Volunteers Prep for Families in Crisis—Feb. 3, 2019

Imagine yourself peering into the open door of your refrigerator or pantry considering your snack options. You’ve done that many times, right?

Now imagine that your cupboard is bare. Literally. And the refrigerator is empty—or doesn’t even exist in your home.

New volunteers Laurie and Lynn helped shop for and sort emergency supplies for families in need.

That’s the situation for too many families in Cozumel.

Maybe the sole wage earner has been ill and out of work. Or maybe a family with many children has been abandoned by a parent. It happens.

Friends of Cozumel provides despensas, or essential food supplies to families in crisis. Several volunteers recently went shopping for many kilos of food supplies. They sorted the supplies into crates that will be distributed to 10 families in dire need.

Boxes of despensas typically include:

  • Rice
  • Dry black beans
  • Pasta
  • Tomato puree
  • Chicken soup base
  • Cooking oil
  • Salt
  • Canned tuna
  • Instant coffee
  • Boxed milk
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Toilet paper
  • Shampoo
  • Cleaning supplies

Want to help? Find out more here: http://friendsofcozumel.com/your-help/donate-volunteer-or-connect-us/

Hearing Assessment Continues at New Location–Feb. 4, 2019

Cozumel’s first booth for testing hearing was constructed by FOC volunteers in 2013.

In 2013, Friends of Cozumel built the island’s first audiometric evaluation booth for testing hearing loss. The soundproof audio booth was constructed for Manos y Voces (Hands and Voices), a nonprofit organization for hearing and speaking impaired youth and adults. For the first time, the booth allowed audiologists to assess people with hearing impairments on the island rather than having to travel to the mainland.

The audio booth has received a lot of use, but when Manos y Voces recently moved to a different facility they needed Friends of Cozumel’s help once again. They didn’t want to leave the built-in audio booth behind and lose the ability to provide that service. So, FOC volunteers salvaged the materials, redesigned the booth, then rebuilt it in its new, smaller location.

Gary and Ray rebuild the booth. in the new location.


“Using all new materials would have made the project go more quickly,” said Gary, a long-time FOC volunteer. “But we’re committed to sustainability and repurposing materials whenever possible. That’s part of the fun—or the challenge I should say.”

Manos y Voces is one of several nonprofit organizations that partners with Friends of Cozumel to help those in need.

Learn more about Manos y Voces on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Manos-y-Voces-AC-211591228968692/


Manos y Voces new location is Av. 20 between 5 and 7.

Fany, director of Manos y Voces, is happy to have the rebuilt audio booth.


Work on a Hot Tin Roof Helps Family in Need–Feb. 2, 2019

About 17 extended family members share 6 rooms in this space.

“Papa,” as the kids call him, lives in an extended family group where he shares six rooms with his adult son and daughter, an adult daughter-in-law and about 14 children. It’s not a traditional house, but a series of separate structures with walls of cement block, cardboard or sticks.

The daughter-in-law’s husband abandoned the family years ago. Their 14-year-old daughter Maria, is not allowed to go to school because she is charged with daily care of her five siblings while mama works. Mario is 11, Evely is 9, Perla is 7, Adirana is 5 and Naomi is 3.

Juan, the adult son lives in one room with his wife and their three young adult children.

The outdoor kitchen area is shared by all the family members, but the roof was badly in need of repair.

The makeshift roof needed to be replaced to create a dry space for the shared cooking area.

 Because rain can be a daily occurrence during the winter in Cozumel, leaking water is an ongoing problem for the family.

The family is active at Vida Abundante church, where a new building was recently constructed. The previous tin roof on the church was no longer needed, creating a perfect opportunity to repurpose the materials to replace the family’s leaky kitchen area roof.

Tin that covered Vida Abundante church before construction of their new building was repurposed to create a dry space for the family’s shared cooking area..

 Two members of the family worked alongside VA’s Pastor Salomón and four volunteers from Friends of Cozumel. It was a hot day, but in just a few hours, they were able to tear off the old roof, install new support beams and fasten down the recycled tin. FOC strives to include family members in the process whenever possible to help create a sense of ownership and pride.

The family now has a dry area to prepare their meals. Soon, FOC will also replace the roof of the room where Maria and her four sisters and brother used to sleep, but now can’t because of the leaks.

The roof work was done by a team of FOC volunteers, family and church members.

The plight of Maria and her siblings touched new FOC volunteers George and Cheryl from New Hampshire. In addition to working on the roofing project, they’ve decided to outfit the six children with new clothing and will also bring “despensas” or food packages to the family.

