Wednesday, 5 of August of 2015

Counting Backpacks, Leaders and Smiles

The 2015 summer mission efforts are coming to an end. Volunteers are returning to the reality of their other lives, and FOC island residents are sweeping up the remains of the storm of activity. Here are just some of the effects of the volunteer vortex. (click on photos to enlarge)

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Local volunteer Sami (right) has been developing leadership skills through FOC work for several years.

Local volunteer Nuria has been helping FOC with translation and other projects for many years.

Local volunteer Nuria has been helping FOC with translation and other projects for many years.

School Supply Distribution

“We finished up distribution on Thursday night and ended up with some very happy families,” said Larry, an FOC leadership team member and keeper of the inventory record. “There were higher numbers than we originally thought possible.” 

 • 415 Backpacks and school supply packets were distributed to students in kindergarten thru university. We exceeded our 350 student goal by 19 %.

• 300 pairs of tennis or black shoes were given to these school students.

“These are amazing numbers and could only be done with all the donors who help us buy, collect and haul the supplies here to Cozumel,” Larry said. “We haven’t yet established our goal for next year, but we did pretty much deplete our existing stock of school supplies here in Cozumel.  I hope folks will watch for those weekly deals in U.S. stores and grab some bargains for us.”

Local volunteer Elena (right) taught workshop participants to make tote bags.

Local volunteer Elena (right) taught workshop participants to make tote bags.

Local volunteers help price items and control the crowds at the Gran Bazar.

Local volunteers help price items and control the crowds at the Gran Bazar.

Support to Families

• More than 300 family members of all ages benefited from clothing, shoes and household goods from the Gran Bazar.

• 238 pairs of reading glasses were distributed—with the greatest need to replenish the 1.0-1.75 strengths.

• 15 youth and adults participated in the Learn To Snorkel program.

• 15 special needs youth with disabilities participated in aqua therapy.

• 200+ family members of various ages learned to sew or make crafts at the free workshops that were open to the public.

“Thanks to all the volunteers for this beautiful work that was done,” said Pastora Mariela (as translated from her Facebook page). “It was very fun for the families and their children.”

Jerry (left) and Byron constructed shelves for Vida Abundante.

Jerry (left) and Byron constructed shelves for Vida Abundante.

Local volunteer Victor (center) helped lead craft projects.

Local volunteer Luis (center) helped lead craft projects.

Ministries

• 100+ youth and adults enjoyed craft projects and refreshments as part of Bible School at Vida Abundante Church.

• 6 volunteers and 2 pastors provided a prison ministry program

• 7 youth and 7 mothers from Casa Oracion (a church in the jungle area) did a cultural exchange and dance performance with 7 FOC volunteers

• Wood shelves, a closet and diaper changing station were constructed for Vida Abundante

“(The prison visit) was interesting and humbling and sad and joyous and it was a very, very special experience for all of us,” said Lisa, an FOC volunteer from Maryland.

Alex (right) and Karen keep the records organized for more than 400 sets of school supplies.

Keeping more than 400 sets of school supplies organized wouldn’t have been possible without local volunteers like Alex (right) and Karen.

Local volunteer Maria (left) helped identify families in need of school supplies..

Local volunteer Maria (left) helped identify families in need of school supplies.

Collaboration and Volunteerism

• Of the 27 FOC volunteers this summer, 10 were first-time visitors.

• 13 local Mexican volunteers developed leadership skills by helping to identify and communicate with families in need of school supplies. 17 local volunteers helped price items and/or worked at the Gran Bazar.

• 8 organizations collaborated with FOC. Thanks to Centro de Autismo, Casita Corazon, Casa de Oracion, Chrysalis, Diamond Wishes Children’s Charity, Manos y Voces, Operation Backpack Cozumel, and Vida Abundante.

“It’s wonderful to have so many local volunteers involved,” said Karen, an FOC leadership team member. “They’ve been very responsive and have really taken their roles seriously. Many of them have been recipients of help from Friends of Cozumel in the past and now they’re giving back to their community.”

And how many smiles and hugs were exchanged between happy volunteers and the families they served? Suffice it to say there were more than we could count. The volunteer vortex has officially ended, leaving many positive after-effects in its wake. Thanks for your support and encouragement. It is appreciated by all. Hasta la próxima. (until next time). ~ Phyllis from Nebraska.

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Snorkeling Offers a Window into the Sea

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 3.29.04 PMWater is water, right? Except when it’s over your head and full of creatures you’re not used to seeing face-to-face. Then it can be a bit frightening.

Although Cozumel families live on a relatively small island, some rarely see the ocean, may not know how to swim and don’t own swimsuits. It takes time off work and resources for transportation to bring your family from the middle of the city to the beach.

A snorkeling class was held in the pool of FOC volunteers Mike and Hettie.

A snorkeling class was held last year in the pool of FOC volunteers Mike and Hettie.

About a year ago, Friends of Cozumel embarked on an educational effort to help families learn more about the sea that surrounds them. With the generous donation of masks, fins and snorkels from the National Assoc. of Black Scuba Divers, http://www.nabsdivers.org/ FOC volunteers were ready to begin. They first helped children practice in the pool, sometimes having to persuade reluctant first-timers to put their face in the water. It wasn’t long until enthusiasm overtook fear.

The next step was to venture into shallow stretches of shoreline for a real ocean experience at Sunset Beach. After the children’s initial hesitation subsided, they were excited to explore a world they may have only seen in photographs. The snorkeling masks gave them a clear view of colorful fish, anemone, sponges and a man-made reef offering a home to fish in the shallow depth.

The children’s delight has piqued the interest of parents, and now FOC has requests for entire families to experience snorkeling.

Yesterday was a great day at Sunset Beach where seven children from FOC-supported families and their parents practiced their snorkeling skills.

Como Snorkel (How to Snorkel). Thanks to NABS for donation of this equipment.

Como Snorkel (How to Snorkel). Thanks to NABS for donation of this equipment.

