especially the cordless drills. But, with just a little encouragement they were ready and willing to learn to use them. Soon, they were changing bits and driving in screws as if they’d been doing it forever. The pride they exhibited when the projects were finished was fantastic. When I explained to one woman that we unfortunately were out of materials to make a certain project she told me ‘It’s Ok. You’ve given me the idea and now I can find my own materials and make it myself.’ That’s exactly what our goal was—to open their eyes to possibilities to re-purpose items for their home. Of course, they all wanted to know when the next workshop will be. We’ve learned that adults are just as eager to learn as the children.”

Seniors were proud of their recycling projects.

Seniors were proud of their recycling projects.

 

Larry speaks for many of us helping with FOC projects who feel you often get more than you give. “The beautiful thing about doing volunteer projects like this is that the reward always goes two ways,” he said. “Participants benefit with the finished product, whether it’s a material item, a new experience or learning something. And those who help gain a greater insight through volunteering.”

 

Hans (center) helped translate for several workshops.

Hans (center) helped translate for several workshops.

Ilene agrees. “We all get a reality check and realize just how blessed we are not only by what we have and where we live, but through the opportunities to share. Byron and I don’t have a lot of resources, but the little we have been able to share has been such an incredible blessing for us. I have never in my whole life received so many hugs and kisses from people I don’t know, and I love it!” ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Water Everywhere, But Not to Drink—Wed. March 2, 2016

SnorkUnderwater

 

You’ll see water everywhere in Cozumel—in the surrounding crystal clear seas, in hotel pools or falling in sheets from the rainy season clouds. But having enough water for drinking and cooking is an essential challenge for families with limited resources.

WaterJug

Tap water cannot be safely consumed in Cozumel so most people purchase 5-gallon jugs for about a dollar’s worth of pesos. What seems like a reasonable cost to many of us may be beyond the reach of families with limited resources.

 

Friends of Cozumel organizers came up with a plan: find a way for families to make their own purified water on an ongoing basis–and then teach them how to do it.

Bryon, Keith and Larry prepared materials prior to the workshop.

Bryon, Keith and Larry prepared materials prior to the workshop.

 

Thanks to a donation of 15 filters by Roy of the Texas Baptist Men’s organization, Friends of Cozumel was able to purchase the other needed supplies needed for the purification system. Two workshops were offered to families during this mission week, allowing them to learn about the system and then create one for their own homes. 

 

The filtration system is relatively simple. One new, five-gallon plastic bucket sits atop a second. Tap water is poured into the top bucket that has a filter inside about the size of a softball. (Filters last about 12-18 months before replacement is needed.) The filtered water feeds into a hose that connects to a second bucket that has a spigot at the bottom. The finished, two-bucket stack sits atop a wood stand built by workshop participants.

WaterPastors

Pastors Salomon and Mariela are happy to have for affordable access to drinking water.

 

One of the larger families that received a purification system has been purchasing two large bottles of purified water daily. This amounts to a cost of approximately 150 pesos weekly or 600 pesos monthly. Minimum wage is just 70 pesos per day ($3.93 US with the current exchange rate), so their drinking water is costing more than two day’s wages. Having their own filtration system will be a significant savings for this family.

Blanca and friend learn about the 2-bucket system.

Blanca and friend learn about the 2-bucket system.

 

“It’s wonderful to be able to help a family in this way” said Larry, an FOC organizer and Cozumel resident. “We’ve known Miriam and her kids for a number of years. We love being able to help them stretch their household budget.”

 

If you’d like to help more families create their own home filtration systems, please designate your donation to the Clean Water project. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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