Friends of Cozumel maintains a donation fund to purchase materials for mission projects such as this. Want to help? Find out more here: http://friendsofcozumel.com/your-help/how-to-make-a-donation/

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Cheryl and George from New Hampshire prepare dispensas for the family.

Adriana and her siblings are grateful for the help.

Change the World One Pencil at a Time–Jan. 31, 2019

Children are grateful for shoes and learning supplies that allow them to attend school.

Nelson Mandela said education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.

That’s why we want all children to have the opportunity to go to school.

Last summer Friends of Cozumel helped more than 500 students from families in need begin or continue their education from kindergarten through university. But it’s not as easy as you might think to send a child to school on the island.

Each student must supply their own personal learning materials from a very specific list from their school. The athletic shoes, school uniform, backpack, paper, notebooks, folders, pencils and pens, erasers, sharpener, ruler, calculator, crayons, highlighters and markers, scissors, correction fluid and geometry sets will cost some families a week or even a month’s salary. 

Supplies donated by an Oklahoma couple who came ashore from their cruise.

Multiply that by the number of children in the family and a difficult situation becomes an impossible one for families with limited resources. In fact, some families have to choose which of their children to send to school when they can’t afford supplies for all.

That’s where you, and Friends of Cozumel can help.

Mission week volunteers recently took inventory of the school supply donations collected throughout the year for the July 2019 school supply distribution to families. Unfortunately, the news wasn’t all good.

We’re making progress, but we still need large quantities of several items if we’re going to support as many children this year as last. Want to help? Below is a list of the most needed items.

Kristin takes inventory and says “Help! We need more yellow highlighters.”

  • Backpacks (200 large, 200 small)
  • Black pens (600)
  • Blue pens (500)
  • Red pens (200)
  • Jumbo 8-10 count crayons (40)
  • Scissors (180 pointed)
  • Erasers (250 white if possible)
  • Dry erase markers (300 black)
  • Highlighters (120 yellow)
  • Basic calculators (130)
  • Scientific calculators (190)
  • Spanish/English dictionaries (165)

New athletic shoes, especially white ones, are also needed in these U.S. sizes.

  • Girl’s: 10-13 and 1-2
  • Women’s: 5 and 8-9 and 12-13
  • Boy’s: 10-13 and 1-4
  • Men’s: 5-6 and 8

Gracias, amigos. Your help is so appreciated.

You can help change the world, one pencil at a time. Well, actually, we’re good on pencils for now. But if you can contribute any of the other needed supplies, you’ll be supporting an island child who desperately wants to attend school. Drop off a backpack of supplies the next time you cruise to Cozumel. Or contact us for other options. We’re happy to help you help others.

Contact Larry at Friends of Cozumel: PEDERSENLL@HOTMAIL.COM. Thanks for your help.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Spreading the Love with a New Partnership—Jan. 29, 2019

Friends of Cozumel couldn’t serve the hundreds of people in need that they do without strong partnerships. Visiting groups of volunteers contribute not only time and energy, they spread the word and donate much needed supplies and project funds.

This year, FOC forged a new collaboration with Christian media ministry K-LOVE and the international Christian nonprofit Premier Foundation.

K-LOVE exec. Michelle called her volunteer experience extremely rewarding (and she overcame a fear of heights to paint near the top of the church). Way to go, Michelle.

K-LOVE is widely known for its broadcast radio ministry. The Premier Foundation works to empower the disadvantaged to be agents of change in their own communities world-wide. The two organizations collaborated to offer a Caribbean cruise with stops in Belize and Cozumel this week.

One of the shore excursion options chosen by 36 of the K-LOVE cruise passengers was yesterday’s day of service with Friends of Cozumel. While the Premier Foundation has supported projects in Cozumel since 2012, this was their first time to work with FOC.

“This was a blessing to us,” said Gene, the Premier Foundation president. “When you do these missions around the world, it’s difficult to find people you can trust to be efficient, cost effective and resourceful. We found that here.”

Larry welcomes the volunteers to their day of service.

Visitors volunteered for a variety of FOC projects with supplies funded by Premier. They worked side by side with FOC volunteers, local church families and pastors.

One team gave newly constructed Vida Abundante Church its first coat of interior paint while others installed eight ceiling fans. A second coat of paint will be done by another visiting group in February—the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers.

Another team painted the home exteriors of three church neighbors that had been power washed a couple days earlier by FOC volunteers.

Jose and Maria are happy to have a new handicap access sign just outside their home’s front door.

One neighbor uses a wheel chair, another is visually impaired, and the third neighbor has ongoing health issues while providing daily care for grandchildren.