“Tanya was a little frightened at first,” said Gary, a volunteer from Nebraska who swam hand-in-hand with a new snorkeler. “But once she got the hang of it, she took off. I had to kick hard to keep up.”

“Me gusta mucho (I like it very much),” said Armando. “Hay hermosos peces en todas partes (There are beautiful fish everywhere).”

Larry (right) reviews safety information with the snorkelers.

Larry (right) reviews safety information with the snorkelers.

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Sunset Beach provided a nice shallow entry for the new snorkelers.

And the nachos and soft drinks afterwards weren’t bad either. Thanks to FOC supporters for opening a window to the sea for these local families. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska.

New snorkelers enjoy nachos after their time in the water.

New snorkelers enjoy nachos after their time in the water.

 

Volunteer Sami (left) helps a new snorkeler put on her fins.

Volunteer Sami (left) helps a new snorkeler put on her fins.

 

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Holding the hand of a volunteer made snorkeling for the first time a bit less frightening.

 


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An Explosion of Activity–July 29, 2015

Pastora Mariele learns how to make applesauce.

Pastora Mariela learns how to make applesauce.

Shoes, eyeglasses, construction, cooking, craft projects, conversation, laughter, a pizza feast and jungle visit. Step out of the comfort zone, mix it all together and it ignites some unforgettable memories for Friends of Cozumel volunteers and the people they serve. (click on photos to enlarge)

Ellen (right) helped fit reading glasses donated by FOC supporters.

Ellen (right) helped fit reading glasses from FOC donors.

“The last two days of our Mexico mission trip were such an explosion of activity,” wrote Lisa from Maryland on her Facebook page. “We taught (Pastora) Mariela how to make egg bake and apple sauce so she can teach the mothers to make it for the babies. We went shoe shopping with our beautiful forever family and we had a blast! The smiles and joy was unbelievable! We had three awesome days of shoes and school supplies distribution. To know so many children will get a chance to succeed cannot be forgotten!”

The line for distribution of school supplies was long.

The line for distribution of school supplies was long.

Volunteers Hettie and Mike make friends during school supply distribution.

Volunteers Hettie and Mike make friends during school supply distribution.

After the third day of distribution, the number of children served has risen to 330. People in need showed up early, formed a line that went down the block and waited patiently despite the brutal heat. Adults were also offered magnifier reading glasses. Barefoot toddlers not yet ready for school were fitted with shoes as well.

“What a blessing,” said Ellen, a first-time FOC volunteer. “These people are so needy and so thankful.”

A grateful student brought a letter of thanks to the volunteers.

A grateful student brought a letter of thanks to the volunteers.

FOC works to identify the families most in need, working with pastors, two other Cozumel nonprofits and community leaders. School supplies and shoes are running low, but there is still one more day of distribution to go.

“We couldn’t do it without the help of so many local volunteers,” said Karen from the FOC leadership team.

As exhausting as the distribution process may be, the volunteers still have energy to explore beyond the tourist zone.

“We visited a church in the jungle where their young girls performed beautiful dances for us,” Lisa said. “It brought me to tears. Sometimes there is no language barrier. We had the privilege of talking with some of the women and found out that yes we are different but we have sooooo many of the same struggles.”

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Deanne (center) and Dee (right) taught a lesson at the final vacation Bible school meeting.

One of those shared struggles is feeding growing children. At the closing session of vacation Bible school, FOC volunteers saw just how much hungry kids can consume. The CREW team provided a lesson to the 100 or so children and adults using pizza as a metaphor for building faith. Then of course pizzas were served—eight gigantic pies with 40 slices each. Those 320 slices were gone within minutes. 

Pizza--it's a metaphor.

Pizza–it’s a metaphor.

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Active listening is good–especially where there’s pizza at the end.

“It brought so much joy to us to treat them to a pizza party,” said Dee from Delaware. “It’s crazy how something as simple as a pizza can be used to teach and bring so much happiness as the same time!”  ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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It’s a Vacation of Service—July 25, 2015

DistibuPrep1 DistribJulieScreen Shot 2015-07-26 at 8.10.19 AMEach day, one or more of the FOC volunteers can be heard to say “this is my best ___ (fill in the number) day ever.” Just yesterday, Lisa from Maryland said “this is my best eighth day ever.” Why? She spent her time making a difference.

“Today I got to do two things that were life-changing for sure—and the main reasons I wanted to make this trip,” she said. “I started the day being a part of the Friends of Cozumel school distribution. I was on the shoe team and over the next few days will be giving about 350 children of all ages shoes and sneakers so they can attend school.

“But it’s more than shoes and backpacks and supplies,” said Lisa. “It’s opportunity, it’s hope. Being a part of something that’s bigger than just my little life is humbling and to step back and really take it in will take a while but I know I made a difference today.

CasitaSwmGrp“The second part of my day was spent in a pool with some severely disabled children as part of a special organization called Casita Corazon. This obviously is personal to me. These children are precious and beautiful and God’s children. It is my heart that no child be left out or forgotten and today was a beautiful opportunity to give them a chance to have fun, experience new things and treat them as special as they are! I was humbled to have the privilege of spending time with these families. It was a wonderfully special day,” said Lisa.

Casita Corizon (Little House of the Heart) is a home-like setting where families can bring children with different abilities for physical and sensory therapy. Jorge is the head therapist of the organization that will soon become an official Mexican nonprofit.

“Beautiful day!!” said Jorge on his Facebook page. “In Therapy, thanks to Karen and her group of volunteers who supported us. Thank you for your time and dedication of heart. Thank you–the kids enjoyed it.”

Families of the children enjoyed watching from pool side. Most of the mothers preferred not to get CasitaJorgeinto the water since they don’t know how to swim and don’t have swimwear. But they participate in Casita Corazon’s work toward self-sufficiency by holding bake sales and local fund drives to help pay the utilities of the house.

The volunteers enjoyed it as much as the children. For many of us, this work is more like a vacation since it’s so different from our other lives. Pastora Mariela got it right with this post on her Facebook page.

