Thursday, 17 of August of 2017

Week of Events Helps Community–Aug. 15, 2017

The unfinished Vida Abundante church was packed with lines of people milling around racks of colorful clothing and homewares. “El Gran Bazar,” a twice yearly event organized by the Friends of Cozumel, attracted huge numbers of people including those with discount coupons received earlier in the week at an FOC distribution of school supplies to families in need Proceeds will go to benefit a scholarship fund, to purchase school supplies for the coming years, future FOC endeavors and construction of the church.

 

Donated backpacks and supplies help children attend school.

The Bazar was one of several events in one week, capping off a visit from volunteers from the US. Many Friends of Cozumel volunteers make multiple trips each year and help with community outreach. Some even bring supplies on cruise ships making two trips off the ship with backpacks full of donated athletic shoes needed for children to attend school.

 

This is the ninth year that Friends of Cozumel has held their largest event, a back to school service which provides over 500 children with shoes, backpacks and school supplies.

 

“We did 30 the first year, then we thought, let’s stretch to 50,” said Larry, one of the group’s founding members.

 

Larry, his wife Karen, or local community leaders interview every family one-on-one during May and June to view the student’s grades and get their information. This year, they provided over 600 students with school supplies based on their specific grade and school.

 

This year, FOC donated art supplies to the DIF senior center in exchange for use of some buildings in a neighborhood park. The long, rectangular building is in a central neighborhood and the volunteers were grateful for the air conditioning it provided.

 

“It was a bit of a sweatbox without this facility last year,” Larry said.

Students from kinder to university ages tried on shoes for school.

 

Inside, tables were stacked with crates of shoes and families waiting as their kids are fit with a new pair for the school year. The quality and style of the shoes was fantastic and the kids were absolutely beaming.

 

We sat down with Jabes, who helped a couple of excited kids try on shoes. This was his third year volunteering with the group and his friendly temperament and bilingual skills were universally appreciated. “I love seeing the kids smiles when I put their shoes on,” he said.

Jabes is a scholarship recipient who now volunteers at FOC events.

 

The government provides teachers and classroom facilities, but the students are asked to purchase their own books and supplies, which can squeeze the family budget.

 

“A family that has three or more kids, you don’t want them forced to make a choice of who gets to go to school,” pointed out Gary, a FOC volunteer at the backpack station outside.

 

One of the group’s biggest needs is for Spanish speaking volunteers. Sami, a spritely Mexican girl with a bright smile, has been an active member of the group for several years and helped distribute notebooks and pre-packed supply pouches into the students’ newly selected backpacks. Sami has volunteered with the group from a young age.

Sami is bi-lingual and a great help at FOC events.

 

Nuria, Sami’s older sister, made a special contribution to the effort, helping to organize a health fair for older adults. She traveled from the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán back to her home in Cozumel, bringing a group of four fellow medical students to the event. The fifth-year students study medicine in Merida and money for their expenses was provided by a long-time FOC supporter.

 

Nuria, Ricardo, Omar, Narciso and Daniela were excited to be part of the event. They took physical measurements including blood pressure, blood sugar, weight and height. They found that many of the adults they examined had abnormal numbers and many of those who were ill had poor dietary habits and exhibited early symptoms of diabetes.

 

Fifth year medical students took a break from school to hold a health fair.

Despite availability of resources for treatment, few locals ever see a doctor. “They believe more in what their friends are saying than doctors,” Nuria said. The medical students consulted with their patients, advising each on a next course of action.

 

“Here, they don’t do preventative medicine,” added Larry. “You only go to the doctor if you’re too sick to cure yourself.” He sees a need for Friends of Cozumel to address these basic public awareness issues with classes on topics like food safety and medical care.

 

Another aspect of the health fair for adults was a vision test and distribution of inexpensive reading glasses. Dozens of people were happy to receive the donated glasses that would allow them to read.

 

The community is deeply grateful for the positive example set by the Friends of Cozumel and this year’s new medical team. Their efforts spur grass roots action and set up cycles of giving that will echo for years into the future. Thanks to all the volunteers making the future bright in sunny Cozumel.

Appreciative smiles were easy to find on school supply distribution day.

 

Check out Friends of Cozumel on their website and Facebook page.

 

~ Contributed by Eric and Almendra @yucatanliving.com


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The Being and the Doing—Aug. 3, 2017

Sarah (right) is a first-time FOC volunteer.

Friends of Cozumel is fortunate to have volunteers who come to our mission weeks from many directions. Some simply want to connect with local people and help where they can. Others have faith-based interests and seek out church connections. Here’s the perspective of Sarah, a new volunteer from Maryland.

 

Volunteering in Cozumel has been a life-changing experience. I came here with the CREW Project to serve two local churches and to partner with Friends of Cozumel on various projects. This is my first mission trip and I am grateful for the experience and for the people I’ve met.