A third team painted three handicap access signs to mark access to home and VA church entrances.

“We’re glad to be here to help,” said Robert from Oklahoma. “I’m having a good time in my first visit to Cozumel.”


Donna and Robert from Oklahoma donated much needed backpacks of school supplies.

Other volunteers visited  CAM Laboral and CAM Secondaria to tour the schools and interact with students with various disabilities. During an FOC-led art class at Laboral, students painted an original canvas with their interpretation of a sea, sky and beach landscape using stamps of the sea creatures of their choice.

“The students were very excited and interested and interacted freely with the volunteers,” said Hettie, an FOC volunteer. “They enjoyed the chance to show their art.”


Students at CAM Laboral enjoyed sharing their art with volunteers.

Then volunteers got even more active, running relays and playing soccer with the students. And of course like teens everywhere, they wanted to take selfies with their new friends.

“This was so amazing,” said Amanda from Maryland. “I love seeing the kids’ faces and how they light up. They’re learning English—it’s so impressive—but they’re also so humble.”

Amanda’s husband Carl agreed that it was a great experience.

Amanda and Carl from Maryland volunteered their time to children at the CAM school.

“They were just pouring hugs on us,” he said.

The busy day was capped off with an afternoon performance painting by K-LOVE artist Jared Emerson. Volunteers as well as others from the neighborhood attended the performance, watching as a painting of Christ emerged from the painter’s fingertips in less than eight minutes.

The visiting group of cruise volunteers were enthusiastic, energetic and generous with their time and love—a great example of what a new partnership can accomplish. Thank you to the volunteers, to K-Love and to the Premier Foundation.  ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Click on the photos below to see a larger version.

Glasses Cause Smiles—Jan. 27, 2019

Non-prescription magnifying reading glasses in all strengths are needed.

Look around at the seniors in the DIF community center (DIF translates to development of the family—a government agency in Cozumel). They’re engaged and curious about whatever activity is available to them. And only a few of them wear glasses.

It’s not that they have perfect eyesight. Many simply can’t afford to visit an eye doctor or purchase glasses of any kind.

Imagine the delight a pair of reading magnifiers brings to someone who had to give up sewing or reading because they couldn’t see anymore.

Friends of Cozumel saw this as another opportunity to support families and individuals in need. Inexpensive glasses—even those from the U.S. dollar stores—transform the blur. And they typically cause smiles as well.

FOC volunteers helped fit more than 40 pairs of reading glasses to happy seniors at the DIF center on Friday. The smiles were contagious, spreading from recipients to the volunteers.

Ray, a former optician and FOC volunteer, helps determine which strength glasses are needed.

Want to help? Donations of non-prescription readers are needed—and easy to add to your luggage if you’re visiting Cozumel. Thanks for helping us create more smiles.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

FOC volunteer Michelle points to different sizes of print on the eye chart.

It’s All About Learning to Fish—Jan. 25, 2019

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Some say the concept is biblical. Others say it’s from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Either way, we like the idea of teaching people a useful skill rather than simply filling a need temporarily. Here are some examples of educational support projects now in progress.

Ilene (left) and Susanna (center) helps workshop participants learn sewing techniques.

Five sewing workshops provided by FOC volunteers in January and February are teaching skills for family clothing needs and to help individuals earn money to support their families. Workshops focused on clothing repair and creating new items from repurposed materials.

The workshop on making headbands out of recycled t-shirts drew a crowd of more than 60 participants. The youngest were about five years old, but who know how many years some of the abuelitas or grandmothers have? (In Spanish, we say someone “has XX years” rather than saying someone is XX years old.)

Carmen learns to make a market bag during a workshop.

Another workshop on making reversible cloth bags drew women interested in using scrap material to create purses or shopping bags to use in the market.

“Is wonderful,” said Carmen in English. “I like a lot. Everyone so lovely with me.”

Using repurposed materials showed participants they could make affordable projects for their own use, for a gift or perhaps to sell. One bag used fabric repurposed from shorts that had lost the stretch in its elastic waistband. The pattern for the decorative fabric flower was cut from a recycled yogurt container. A used button recovered from old clothing gave the final touch as the flower’s center.

Reversible cloth bags were made from repurposed materials.

Another FOC educational support project was donating resources to schools that service students with a variety of special needs and developmental disabilities.

CAM Secondaria opened last fall and works with 38 middle school age youth. Teaching and learning supplies were donated by some retired teachers and social workers from the U.S.

Additional supplies were purchased with donated funds for CAM Laboral, a public school for teens and young adults age 14-24. The school is dedicated to teaching life skills in cooking, computer work and crafts.