“How beautiful to see families happy and the smile of children is priceless. God bless you so much for your valuable time by coming to the island for a vacation of service.”

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

CasitaHettieCasitaDeanne

 


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Day One of 2015 School Supply Distribution a Success—July 24, 2015

Nuria (right) helped check in families on FOC's list.

Nuria (right) helped check in families on FOC’s list.

It's great getting a pair of shoes that will allow you to go to school.

It’s great getting a pair of shoes that will allow you to go to school.

“Can you imagine being forced to make a decision to send your child to school or have them work to help support the family?” asked Dee from the CREW team. “Or what if you simply couldn’t afford the tuition, school supplies, and shoes for your children? Without them, your child can’t go. It is a far cry from our society. We receive free education for our children. They don’t!”

Several year ago, Friends of Cozumel set out to help families faced with this tough decision. Each year, the number of families helped has increased, thanks to our supporters. Throughout the year, school supplies are collected from generous donors. Once the challenge of getting supplies to Cozumel is overcome, every pencil, pen, eraser, scissors, glue stick, notebook and backpack is inventoried and put into customized packets to meet the requirements of each child’s school.

Inexpensive readers make a big difference to those who need glasses.

Inexpensive readers make a big difference to those who need glasses.

“Today was the first day of several working with Friends of Cozumel getting kids ready for school,” said Loke from Utah and Cozumel. “We fit and distributed shoes, backpacks school supplies and eye glasses. This was also a collaborative effort with Operation: Cozumel backpack project. The smiles on the faces and the patience as they stood in line was heartwarming. It was a very humbling experience.

Loke helped fit shoes.

Loke helped fit shoes.

This year, Friends of Cozumel expanded their list to include nearly 400 children who were recommended by church pastors or school teachers. Families were selected based on need and availability of materials. Scores of families not already on FOC’s long list also showed up today, asking us to help an estimated 100 additional children.

Although the sun was blazing and children had to wait in line to receive their materials, they were all smiles. Many made a point to say thank you—sometimes in Spanish and sometimes in English. Accompanying parents were also very grateful for the help. Please know that your support is very much appreciated.

“The first day of distribution was a big success,” Ilene from Texas wrote on her Facebook page. “There were lots of beautiful families, all so excited and thankful to receive the wonderful donations that so many of you have bought and/or transported to Cozumel. There are so many families that would not be able to send their children to school without the generosity of those who have given. Byron and I are so thankful to be able to be here and participate! And we’re so glad to have our daughter, Christina and granddaughter, Maggie with us along with good friends from Volunteer Christian Builders, Jerry and Ellen.”

 

Three generations of volunteers--Maggie (left), Ilene (center) and Christina (right).

Three generations of volunteers–Maggie (left), Ilene (center) and Christina (right).

It was a challenging day for FOC volunteers, but they loved putting your donations into grateful hands, so keep ‘em coming. School supplies are now on sale in the U.S. and we’ll need a new inventory of materials for next year. Muchisimas gracias. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Ilene, Larry Jay and Christina made a good team.

Ilene, Larry Jay and Christina made a good team.

 

Diana (left) helped with registration.

Diana (left) helped with registration.

 

These smiles our school supply distribution was a success.

These smiles signal that our school supply distribution was a success.


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Preparation is Key–July 22, 2015

Dee paints faces at the Gran Bazar.

Dee and Mari Ellyn painted faces at the Gran Bazar.

When any storm approaches, preparation is a top priority. You need a plan when things get crazy, some extra water and food. It also helps to have support from those with a little experience to help everyone weather it out when things shift from normal to high intensity.

It’s the same situation in the Friends of Cozumel Volunteer Vortex. A frenzy of preparation has readied the volunteers for the community service activities coming up.

FOC volunteers have already handled a mountain of donated clothing, shoes and household items in a very successful Gran Bazar held at the Vida Abundante church. While parents shopped, their children enjoyed the attention of FOC volunteers.

“Dee and I got to paint the faces of the children who came while their parents shopped,” said Deanne from the CREW project, a nonprofit women’s ministry in Maryland. “Lisa got to give the children temporary tattoos and give them fancy hairdos, and Mari Ellyn blew bubbles with the children. I think a GREAT time was had by ALL! Mari Ellen thinks she’s found her new favorite workout—chasing bubbles!”

Craft project success at Vacation Bible School.

Craft project success at Vacation Bible School.

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Ilene helped children from Vida Abundante create crowns.

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Vacation Bible School included creating crowns of glory.

Volunteers have also prepared for vacation Bible school by promoting it to local residents and stockpiling the supplies needed for craft projects. The crafts and refreshments were a huge hit with the 80 or so participants who attended last night.

“It was such a pleasure to just show love to the children and to take a moment in our fun to let them know that Jesus loves them and invite them to Vacation Bible School which they call EBVD,” said Deanne.

Two building projects are in progress in preparation for use at Vida Abundante church. One project is construction of a canopy to shade events at the outdoor church, and the second is a creation of wood storage shelves for the church bodega.

Byron, Jerry and Gary work on bodega shelving.

Byron, Jerry and Gary work on bodega shelving.

Volunteers have also inventoried, sorted and compiled 401 packets of school supplies in preparation of the first day of distribution to families in need — an activity that typically tests the endurance of even the most experienced volunteers. Imagine trying to organize the eager children and their parents with just a handful of FOC volunteers. Thankfully we have translation help for many of our volunteers who don’t speak Spanish. Kudos to Karen, Larry and their bi-lingual daughter Diana who is working alongside the CREW team to translate.

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The CREW team, local volunteers and Diana, their translator (in red).

“Diana is such a beautiful gift to us,” said Dee of the CREW team. “We all agree that her presence coupled with her gifts and talents, has opened up the communications tremendously. We are TRULY grateful for her and give God praise for her sacrificial gift of being here.”

Dee’s comment echoed the sentiments of many who see the Friends of Cozumel volunteers at work. It’s often a sacrifice of time and resources—but it’s always done with a generous heart.