 

Sarah (back, center) and the CREW team enjoy a meal with the pastors of Vida Abundante and their family.

Initially I wasn’t very excited about the church activities. I guess I thought I didn’t have anything to offer but entertaining with games and pizza parties. But as I reflect on those events, I am reminded of a very important lesson that I learned many years ago: don’t overlook the being for the doing.

 

As North Americans, we lose sight of the things that really matter while chasing the latest technology or the newest shiny things. As Christians in the mission field, we get hung up on serving and providing and doing. As people, we focus on completing our checklists and getting things accomplished. We stay so busy doing things that we forget to be. We don’t realize that our time and presence with others is what sustains us as humans.

 

It is great to do things for others and for God, but we need to make it a priority to spend time being with God and our loved ones. This is the message that the CREW Project shared at Vida Abundante Church here on the island. We provided a visual display with objects in a jar that represented very important, somewhat important, and trivial things in our lives. When we fill the jar of life with the little things, giving those trivialities our first time and attention, there isn’t enough room to fit in the really important things. However, when we start with the big, meaningful things, it doesn’t matter if all the small things fit.

 

Pastors Salomon and Mariela of Vida Abundante felt blessed with the lesson and said the visuals made the message easier to understand.

 

“The organization of the materials presented was great,” Pastora Mariela said.

 

There’s nothing like a pinata party to make new friends at Casa Oración.

We also worked with Casa Oración, the jungle church as we call it, outside of Cozumel’s main community.

 

Both churches are excellent examples of hospitality. My team could have shown up with empty hands and empty pockets and would have been welcomed just as warmly. It seems to me that our presence here was the gift.

 

I believe an equal exchange took place between the Crew Project and these churches. We provided financial and material resources. In return, we were offered the simplicity of worship of our Creator and the goodness of fellowship and unconditional love. The love of Jesus Christ surpasses race, language, and geography. The language barrier made communication difficult but I was personally able to bond with the children and adults over water balloons and photo props.

Alondra (left) and Sarah became fast friends.

 

The theme of the vacation Bible school at Casa Oración was praising God at all times. It was very fitting for us as visitors. Could we praise God in a church without air conditioning in Cozumel’s extreme heat? Could we praise Him with aching feet and sweat running all over? The answer was yes. We sang and danced and filled that place with praise. Both of the churches we visited were filled with more love and genuine praise than most U.S. churches. It was refreshing to get a break from the cushiness, flash and politics of church at home. It’s not about the building but about the community; it’s about living out the love of Christ.

 

I consider it a gift to worship God from the perspective of those who may have less in terms of wealth or materials things because in many ways they have more. This trip has truly been a humbling experience and I look forward to doing it again. ~ Sarah from Maryland


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Soles that Light Up—July 30, 2017

The shoe team of volunteers was ready and waiting when hundreds of students arrived.

At the start of the day, we had a lot of shoes. Think high-tops, tiny Ninja Turtle themed shoes, pink canvas shoes with glitter, basic white runners—more than 500 pairs of them. They all came from generous donors who want kids in Cozumel to be able to go to school.

 

By the end of the first day of distribution, the stockpile was greatly diminished. Nearly a third of the 495 registered students had been fit with new shoes for school. Volunteer shoe-fitters took a breath then began to reorganize supplies for the next group of students hoping to find the athletic shoes required for them to attend school.

 

“It’s so nice to be able to do this,” said Whitney, a first-time FOC volunteer from Georgia. “I take so many things for granted and it’s nice give back once in a while.”

 

Students receiving shoes included those from kindergarten age to university level. Even their youngest, barefoot siblings were fit with tiny toddler shoes or sandals.

 

Volunteer Ilene (left) earned a smile by fitting this student in shoes with a little sparkle.

But how can a simple pair of shoes help students go to school? The fact is that each student must have a pair of black shoes for their uniforms as well as a pair of athletic shoes to go to school. On an island where rubber flip-flops are the typical footwear for many people, acquiring two pairs of shoes can be daunting. Friends of Cozumel focuses on supplying athletic shoes and accepts donations of new pairs in all sizes.

 

Cindy (right) is a FOC scholarship recipient and volunteered to help fit shoes on younger kids.

The effort to get children into schools appears to be working. Many of the older students who have relied on Friends of Cozumel’s support for years have stayed in school. Now they’re paying it forward by as young community leaders at FOC activities.

 

“The majority of students at our distributions used to be primary students,” said Larry, one of FOC’s coordinators. “Now it’s skewing toward the higher grades. We have 28 university students now and several of the older students are regular volunteers with us.”

 

Getting a new pair of shoes made his day.

Today the volunteers worked to fit a group of special needs children with shoes. One giggling young boy couldn’t have been happier with his shoes. Lights in the soles blinked each time he took a step. His smile was just as bright as his shoes.

 

Kudos to all our 2017 shoe donors, including the CREW team that donated and delivered more than 300 pairs of new shoes. Regardless of the shoe style, all of our donors have brought soles that light up the faces of children in need.