“We arrived at CAM Laboral on A Friday morning to drop off supplies,” said local volunteer Almendra. “Henry, the coordinator, introduced us to the supervisor, six teachers and a lovely grounds attendant. The kids were out at a district event but the teachers were there doing some training. Seven teachers service 22 students with a wide range of disabilities. Henry told me that they work to give the children real world skills to help them live independently and thrive.

Staff at CAM Laboral are happy to get donations of food and supplies to use in students’ cooking and craft classes.

Shopping locally for the supplies needed by the CAM school was no easy task. Who knew there are specific words for the various beads and sheets of flexible foam and plastic netting used in craft projects? If you did know the word in English, could you come up with it in Spanish? And what is the conversion from grams to kilos when trying to purchase a specific amount of yeast or confectioners sugar? Our learning process was all part of the fun.

Whether the FOC volunteers are in teaching situations or acquiring a new understanding of the people of Cozumel, in the end, we’re all still learning to fish.  

–  Phyllis from Nebraska

Both young and older participants enjoyed a workshop to make headbands from recycled t-shirts.

Winter 2019 Mission Week Begins – Jan. 24, 2019

18 volunteers for the Winter 2019 Mission Week gathered yesterday for an orientation meeting. Photo credit: Eric Anderson

Local and visiting volunteers gathered yesterday to learn about Friends of Cozumel projects they’ll take on in the coming week. They renewed friendships forged more than 10 years ago in the group’s early years and celebrated the new volunteer amigos met just 10 minutes prior. It’s easy to create a bond when people share the same interest in working lado a lado, or side by side, to strengthen the Cozumel community and its families.

Susanna, an island resident and returning volunteer, helped distribute backpacks of school supplies to children in need last summer. She enjoyed interacting with the children and chose to return for the winter mission week.

“I find Friends of Cozumel to be an organization that really helps many people on this island,” she said. “And they try to keep children in school—even past high school—with supplies and scholarships. Too often the education ends at a young age and that just continues the cycle of poverty.”

This mission week will continue FOC’s focus on connecting people and resources to support learning for youth and adults, help those with disabilities, support families that need assistance and to strengthen the community as a whole.

Larry and Karen are island residents and long-time volunteers who coordinate of much of Friends of Cozumel’s work.

Some of the week’s projects include:

– a series of sewing workshops teaching skills that could lead to creation of an income stream for a family

– painting home exteriors for owners with physical disabilities

– replacing a roof for a family in distress

– painting the interior of newly constructed Vida Abundante church

– teaching craft classes at a school for youth with mental and physical disabilities

– installing an audio booth for an organization that helps with hearing loss

– providing interaction and a fiesta for children with Autism

– gathering food for families in need

– sorting and preparing school supply donations

– some special faith-based projects

Sandy, Lynn, Sami and Gary are all returning volunteers.

Some FOC volunteers work year-round while others participate for the designated mission week, or even for just a day while coming ashore from a cruise. For example, this year we will welcome 35 volunteers from a cruise sponsored by K-LOVE who have chosen a day of service with FOC for their shore excursion. For this mission week, FOC anticipates working with about 30 volunteers.

Time, energy and gifts from donors and volunteers are put to good use during mission week. When asked why she is coming back to help for her sixth year, Dee from Delaware didn’t hesitate.

“Why return? Because every time I leave here, half my heart stays,” she said. “It’s like a home away from home.”

Stay tuned to our upcoming blog posts to see how the work is going. We appreciate your interest and welcome your comments. — Phyllis from Nebraska

Together we can (and did) make a difference – February 8, 2018


Thank you volunteers. Thirty-two volunteers lent a helping hand during the Friends of Cozumel Winter Mission Project week January 29-February 5, 2018. Here are the key highlights and results:

  1. Learning: Volunteers taught 14 skills workshops involving 200 youth and adult participants (sewing, repurposing materials for the home, crafts, carpentry, and cooking). Learning opportunities will continue throughout the year as a result of a “train the trainer” approach used in several workshops and eight new sewing machines brought by volunteers.
  2. Education: Our School Supply Distribution Project inventory to benefit 500+ students again this summer received a HUGE boost from volunteers who brought 215 backpacks, 150lbs of school supplies and sewed 185 pencil pouches
  3. Support youth with special needs/disabilities: Volunteers constructed multiple projects and donated resources to five non-profit organizations and schools that provide education and/or therapy for youth with special needs. Projects included: repainting therapy tables and chairs; constructing picnic tables, security gates, shelves, backpack racks, therapy swings and supplies.
  4. Specific family needs: Provided food supplies and volunteers brought 100+lbs of clothing.
  5. Ministry efforts: Constructed prayer benches, refinished worship lectern, sewed flags for worship dance team, made worship banners.