“It is impossible to convey the amount of hard work, sweat equity, donors, volunteers and content that it takes to make this happen,” said Lisa of the CREW group. “Standing in the middle of it today was overwhelming at times knowing that God put me right here right now to help. A great day so far!”

Lisa stands amidst the sorted donations that are ready for distribution.

Lisa stands amidst the sorted donations that are ready for distribution.


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Tropical Storm Advisory—July 16, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.45.17 PMALERT….
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued a warning that the climate around the island of Cozumel is ripe for tropical disturbances. Increasing energy is anticipated leading to a tropical storm named Volunteer Vortex 2015.

Vortex movement is expected to begin in the next 24 hours. There is circling activity near the Friends Of Cozumel headquarters with forecast of increased speeds in the next week and continued formations through Aug. 1.

Twenty-seven personnel including island residents and visiting volunteers are being deployed. For 10 visitors arriving from northeast, Midwest and southern regions of the U.S., it will be their first time in the Vortex.

A statement issued by the National Weather Service says “It only takes one storm to change your life and your community.”

But all metaphors aside, that’s just what we intend to do: create a storm of volunteer activity that will create positive change in the community. We’ll do that through projects in three areas:
1. Education/Learning
2. General support of families in need
3. Ministries

One of our goals is to continually increase participation of local volunteers in these efforts. And who better to involve than local adult and teen volunteers from the families who actually benefit from FOC efforts? Watch the blog to see them in leadership roles, learning new skills in the coming days.

Our projects this summer will include a Gran Bazar on July 18, learning workshops, Bible school, and distribution of school supplies to what we think will be a record number of eager students. Seeing their beaming faces as they try on shoes and pick up their backpack of supplies is one of my all-time favorite volunteer moments. I’ll do my best to share some photos with you.

Batten down the hatches and take the necessary precautions. We expect a direct hit of this energy mass very soon. Stay tuned for more updates as the Volunteer Vortex continues. ~ Phyllis (still in Nebraska)


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Just Keep Sewing

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rosalia learns to use an electric sewing machine for the first time.

Rosalia learns to use an electric sewing machine for the first time.

Dory, from the movie Finding Nemo, was fond of saying “Just keep swimming.” It was her way of saying don’t give up—keep trying. That’s one of our unofficial mantras in Friends of Cozumel. We work hard to find ways to help families with limited resources keep trying to better their lives.

One way is to teach families to make the things they often don’t have the money to purchase. The second FOC sewing workshop took place recently, this time teaching women with limited sewing skills how to construct simple girls dresses and tops.

“I learned how to make these sun dresses while working with Volunteer Christian Builders,” said Ilene, an FOC leadership team member.

Ilene shows a finished sun dress.

Ilene shows a finished sun dress.

“We send them all over the world. But we wanted to teach women here how to make them for their own families.

“None of these women had ever used an electric sewing machine before and some of them were a bit frightened of it,” she said. “But they’re doing great.”

Ilene chose a pattern that doesn’t require a great deal of fabric. She also brought sturdy cotton fabric that had been donated by a fabric shop in Andrews, Texas that was going out of business.

A simple "pillow case" pattern was chosen to make sun dresses.

A simple “pillow case” pattern was chosen to make sun dresses.

Instruction was provided by Elena, a Cozumel resident who first took sewing classes from Friends of Cozumel five years ago. She continued sewing and learning—and now has a small, home-based business sewing for others. Although this was her first experience as an instructor, she’s a wonderful example of how learning a new skill contributes to long-term success. She urged the others to just keep sewing.

Elena (left) made an excellent instructor at the sewing workshop.

Elena (left) made an excellent instructor at the sewing workshop.

“I can make another dress,” said a workshop participant. “Next time I can do it myself.”       ~Phyllis from Nebraska


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Finding Out What’s Down There

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Armando (left) and Gary worked together to develop snorkeling skills.

Armando (left) and Gary worked together to develop snorkeling skills.

Using brand new snorkel gear, six children and young adults from three families got their very first look at what’s under all that water. This new education effort of Friends of Cozumel was tested in the pool of FOC supporters Mike and Hettie. Once participant skills are refined, they’ll be ready to try snorkeling in the ocean.

Susan (right) helps Alondra with her fins.

Susan (right) helps Lucia with her fins.

Being able to snorkel seems like an essential skill when living in a place surrounded by the sea, but many Cozumel residents don’t have access to the equipment or instruction. Thanks to the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, that problem has been addressed. NABS recently made a wonderful donation to FOC: 10 sets of masks, fins, snorkels and the additional funding to purchase safety vests from a local vendor. They also developed bi-lingual teaching materials on laminated cards. In addition, Cozumel Scuba Repair donated 12 super small masks to the FOC program so that even the youngest child will have an opportunity to see what’s under the water.

FOC volunteers helped participants put on their gear, gave an orientation and encouraged them in the pool.

Once everyone got comfortable, the pool turned into a mass of churning fins and shouts of joy.

Phyllis (left) helps Lupe get used to putting her face in the water

Phyllis (left) helps Lupe get used to putting her face in the water

Larry gave an orientation to snorkeling skills--all in Spanish. Bueno!

Larry (right) gave an orientation to snorkeling skills–all in Spanish. Bueno!

“Es hermoso,” said Tanya, aged 15. “Se siente maravilloso” (It’s beautiful. It feels marvelous.)

Neither of the two youngest participants had ever put their faces in the water. Karen, a member of the FOC leadership team, worked with nine-year-old Lucia.

“She had never had the opportunity to swim, but suddenly she was splashing across the pool,” Karen said. “You could just see her confidence grow. What a change.”

Armando, age 12, wore a big smile after his pool experience. He proved to be an expert at finding and picking up toys put on the pool bottom by the FOC volunteers.

“I’m able to see below the water,” he said. “And now I’ll be able to see below the sea. Thank you. Thank you.” ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Thanks to the Nat. Assoc. of Black Scuba Divers for donating snorkel equipment.