 

~Phyllis from Nebraska


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Stacks of Backpacks Help Cozumel Youth Attend School—July 29, 2017

People arrived early and waited patiently for school supplies.

Outside of the Parke DIF’s beautiful senior center facility, people patiently stood in line with their children. They were waiting for an opportunity to acquire school supplies required for their children to attend school.

 

Each school has a specialized list of personal learning materials, athletic shoes, school uniform and basic classroom supplies that students must supply. The backpack, paper, notebooks, folders, pencils and pens, erasers, sharpener, ruler, calculator, crayons, highlighters and markers, scissors, correction fluid and geometry sets would cost some families with limited resources a week or even a month’s salary. Multiply that financial hardship by the number of children in the family and a difficult situation becomes an impossible one. That’s why Friends of Cozumel began to offer help nearly 10 yeas ago.

 

Prior to the 2017 mission week, hundreds of families met with Friends of Cozumel coordinators to review their financial need and register for assistance. What started as a modest program to help a few children, has now grown to the biggest school supply distribution ever attempted by FOC. This summer 495 children are registered. Stacks of donated backpacks and other supplies were ready for them—thanks to the generosity of so many supporters.

Larry (left) and Braylon check out the supplies of backpacks.

 

“This is bigger than we ever dreamed of, and that’s a serious challenge,” said Byron, a long-time volunteer. “We have a tendency to put limits on what we can accomplish, but we can do anything through God.”

 

A group of divers with the Worldwide Christian Scuba Diver Organization joined other FOC volunteers to help get the right supplies into the hands of primary, secondary, high school and university students.

 

“It’s gratifying to see the excitement generated here,” said Steve from Minnesota.

 

“It breaks my heart to remember how much paper I wasted in high school,” said Deborah from Texas. “These kids have to make a couple of notebooks last the entire year. This is why we come—to help where we can.”

Deborah (left) enjoyed her experience as a first-time FOC volunteer.

 

After this summer’s distribution, the stacks of backpacks and supplies will be depleted. There are three ways you can help:

1. Shop the U.S. school supplies sales going on right now. Click here to see a list of needed supplies.

2. Click here to learn how to make a monetary donation.

3. Contact us about bringing donations in your checked luggage on your next visit to the island. We can let you know how cruise ship passengers can help, too. Visit our Facebook page or send an email to Larry at: pedersenll@hotmail.com

 

Thank you. Your help will create lots of smiles.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

 

These girls are thrilled that they have the necessary supplies to attend school.


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FOC Volunteers Gear Up for Summer Mission Week—July 27, 2017

Dozens of volunteers attended a planning and orientation meeting in Cozumel this week to prepare for Friends of Cozumel’s summer mission week. It’s one of three missions that takes place each year. The goal is to execute a number of projects focused on education as well as strengthening families and the community.

This summer’s project list targets families with limited resources and children with special needs:

1. Distribute backpacks, school supplies and shoes to nearly 500 children
2. Assemble 100 additional packets of school supplies for children recommended by DIF social services
3. Provide water therapy and a pool party for Centro De Autismo for children with autism
4. Conduct basic health screening for seniors by checking vital signs, testing blood pressure and sugar levels, and offering consultation to those with abnormal numbers
5. Conduct basic vision tests and provide reading glasses to seniors
6. Hold a Gran Bazar to provide affordable clothing, shoes and household items
7. Provide crafts and other activities for Vida Abundante’s Vacation Bible School
8. Hold sewing workshops

This summer’s FOC volunteers are a diverse group of nearly 50 people. Some have been volunteering with FOC for years; others are experiencing Mexico for the first time. Some live right here on the island; others come from Delaware, Maryland, Texas, North Carolina, Nebraska and Iowa as well as Merida and Valladolid in Mexico. Ages range from 13 to “don’t ask—it’s well beyond 60.” Some are English speakers, others speak only Spanish and some use both. Some join the effort as individuals; others are part of a group like the 11 visitors from the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization. Some represent a church and others don’t. And a few start many weeks in advance to make preparations while others have only one day available to volunteer.

Friends of Cozumel volunteers are ready to begin their work.

Despite their differences, all FOC volunteers have one thing in common: a commitment to service.

“It’s my first time in Cozumel and it’s just beautiful,” said James from Delaware. “I just wanted to help those who are less fortunate than I am. My size may be intimidating at first—I’m seven feet tall—but I hope the kids here will be comfortable once they get to know me.”

Veteran volunteer Byron from Texas knows what to expect.

“It’s going to be hot and there’s always the language barrier, but that all falls away once you get into it,” he said.

We’re gearing up for hard work, long hours and sweaty situations, hoping it will result in a positive and lasting impact. Check back here in the next couple of weeks. We’ll share the progress of these projects with you.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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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.”

 

###

 

“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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