Click here to view a short slide show of our mission projects and results.

Friends of Cozumel normally hosts three mission project weeks a year: Winter (dates vary from late January – early March); Summer (mid-July to early August); and pre-holiday (mid-December to Christmas). Interested in volunteering? Our summer mission dates are July 18-25, 2018.

Karen and Larry in Cozumel

One of the reasons I love what we do – February 7, 2018

Through the numerous activities and projects we do we touch people of all ages here in Cozumel. While all are rewarding I must admit I thoroughly enjoy working with the younger children. Their innocence, lack of prejudice and unbiased love is fantastic. If you show a child attention and interest the payback is there and you can almost certainly get a laugh or smile out of children by engaging them – they can’t help responding. And yes, I’ve frequently been accused of being a 61 year-old “child” myself.

Last week, we had a repurposing workshop at Vida Abundante Church. Some of the projects involved using boards recovered from old wooden pallets to make things for the home. For the children, we had smaller boards prepared to make crosses. They all had the opportunity to cut the boards, sand them, apply oil and fasten them together with a drill to make a small cross. Victoria was one of the children that participated in this project. She is a 7 year-old who was reluctant to use the tools and preferred that I cut and assemble her cross for her. She did sand it and apply the oil herself and finally, we added the twine to it. She was most pleased with the project and we traded “high fives” when the project was completed.

Later that evening, her mother sent us a photo of Victoria with her cross at home and when you see the picture below it’s easy to understand why I love working with the children.

Who doesn’t love to play with tools – Feb 6

CAM Laboral school works with students from 15 to 25 years of age who possess a variety of handicaps and special needs. In the past there had been a carpentry shop where students were taught how to use power tools. The school does not currently have a teacher in this capacity and when we inquired about activities/projects we could do for the school we were asked if we could possibly hold a workshop to teach some students and some of the teachers how to safely use these tools. We agreed to do this and to also incorporate making boards with hooks that could hold coats, backpacks and aprons.

With 3 teachers and 7 students in attendance we talked about safety. We demonstrated how quickly a band saw could cut off four fingers of a wooden hand. We also demonstrated a portable skilsaw, hand drills, a drill press and palm sander and then asked if anyone would like to use these tools. Everyone’s hands shot into the air as the students were very eager to use these tools.

The students took turns measuring, cutting, sanding, and drilling to prepare their projects. It was wonderful to see the interest the students had in creating something. Henry, the local teach of the computer class participated and later told me “I am very sad about this workshop. Prior to this day, my computer class was the favorite activity for these kids. They now tell me the carpentry class is their favorite!” It was a joy to work with these kids and to allow them the experience of making something that they will use in the school.
– Larry

Sew Busy—Feb. 5, 2018

Sewing supplies are often donated.

Mission week has been mission month for some volunteers who come early and stay late. One of the leaders of Friends of Cozumel is Ilene from Texas. She specializes in long hours and hard work—often related to leading sewing workshops.

Ilene and her group of talented and patient volunteer teachers recently completed their eighth sewing workshop in 2018 bringing the total of those served to nearly 70 people. Workshops were held for seniors, youth and church congregations.

Participants learned to operate electric sewing machines, repair and hem clothing, construct cinch bags, boxer shorts, blouses, skirts, home decor and church banners.

“I was a little nervous of the machine,” said Irma, a first-time participant. “Never have I done this. Maybe I could learn to make a skirt with more practice.”

“Hats off to Ilene and Ellen for the hours they spent prior to the workshops buying materials and cutting and serging the fabric before hand,” said Hettie, one of volunteer sewing instructors. “For every hour of any project, numerous hours have been spent beforehand in preparation to help the local people learn real skills.”

From left: Ellen, Ilene, Anne and Pastora Mariela collaborated on a banner.

Here’s Ilene’s perspective:

“This month has been filled with lots of opportunities to share new skills with the people of Cozumel.  It is always such a blessing to have the opportunity to work with these people because they are so anxious to learn and appreciate the things that we are able to share with them.  It has been such a joy over the past few years to see these women, men and children develop their skills.  Last night as I was helping a woman sew for the very first time, I watched her as she carefully executed the instructions she was given.  She was so nervous that she was perspiring.  She completed a beautiful pair of curtains that she will hang in her home.  The curtains are something that most homes do not have because of the cost, so for her to have the opportunity to make the curtains was such a blessing to her.  My blessing came from the opportunity to work with her, teach her and hug her when the task was completed.  I have had more hugs and kisses in the past month that I have had in years.