Thanks to the Nat. Assoc. of Black Scuba Divers for donating snorkel equipment.

Everyone had fun at the snorkeling class.

Everyone had fun at the snorkeling class.


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Gardening and Recycling: Perfect Partners

Recycling Center workers helped load the unwieldy pool filter into the truck. We're pretty sure they thought we were crazy.

Recycling Center workers helped load the unwieldy pool filter into the truck. We’re pretty sure they thought we were crazy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Friends of Cozumel’s Garden Team reached new heights of recycling expertise when creating three gardening areas at Vida Abundante church: a raised bed, a hanging garden and the Epcot planters—named for their resemblance to the Epcot Center’s dome at Disney World.

The first step was to visit the island’s recycling center to see what could be turned into containers for gardening. The team found a variety of plastics—3-gallon cooking oil jugs; the inner liner of a refrigerator door; and a huge, circular pool filter that we hoped would yield two planters if we were able to cut it in half. We also gathered beverage bottles and plastic coated clothesline from volunteers to transform into a hanging garden.

Gary drills holes into a variety of recycled containers.

Gary drills holes into a variety of recycled containers.

The containers were cleaned and cut apart—no easy task in the case of the Epcot planter. Then holes were drilled for drainage and the containers were filled with dirt and the super soil we experimented with at the gardening workshop last week.

After planting, we once again used recycled materials to create an anti-iguana barrier for the raised bed. Three sunny days after planting, the first seeds had already begun to sprout to the delight of Pastor Mariela.

The garden bed, planters and hanging containers will be used to grow vegetables to supplement the diet of pastors family. In addition, the areas will serve as test plots and educational examples for the church congregation. The lesson learned is that we could create a great deal from items others have discarded. Gardening and recycling are perfect partners. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Pastor Mariela (right) plants seeds after Gary (left) and Kristin (center) created containers in the new hanging garden

Pastor Mariela (right) plants seeds after Gary (left) and Kristin (center) created containers in the new hanging garden.

 

Karen puts soil into the Epcot planters.

Karen puts soil into the Epcot planters.

 

Success in cutting the Epcot planter in half, thanks to a reciprocating saw.

Gary used a jigsaw to cut a recycled pool filter in half to create the Epcot planters.

When space is an issue, a garden can be created on a wall.

When space is an issue, a garden can be created on a wall.

 

 

Phyllis and Kristin create a barrier against iguanas in the garden bed that was built with cement blocks.

Phyllis and Kristin create a chicken wire barrier against iguanas in the garden bed that was built with cement blocks.


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Building by Hand

Monday, March 9, 2015

The worksite includes the pastor's quarters as well as a partially finished structure that will someday be a classroom for programs to benefit the community.

The worksite includes the pastor’s quarters as well as a partially finished structure that will someday be a classroom for programs to benefit the community.

Projects at Vida Abundante have kept Friends of Cozumel volunteers busy all week. The church is relatively young and continues to grow—both in mission and in congregation, so there’s lots to be done.

What makes this a rather unique experience for FOC volunteers are not the projects, but the methods used to complete them.

Byron works on wiring at the Vida Abundante church.

Byron works on wiring at the Vida Abundante church.

After years of construction, repair and maintenance work in other aspects of their lives, the volunteers are skilled and experienced. Byron from Texas, for example, is a member of the FOC leadership team. When not in Cozumel, he travels with Volunteer Christian Builders, helping to build churches all over the U.S.

For the Vida Abundante projects of fixing faulty wiring, pouring cement for the roof of a new classroom and creating gutters to withstand tropical rains in Cozumel, Byron and the other volunteers needed some serious tools and materials. But need and availability are two different things–especially when funding is dependent on donations. As a result, the volunteers used a lot of creativity, patience and energy to complete their work “por mano,” or by hand.

“This is going to take me two or three hours of hard work,” said Gary as he used a chisel and hammer to create a channel for wiring to be fed through a cement block wall. “I have a tool at home that would have gotten the job done in about 15 minutes. But it’s all good in the end.”

Click on the photos below to enlarge them. The rest of this story may be better told in pictures than in words. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Gary applies a new coat of varnish to the cross in this open air church.

Gary applies a new coat of varnish to the cross in this open air church.

Larry works on moving a mountain of sand for the concrete work.

Larry works on moving a mountain of sand for the concrete work.

Ray uses PVC pipe and shelf braces to fashion a roof gutter.

Ray uses PVC pipe and shelf braces to fashion a roof gutter.

Ilene applies finish to a window frame to protect it from the weather.

Ilene applies finish to a window frame to protect it from the weather.

Larry uses a hand chisel to smooth the concrete floor of the bathroom.

Larry uses a hand chisel to smooth the concrete floor of the bathroom.

Larry cuts rebar to use for reinforcement of the concrete roof.

Larry cuts rebar to use for reinforcement of the concrete roof.

Larry bends the rebar before carrying it to the roof.

Larry bends the rebar before carrying it to the roof.

Pastor Soloman joined the volunteers preparing the roof for concrete.

Pastor Soloman joined the volunteers preparing hand-cut rebar to reinforce the roof concrete.

This is the inside of a future classroom before the cement roof was poured.

This is the inside of a future classroom before the cement roof was poured.

Gary chisels a channel for wiring through a cement block.

Gary chisels a channel for wiring through a cement block.

Bryron helps prepare the classroom before concrete is poured for its room.

Bryron helps prepare the classroom before concrete is poured for its room.


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Can We Talk?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Kristin (left) enjoys getting to know the English students at ICATQR.

Kristin (left) enjoys getting to know English student Crespin at ICATQR.

Having a conversation with a new friend is simple enough—unless one of you is only in day three of a new language class. No te preocupe—no worries. Good humor and a bit of sign language helps.

“I had a blast,” said Kristin, a Friends of Cozumel volunteer from North Carolina.

Kristin and several other FOC volunteers have been serving as occasional English conversation partners for several years in classes at the Instituto de Capacitacio para el Trabajo del Estado de Quintana Roo—or ICATQR. This school serves a variety of students, including working adults who want to learn English. Because their instructors are not native speakers, it’s a new experience for students to talk with us and decipher our various accents from the Midwest, Texas and beyond.

“The key is to speak in short, clear sentences and take weird jokes and slang out of it. That’s not as easy as you’d think,” Kristin said. “But we’re all having a good time and getting to know each other. Isn’t that the point?”

Exactly right, chica. Let’s stay in touch and talk again soon.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

The 7-8 p.m. class worked on basic vocabulary with FOC volunteers.

The 7-8 p.m. class worked on basic vocabulary with FOC volunteers.

 

The 8-9 p.m. class included many students who need to learn English for their work in spas.

The 8-9 p.m. class included many students who need to learn English for their work in spas.


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Parts of the Puzzle

Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015

“We’re all different parts of the same puzzle.”

Director Carla shows a therapy puzzle that is very expensive to purchase in Mexico.

Director Carla shows a therapy puzzle that is very expensive to purchase in Mexico.

The quote on the wall and a big jigsaw puzzle graphic is the first thing you see when you step inside the door at Centro de Autismo Cozumel.

FOC volunteers recently visited the Center for Autism—a Cozumel nonprofit organization new to many of us. Inside a modest house we found bright splashes of color, therapy tools and a group of enthusiastic, but well-mannered children working with instructors and each other.

Karen (left) translates for Centro de Autismo Director Carla (2nd from left) during a tour by FOC volunteers.

Karen (left) translates for Centro de Autismo Director Carla (2nd from left) during a tour by FOC volunteers.

“We provide language, learning, behavioral and sensory therapy during morning and evening sessions,” said Director Carla Manzanero through a translator. “Our goal is to help children adapt to a regular school classroom and social situations.”

The Center currently serves 30 children, most of whom are boys. The story of a 12-year old boy shows the positive impact of the program. Enrique has a sensory disorder that caused him years of discomfort when anything touched his skin, including clothes.

“After several months of therapy, he is now able to dress himself and wear clothing just like his friends,” said Larry, one of the FOC leadership team members.

“It’s fantastic to have services for children of all abilities,” said Hettie, another FOC supporter. “I can see they’re doing great work here.”

A boy shows his Centro de Autismo "school uniform."

A boy shows his Centro de Autismo “school uniform.”

While the Centro de Autismo has had some modest financial help, it struggles to meet ongoing costs of rent and utilities as well as materials for therapy.

Manzanero showed the FOC visitors a Melissa & Doug brand wooden puzzle used for therapy. Costing $10-20 in the states, the puzzle cost more than $50 US when purchased in Mexico. She said receiving help to acquire these kinds of tools would have significant impact on their work.

Friends of Cozumel supporters often ask how we find the projects for our work. Sometimes it’s through someone who knows someone else who needs help. Sometimes the projects find us. Either way, we do our best to solve our own puzzle—finding ways to connect both youth and adults with opportunities to learn to help themselves. Let us know if you’d like to help. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

30 children are served by Centro de Autismo Cozumel, a therapeutic center opened in 2008.

30 children are served by Centro de Autismo Cozumel, a therapeutic center opened in 2008.

Larry presents a small gift of school supplies from Friends of Cozumel to Carla during their tour.

Larry presents a small gift of school supplies from Friends of Cozumel during the tour of Centro de Autismo.


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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015

Workshop participants held an enthusiastic discussion about gardening.

Workshop participants held an enthusiastic discussion about gardening.

How do you keep iguanas from eating your tomatoes? Where do you find potting soil on an island of limestone? Which plants thrive in blistering sun, month after month? The discussion was lively—all about plants, seeds and challenges to overcome for the gardener in Cozumel.

For those of us who have grown houseplants, a container garden or even a whole plot of vegetables, it may not seem that difficult. Buy your supplies, read about it online, and voila! You have a garden. But imagine having the desire, but no access to supplies, or information. That was part of the discussion between 10 participants in a gardening workshop held yesterday by a team of Friends of Cozumel volunteers.

Participants brought seeds, plants and ideas to share with others.

Participants brought seeds, plants and ideas to share with others.

Two years ago, FOC volunteers helped construct gardens for the families of Antonia and Charo. They learned through trial and error and the gardens continue to flourish. Both women served as resources to others who responded to the invitation to attend the free workshop. Those new to gardening wanted to learn about how to grow plants to supplement their diet, use in natural medicines, or supplement the family income as does Antonia.

Not only was information shared. Each participant also brought along an offering of seeds or plants to trade with others—everything from a habanero chile plant to a start for a banana tree.

Maria (left) and Phyllis (right) experiment with making a water rich gel to keep plants hydrated.

Maria (left) and Phyllis (right) experiment with making a water rich gel to keep plants hydrated.

One of the concerns addressed was the challenge of keeping container plants hydrated in the tropical heat. Participants watched a demonstration mixing the crystals inside a disposable baby diaper with water to create a gel. Incorporating the gel into the soil helps conserve moisture and keep the plant watered.

FOC volunteers hope that providing the stimulus for exploring gardening will help families find one more way to reach their goals.

An experiment was conducted to make a 'super soil' with soil, water and gel created from diaper crystals.

An experiment was conducted to make a ‘super soil’ from soil, water and gel created from absorbent crystals.

“We all have different experiences and knowledge,” FOC volunteer Karen said in her opening remarks at the workshop. “If we come together and share that with each other, we’ll be able to do many new things.” ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Gran Bazar a Success

Sunday, March 1, 2015

These three were happy to find some bargains at the Gran Bazar.

These three were happy to find some bargains at the Gran Bazar.

If the long line to check out, purchasers’ smiles or volunteers’ exhaustion is any measure, the Gran Bazar held by Friends of Cozumel was one of the most successful sales they’ve held.