One of our biggest challenges is teaching the younger children, but they are so excited to learn.  These kids are between 8 and 12 and they completed cinch bags which they then painted with acrylic paints.  Our hope is that through these classes these children will see that they have talents and opportunities through the things they learn.  It always amazes me that in every children’s workshop we always have one or two kids who really catch on fast and excel.  Maybe someday, because of the opportunity to sew on a machine, they will become a tailor.

It has been a very busy month for us, but one that will keep reminding me just how much I love to come and work with the beautiful people of Cozumel.  The true blessing has come to Byron and me through the opportunity to serve.”

~ Ilene from Texas

Donations Touch a Variety of Lives—Feb. 4, 2018

Who are the people helped by Friends of Cozumel? They’re young people who want to attend school, but don’t have the required materials and shoes. They’re youth with special needs, families who often don’t have enough to eat and seniors living on prayers and a shoestring budget. It’s also small, local organizations doing whatever they can to help people in need.

Mission weeks include a variety of projects designed to reach these audiences, each funded through generous support of local residents and donors from the U.S., Canada and beyond. Projects may require logistical magic to orchestrate, or simply the work of a sole volunteer. Either way, we aim to improve lives and make families self-sustaining.

Here are just a few examples of Winter Mission Week projects not already described in previous blogs:

Ten wooden chairs and four tables were refinished for Centro de Autismo, an education center for children with autism. Chairs were painted bright blue and the tables had tops of purple chalkboard paint. Wooden shelves and backpack hangers were also built and installed.

Centro de Autismo chairs and tables before.

Sue sands chairs prior to priming and painting.

Centro de Autismo chairs and table after refinishing.

Two picnic table were built for the CAM Laboral school, in addition to holding interactive workshops in cooking, crafts and construction. The heavy wood tables were installed in the courtyard to the delight of students who immediately put them to use. The CAM school serves children with physical and developmental disabilities. “What a fantastic facility, teachers, and young people,” said Hettie from Texas. “It was so inspiring to get to visit.”

Several coats of varnish protect the picnic tables.

Students clean the space for the new tables.

Students have a place to eat their lunches.

Sewing and repurposing workshops were held at a church about four miles outside of town on the edge of the jungle. Congregation members of Casa Oracion (Prayer Home) live in ranchos in San Norberto colonia (neighborhood) and enjoyed sewing boxer shorts and making reclaimed pallet wood projects.

Casa Oracion is a church outside of town.

Carolina shows the boxers she learned to make.

Larry teaches a participant how to use a circular saw.

Dispensas, or food baskets were made for families in crisis. Shopping for basics such as rice, beans, oil, salt, boxed milk and canned goods gave volunteers a good orientation to local diet as well a lesson in navigating a Mexican grocery store.

Youth at Vida Abundante (Abundant Life) Church participated in a variety of workshops. They sewed cinch bags, constructed tambourines from scraps of wood and metal, formed a youth percussion band, and learned how to use tools.

Sewing and decorating cinch bags was fun for these workshop participants.

Volunteers Mike and Jabes at the drill press.

PVC pipe & dried beans made shakers for the rhythm band.

There’s one more group on the list of those touched by donations to FOC: the volunteers. Without donor support, they wouldn’t have the materials and equipment needed to execute the projects. As one of those volunteers, I extend my appreciation to you for donations large and small. There’s also a group of tired but smiling volunteers with me who echo that thanks.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

CAM Laboral School Welcomes Volunteers – Feb. 3, 2018

Ten students in crisp, red chef’s hats and their teachers greeted Friends of Cozumel volunteers into their cooking class.

Students in the CAM Laboral cooking class are grateful for donations of ingredients that allow them to learn different cooking methods.

“When visitors come in they get to practice social and language skills,” said Nayeli, the CAM Laboral psychologist. “Everyone is welcome here because it’s important for classes to learn values, empathy and friendship.”

CAM Laboral is a school for young people with special physical or developmental needs. The 22 students enrolled this year range in age from 17 to 25.

“When we see they can practice social skills here,” Nayeli said, “they’re ready to practice them in their community.”

Lorie helps students measure ingredients.

Students worked together to make a recipe provided by FOC volunteer Ilene. A sighted student helped a visually impaired student make their way to the stove to help stir the mixture. Another student received applause from their peers after measuring an ingredient correctly. And all of them shared the anticipation of being able to taste their success once the cookies were done.

Here’s the recipe they made:

No-Bake Chocolate Cookies

No-bake cookie dough.