The bazar was held yesterday at the open-air Vida Abundante Church. An array of both new and used clothing, shoes and household items were sold at low prices to give families in need the opportunity to find affordable purchases. The items sold are all donations gathered locally as well as from the U.S. and Canada—bringing brands and styles the shoppers wouldn’t otherwise be able to buy.

Clothes and shoes for the whole family can be found at the Bazar.

Clothes and shoes for the whole family can be found for just a few pesos at the Bazar.

Ilene, a volunteer from Texas, says she’s not someone who normally likes to shop, but she can’t resist finding bargains to bring to Cozumel.

“It’s hard for me to pass up a discount store where I hit the shoe aisle, searching for the $3 to $5 athletic shoes,” she said. “Next I search the backpacks, looking for those $2 markdowns and last I hit the clearance clothes looking for the $1 items. It’s always an incredible blessing for me when I see a family carefully choose one of the items I’ve purchased and brought down.” 

Ilene also has an almost endless supply of gently used children’s clothing to contribute to the FOC Gran Bazars since she has lot of grandchildren. 

“At the bazar I saw many of these items going to new homes. It really touched my heart to see a family who might only have $20 pesos (less than $1.50 U.S.), choose several of the items for their family. They shop very carefully to make what little they have go a long way.”

If you’d like to contribute to this effort, we’d love to hear from you at Karen@friendsofcozumel.com. There are three ways to help:

  1. make a financial contribution
  2. donate items on the priority wish lists
  3. offer to transport donations in your luggage when coming to Cozumel

Thanks for taking time to follow our activities. We appreciate your support. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska.

Clothing from underwear to outerwear found new homes with Gran Bazar purchasers.

Clothing from underwear to outerwear found new homes with Gran Bazar purchasers.

 

Proceeds from the Gran Bazar go back into the community,  helping to support other FOC projects.

Proceeds from the Gran Bazar go back into the community, helping to support other FOC projects.

The FOC Gran Bazar was Cozumel's biggest yard sale.

The FOC Gran Bazar was Cozumel’s biggest yard sale.

 


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How Many Ways Can You Use a T-shirt?

Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015

Mariela lays out a t-shirt to make into a diaper as Karen and Elena watch.

Mariela lays out a t-shirt to make into a diaper as Karen and Elena watch.

T-shirts fade and stretch, or shrink and get stained. Just how long is their lifespan? Women attending today’s workshop explored that question—not just out of curiosity, but out of true need. They spent two hours learning how to repurpose old t-shirts into baby caps, bibs, a nursing modesty cloth, and cloth diapers and sanitary pads that can be washed and used over and over.

Consider the economics of purchasing just one of these necessities on the island. A package of 40 the cheapest brand of disposable diapers costs the equivalent of about $7 US in Cozumel. If a family member is fortunate enough to have a job earning the full local

A purple t-shirt gets new life as a diaper.

A purple t-shirt gets new life as a diaper.

minimum wage, he or she brings home about the same amount in a day—$7. For an infant using 8-12 diapers a day, the cost is staggering—about one-fourth of the family’s income.

Imagine the resources saved by learning how to make these reusable diapers. Some of the workshop participants sewed by hand while others braved the unfamiliar electric sewing machine. They turned each t-shirt sleeve into a baby cap while the body of the t-shirt yielded one diaper and one pad.

Keeping the spirit of recycling, nothing went to waste. Even the hem that was cut off was put aside for later use.

8-month old Eliza models a cap and bib made from t-shirts with her cousin Sami.

8-month old Eliza models a cap and bib made from t-shirts with her cousin Sami.

“I might be able to turn it into a hair tie or a necklace,” Pastora Mariela said.

And then she turned back to her sewing, putting new life into an old t-shirt. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Rosalia and Perla made diapers they'll donate to a new mother.

Rosalia and Perla made diapers they’ll donate to a new mother.

 

 

 


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Volunteers versus the Jungle at Rancho Universo

Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015

Rancho Universo is a safe haven for rescue horses.

Rancho Universo is a safe haven for rescue horses.

Twelve volunteers made the bumpy drive down a long, narrow, overgrown path through the jungle. They arrived at Rancho Universo where they were greeted by a half dozen rescue dogs, a peacock and several rescue horses.

The volunteers’ task was to spruce up the visitor facilities and improve access to the corral where the horse therapy sessions take place. They used a variety of borrowed cleaning supplies and tools—machetes, a reciprocating saw, hatchets, pruning shears and gloves.

“We just tried to beat back the jungle,” said Gary from Nebraska. “It tries to encroach and take over, so we hauled away two pick-up loads of brush and tree trimmings—definitely hot and sweaty work.”

Rancho Universo is operated by Liliana Velasco-Ariza and provides therapy for children and adults with a variety of disabilities. It is also dedicated to providing a sanctuary for horses that have suffered from neglect and abuse.

Somewhere under this pile of brush and tree trimmings is a pickup ready to haul it away.

Somewhere under this pile of brush and tree trimmings is a pickup ready to haul it away.

Rancho Universo’s website explains that they “nurture and heal these magnificent animals and they, in turn, provide a safe, nurturing and healing environment for disabled children.” Children and adults can switch roles by becoming caregivers themselves, offering a carrot to a horse or brushing its coat. The simple riding of a horse can “assist physical healing through the reception of stimuli (including) positive results for those with neurological disorders, autism, cerebral palsy” and many other conditions.

Although Ilene, a Texas volunteer arrived a day later than planned due to weather delays, her Facebook status showed she was happy to be helping out.

We got here in plenty of time to get our machetes and go to the horse farm today. Well, I actually never got a machete. All I got was a toilet brush, a broom and a rag for a mop, but all is good! So glad to have the opportunity to serve!”

After the volunteers waged their battle against the jungle, access to the ranch was greatly improved.

After the volunteers waged their battle against the jungle, access to the ranch was greatly improved.

  More updates to come. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

 


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Caught Up in the Force

– Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015

Vortex (noun): An irresistible force; a whirling mass in which a force of suction operates.