3 cups oatmeal
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick of butter

Mix all ingredients except oatmeal and vanilla together. Boil one minute. Remove from heat. Quickly stir in oatmeal and vanilla and quickly drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto wax paper. Cool and enjoy.

Thanks to donors who provide ingredients.

Add a little friendship to your list of cooking ingredients.

The hardest part is waiting to eat the cookies.

Anne’s CAM School Experience:

“After a late night offering repurposing/recycling workshops at Vida Abundante Church, I was part of a group to head out the following morning at 7:30 for our next community activity. We went to the CAM school for young people to share some new class projects with them.

While half the students worked on no-bake cookies with half our team, my group helped the rest of the students decorate a cloth cinch bag. Using paints and rubber stamps, the students created lovely bags in cheerful colors. I was able to refresh my Spanish vocabulary with words for paint colors, and the students learned a few English words such as “seahorse” and “palm tree.”

After about an hour and a half, the groups switched places, so, by the time we left a couple of hours later, all the students had done both projects.

I was touched, once again, by the warmth of the lovely people of Cozumel and by generosity of the Friends of Cozumel.”  ~ Anne from Illinois

A student paints a stamp to press onto her cloth bag.

Lynn helps a student see his project with his hands.

Lori (center) helps a student.

Thanks to donors who contributed stamps and paints students used to create personalized cinch bags. “The kids loved it and showed they could produce a beautiful keepsake,” said volunteer Hettie.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Imagination Turns Trash into Possibilities–Feb. 2, 2018


Larry explains a project using repurposed silverware, keys and pallet wood.

Search the Internet for old and new, and you’ll find sayings like “Old ways won’t open new doors.”

Friends of Cozumel volunteers took that to heart by providing three repurposing workshops where seniors and families with children used old things to create something new.

Larry, one of FOC’s organizers, explained the idea of using reclaimed items for different purposes to the participants and showed project prototypes made by volunteers.

“Use tuna cans, plastic bottles, wood pallets, old t-shirts or things you might find in the trash to make something different and useful for your home,” he said. “Use your imagination.”

Lorie and Sue help a workshop participant make a survival candle.

Participants were enthusiastic about using the tools and materials provided by FOC. They worked on projects such as a towel rack or toilet paper holder from wood pallets; a survival candle from reclaimed wax, cardboard and tin cans; and no-sew market bag from old t-shirts.

Prior to the workshops, FOC volunteers gathered the necessary materials by visiting the recycling center, asking local residents for cast off items, and perusing trash heaps.

An example of turning trash into something useful came from a Cozumel property manager who donated a bag of more than 100 keys taken out of commission when locks were changed. At the repurposing workshops, the keys were bent into hooks for the towel racks.

“Use the keys for whatever, but I don’t want any of them back,” property manager Kelly said. “Thanks for taking them off my hands.”

First-time FOC volunteer Sue said the workshop was an education for her as well as the participants.

Workshop participants learned by doing.

“I learned that we have too many things that we don’t really need,” she said. “People here use and reuse everything. They find a way. And they were wonderful to work with—so kind and family-oriented.”

Participants were proud of their finished projects, but they left with something even more valuable: the knowledge that they could put their imagination to work to create something new from something old.

“Thank you for this beautiful experience,” said Teresa, a participant at the DIF Senior Center. “We look with our eyes and we see possibilities. We can make things for ourselves.”

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Voila–an old t-shirt is now a new bag.

Market bags were made from old t-shirts.

Knots were tied to close the bottoms of the no-sew bags.

Proud builder of a new key and towel rack.

Even the smallest scraps of wood were turned into something meaningful.

A happy crowd at Vida Abundante Church show their finished repurposing projects.

Marta proudly shows her new toilet paper holder to Pastora Mariela.

It Takes a Pueblo – January 31, 2018


We all know the phrase “It takes a village.”  Our group is no exception.  The annual school supply distribution that we do is definitely the biggest effort of the year for our group. We firmly believe in education of all (children, adults, public school, workshops, etc.).  Learning is a life-long process.  To be able to serve the number of children that we do (680 in 2017!) we rely on a lot of efforts and contributions from a lot of people.  It begins with the many, many people we hear from throughout the year that come to Cozumel either on extended-stay vacations or for only one day (cruise ships) that want to contribute to the future of the people living here. We receive backpacks, pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, etc.  These items are collected throughout the year for our annual distribution which takes place in July.  School years typically end in July and begin at or before the first of August in Cozumel.

Ellen and Anne sort out the larger-sized backpacks for the secundaria (middle school) and prepa (high school) students.

Mick helps us sort a large quantity of backpacks volunteers brought with them.