This is how one Friends of Cozumel supporter described the upcoming experience to a group of about 15 local and visiting volunteers gathered for dinner at April’s house to review the project options listed on the white board:

“Here we go. Now we’re in the volunteer vortex.”

Volunteers Susan and John discuss the project plan and schedule.

Volunteers Susan and John discuss the project plan and schedule.

The planning for the winter mission activities has been in the works for projects ranging from mentoring students to getting seriously dirty.

“Our focus has always been on children and families,” said Karen Pedersen of the FOC leadership team. “Even if we’re cleaning up the horse therapy ranch for example, in the end they serve children and families.”

In the next two weeks, Friends of Cozumel volunteers will take on sewing and gardening workshops to help families make the most of their limited resources. They’ll help students explore the option of higher education after high school, tutor those trying to learn English, and use donated equipment to teach others how to snorkel. They’ll also provide baby supplies to a family in need, distribute reading glasses, staff a yard sale type Gran Bazar and work with church members on several maintenance and improvement projects.

“We don’t want to just swoop in and fix things,” said Larry Pedersen of the leadership team. “We want to teach people how to do these things for themselves. Then someday those people can come back and help others—talk about their experiences and pass on their knowledge.”

Gary thanks April for preparing his favorite volunteer fuel--deviled eggs.

Gary thanks April for preparing his favorite volunteer fuel–deviled eggs.

This morning was spent in preparation for projects that promise to be fairly complex with lots of supplies to gather. But the team sucked in by the afternoon’s irresistible force had simple instructions for their work at the horse ranch: wear closed toe shoes and bring a machete.

Things are bound to get interesting in the volunteer vortex. Send us your comments and stay tuned for updates. — Phyllis from Nebraska

The winter mission volunteers share a rare, "we're all clean" moment.

The winter mission volunteers shared in the planning and celebration of the work about to begin.

 

 

 


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New Roofs Being Added to Vida Abundante Pastors Quarters – Sept 2014


View

View from front door of dining room

Imagine you are remodeling your home and this is the view from the front door! That is exactly what is happening at Vida Abundante Church this month. The roof that was previously over the dining room (current photo) was made out of a cardboard material one year ago and had a hole in the middle of it that was covered by plastic tarps. As you might imagine, every time it rained there was water inside the room. Thanks to some generous donations, the church has sufficient funds to put new cement roofs over this room and the room next door which serves as the bedroom for all four children.

Forms for roof

The forms being put into place

Pastor Mariela’s father happens to do this kind of cement work and graciously offered to come to Cozumel and stay for a number of weeks to complete this project. Prior doorways are being enclosed and new entrances created. Various window openings are being closed, resized and opened up. A new office area is being created as part of a room expansion and a larger kitchen area is going to be created to finally allow sufficient space to create meals for this family of six!

As you can imagine, living amongst all of this demolition and construction with cement, sand and dust is a bit challenging but the family is taking it in stride. They are excited with the prospect of living in quarters that will remain dry during the frequent rains that arrive regularly.

Once the roof work has been completed, additional work will be done when the Volunteer Christian Builders group arrives in October. They plan to collectively provide 100 hours of volunteer labor during a one day visit. Plans are to build and install some inner wall partitions to provide the children with their own areas, shelving for the dining and office areas and to apply sealer on the new rooftops.

With the recent purchase, Vida Abundante Church can now justify making these necessary improvements. The church is very grateful for all of the generous donations of money, labor and assistance that have allowed this to become a reality.

Roof is ready

Reinforcing rods have been put into place.

A mixer will greatly aid in preparing the cement

A mixer will greatly aid in preparing the cement

The first of many batches is  ready

The first of many batches is ready

Loading the mixer

Pouring cement is a very manual process.


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Second $ Milestone Reached . . . Vida Abundante Land – September 2014


It is a red letter day for achieving a significant milestone but more accurate to say Vida Abundante’s land fund is “in the black”. Incredibly generous donations and hard work of local church members filled the remaining gap in funds for the second large land payment of 125,000 pesos (~ $10,000 USD) due today, September 1st.

Kristin Photo

Kristin has a deep love for Cozumel.

Friends of Cozumel is not a religious based organization or church sponsored mission effort. However, reaching out to help children and families in need is a common interest among volunteers and donors of diverse beliefs. Vida Abundante church’s vision and commitment to serving the community of greatest need has resulted in very generous donations.

It has been a humbling experience to be a part of an effort where donors have carefully thought through their gift and shared what it means to them personally. Kristin Bowen, a frequent visitor and mission volunteer, wrote this reflection: “To see God work … knowing He is building our faith and preparing us for something we don’t even know is coming. That He used us to help grow Vida Abundante. To see that God is providing for their needs … in the most amazing … awesome way … I’m blown away.”

Pastors Mariela and Salomón

Pastors Mariela and Salomón

Pastors Salomon and Mariela, as well as church members, extend their deep appreciation to ALL of the donors who contributed resources for the first two land payments: Alex & Mildred Alicea, Christopher & Anne Bean, Tim & Kay Bjorkman, Kristin & Bill Bowen, Denny & Heather Gepford, Paula Hastreiter, Mary Jo Heins, Byron & Ilene Kendrick, Margie Kirk, Wanna Kniss, April Koss DiPasquale, Mike & Hettie Legg, Pastora Noami Noble, Larry & Karen Pedersen, Micki Pelkey, Jeremy & Jennifer Pulley, Bill & Marge Stimson, and Bernita Weber. So many others have also contributed resources and sweat equity to enhancing the church land and facilities. Watch for updates and photos coming soon.

The next challenge? Gathering funds for the final large land payment of 78,000 pesos (~$6, 240 USD) due 12/31/14. Church members continue to donate ingredients, to make and sell empanadas, panuchos and salbutes at the plaza twice a month to earn $ for the monthly payments of 3,000 pesos (~$240 USD). Families are also trying to save money to fulfill their pledges to contribute to land payments even though it is now “low” season when employment is scarce. Click here to view the financial summary and find out how you can help. ~ Karen in Cozumel.


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