As we receive these wonderful donations we track and inventory these items to ensure that we have everything the students are asked to bring for the coming school year.  This requires a lot of effort to count and store everything.  This week, with a number of volunteers coming to Cozumel we had a lot of backpacks and other supplies to sort, count and store.  THANK YOU to everyone who makes this possible.  We are committed to promoting education for all ages.

Sharing a Message with No Shared Words–January 31, 2018

Anne is a first time volunteer with Friends of Cozumel.

My name is Anne and this is my first opportunity to experience Friends of Cozumel in action. I spent the past three days helping teach a sewing class and did a lot of sewing on other projects at the apartment where we stayed.

This morning I went with my sister Ellen, and Ilene, a Friends of Cozumel organizer, to Vida Abundante Church. To the background music of construction on the front wall of the structure, the three of us showed Pastora Mariela the steps involved in making a banner for the church.

Ilene and Ellen had already purchased the fabrics with Mariela. From enlarging the dove design Mariela had selected onto a plastic tablecloth (in the absence of newsprint), to demonstrating the use of Heat and Bond, to selecting the layout of the final design, it was an amazing experience. Ellen kept her trusty dictionary handy and was our translator. Mariela was an able and eager learner, sharing her ideas for each step of the process.

Pastora Mariela works on a banner for Vida Abundante Church.

The final product pleased all of us. Mariela was given the extra supplies, and is anxious to try her hand at making a banner for the church on her own soon.

Love and laughter while working on a shared project transcend language, and the finished banner shares a message that also requires no shared words. ~ Anne from Illinois

From left: Ellen, Ilene, Anne and Pastora Mariela proudly display the newly created banner.

Sawdust, Candle Dust—it’s All for a Good Cause–Jan. 30, 2018

From left: Sue, Sandy and Lorie use machetes and hammers to break up hardened wax.

Volunteers got started early this morning preparing for upcoming workshops and construction projects. Saws and electric sanders out-sang the warblers and grackles. Sawdust was everywhere. It looked liked sawdust anyway, but it was yellow, blue and green. And the dust around the feet of the re-purposing workshop volunteers was magenta and waxy.

First time volunteer Lorie worked alongside island resident Sandy to chop up old candles for use in buddy burner survival candles. Magenta chunks of wax fell from the machete and were gathered up for use in tomorrow’s re-purposing workshop.

Jerry sanded the primary colors off small tables and chairs that needed refurbishing while several others cut lengths of board to construct picnic tables for the CAM school for children with disabilities.

Byron uses a sawzall to break down a reclaimed pallet.

Dudley and Mick, also first-time FOC volunteers, used hammers and crowbars to break down reclaimed pallets into usable wood for several projects. Embracing FOC’s commitment to making the most of the resources available, they even salvaged the old nails for reuse.

After preparing all the supplies, raw materials and tools, volunteers dusted themselves off and packed up for tomorrow’s workshops.

“Yeah, we’re filthy, but it’s for a good cause,” said Gary from Nebraska. ###


Jerry (left) and Al sand a children’s table.

Dudley preps pallet wood for the upcoming re-purposing workshop.

Ray and Kristin put most of the paint on their projects–but not all of it.

Mick prepares wood for one of several up-cycling projects.

Volunteers Come From Far and Near for FOC Work – Jan. 29, 2018

Volunteers have come from near and far to work with Friends of Cozumel.

Volunteers gathered today at the Friends of Cozumel international headquarters for the 2018 Winter Mission Week.

“We use the word mission in the broader sense to mean service,” said Karen, one of FOC’s organizers. “We’ve shifted from doing things for people to doing things with people to help them learn how to do it for themselves and become self-sufficient.”

This week’s work will focus on three areas: education, youth with special needs, and families in need.

Educational efforts include informal learning of life skills through a variety of workshops to teach youth, adult and families about re-

purposing plastic, wood pallets, old t-shirts and other reclaimed items; sewing bags, boxers and other simple clothing; woodworking; and building percussion instruments for music.

Activities for youth with special needs includes holding cooking and craft workshops for children with disabilities and building therapy equipment.

We’ll also help families in need by providing some basic needs of food and safe drinking water.

Approximately 30 volunteers from North Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Iowa, Illinois and Canada, joining several FOC volunteers living in Cozumel.

“This is my first time to do this,” said Sue from Nebraska. “I’m so impressed with what I’ve seen so far. Everyone is sharing their skills to do so many cool things.”

We hope you’ll check back with us throughout the week as we tackle a long list of projects. Share your comments and encouragement and we’ll share our experiences with you. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska