Reading glasses make a big impact—Aug. 4, 2019

If you’re a user of inexpensive reading glasses, chances are you have a pair in every room of the house. It’s easy to buy several pair at the dollar store—unless you live in Cozumel.

While we can solve our need for magnifying readers, people in Cozumel simply don’t have easy or affordable access to nonprescription glasses. Many older adults have eyesight that prevents reading and a visit to an optician is way beyond their budget.

Friends of Cozumel offered free nonprescription reading glasses at two sessions last week at the DIF Senior Center and during school supply distribution. 220 people were fitted with glasses by volunteers with optometry training. It was gratifying to hear recipients say getting the glasses was life-changing. Now they can read a book, a package label or their Bible for the first time in years. 

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

Looking for easy-to-transport donations to bring to Cozumel? You can support this effort by helping us replenish our nonprescription reading glasses inventory, especially in magnification powers of +1.50, +2.25, +2.75 and +3.25.  Sturdy unisex frames that appeal to both genders are helpful and lots of lens cleaning cloths are needed, too.

Thanks for your help.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Lens cleaning cloths and non-prescription magnifying reading glasses in all strengths are needed, but especially unisex glasses in +1.50, +2.25, +2.75 and +3.25. Thanks for your help.

Snorkel lessons open up the world below—Aug. 3, 2019

Friends of Cozumel volunteers and project participants got drenched today— first from a thunderstorm and then in the ocean.

One of FOC’s educational projects is to help island residents learn more about their environment. Many have never seen fish in their natural habitat or gone into the sea beyond wading near the shore. 

Eighteen participants listened intently to instructions on how to use the snorkeling equipment and stay safe in the water. Then participants were paired with FOC volunteers who were experienced snorkelers and divers. 

After the briefing, participants were fit in donated flotation vests, fins and masks, despite the thunderstorm that popped up. Rain is not unusual in Cozumel and no one seemed to mind, until lightening forced us out of the water. Once the weather cleared, everyone was anxious to get back into the sea, even with the choppy waves and shoreline surge.

Luis (right) instructs a participant in snorkeling techniques.
Victoria snorkeled for the first time.

Those who were anxious at first eventually got more comfortable in the water. Colorful fish distracted them from their own fears and many asked for names of the creatures they were seeing. Back on shore, fish identification cards were passed around as the new snorkelers talked excitedly about their experiences. They clearly loved being able to experience the sea in a new way. 

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Stormy weather? No problem. We’re wet anyway.

 

Volunteer perspective: Ilene Kendrick—August 2, 2019

Yesterday we held a Gran Bazar to benefit the Cozumel community. We sell donated clothing, shoes and household items at a very low price so families can afford them. At the school distribution a few days earlier, each child received a 20 peso coupon (worth about $1.10 US) to spend at the Bazar. It’s always such a blessing to see families carefully choose items to purchase with their coupons.

A lot of preparation is needed to price, load and transport each item and set up the space to accommodate a crowd. People waited in line patiently and then poured through the doors when we opened the sale. It was a noisy but polite crowd.

Some children helped shop while volunteers kept others safe from the crowd with activities.

The proceeds of the Bazar help fund many of our projects here in Cozumel but 50% of our profits go toward education scholarships, helping kids stay in school and further their education. Thank you to those who donate the new and gently used items we bring over, especially those who have collected bras for the ladies!

~Ilene from Texas

Sewing workshop supports island ecology—Aug. 1, 2019

What some see as a problem, others see as an opportunity.

Cozumel works to protect the environment, but the millions of plastic bags generated in Mexico each year pose a threat to the island’s wildlife. The “Sin Bolsa, Por Favor” (No Bag, Please) program was spearheaded by Cozumel’s Municipal Department of Ecology and sponsoring companies that include local branches of supermarket chains. According to the Cozumel4You online forum, this program is the first in Mexico to attempt to influence 100,000 residents and 3 million yearly visitors not to use disposable plastic bags for their shopping. 

 Yesterday, Friends of Cozumel offered a sewing workshop at the DIF Senior Center where participants learned how to make market bags. Volunteers helped turn piles of donated fabric into sturdy bags to be used over and over.  

Carmen first learned how to make a market bag at an FOC sewing workshop last January. She had an idea: could she support her family by making the bags more upscale and selling them outside one of the large grocery stores? She decided to decorate the bags with handmade fabric flowers she also learned to make at the workshop and priced them at $130 pesos–about $7 US. The price was fairly steep for many, but not every shopper. So far, she has sold seven of the bags and plans to make more.

The simple act of sewing and using reusable bags has now become a tangible way help to protect Cozumel’s environment. And that is a very good thing. Felicidades (Congratulations), people of Cozumel.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

FOC volunteer perspective: Almendra Gutiérrez–July 30, 2019

This year, 500 sets of school supplies and shoes were taken by little hands of all kinds to prepare Cozumel’s children for their education. Generous donations also made it possible to provide scholarships for some students pursuing higher education. 

This year started with an orientation volunteers. It was my third time with the team, and I was greeted as a friend over some distinctly mid-western hors d’oeuvres. Larry quieted everyone and summarized accomplishments from last year. His wife, Karen, noted the current demands and went over the week’s agenda.

Apart from the main event of distributing school supplies, several other charitable activities and worship services were held during the week; a pool party for children with autism, oceanfront worship and a shopping for food to feed needy families. At the end of the week, everyone is exhausted, but this group always happily pursues more opportunities to fill their time with charitable fellowship. 

Over the weekend–from Friday until Saturday–families arrived at the DIF park to receive their children’s school supplies. The first day was full of grateful smiles on both sides as kids were fitted with shoes, backpacks and the learning materials required by their schools. It was almost unbelievable that every family had been served without the volunteers breaking a sweat–metaphorically speaking.

There was plenty of literal sweating, as always in the Cozumel summer, but the weather doesn’t discourage anyone. There were complaints, but the smiles betrayed everyone’s shared satisfaction. Our joy multiplied thanks to the donations, preparations and time offered by the Friends of Cozumel.

A student shows his backpack with the special heart while Almendra (left) distributes school supplies.

This year a U.S. mom whose young daughter passed away recently due to cancer cut hearts out of her daughter’s clothes and sewed them to the backpacks that she donated. We told the story to as many of the recipients as we could. Our hearts were warmed with the thought of these little hearts going to and from school in Cozumel.  

We are once again blessed to be a part of the group and look forward to another year of watching the Friends of Cozumel transform lives. 

Gracias ~ Almendra from Cozumel

FOC donors gives backpacks with heart—July 29, 2019

Nearly 600 backpacks have been donated to Friends of Cozumel by people who care deeply about kids and their education. Each backpack is customized to hold the assortment of learning tools specific to that school’s requirements. The stockpile is staggering–big backpacks, small ones, some with cool graphics and glitter and others that are simple yet strong enough to hold the books and dreams of the students who will carry them. You could say they’re backpacks with a lot of heart.

In fact, 24 of those backpacks had a special addition crafted by artist Sharon Cavanaugh and five of her long-time friends. 

Sharon (third from left) and friends delivered donations on their cruise stop in Cozumel.

“This is the perfect way to honor our daughter Sarah,” Sharon wrote in a note that accompanied her donation. “We sewed little fabric hearts on each of the backpacks. The fabric is from Sarah’s clothes. It gives each one a little extra love.”   

Sarah died from complications of cancer in 2016. She was a fan of Jimmy Buffett, the Baltimore Ravens, elephants, dinosaurs, Disney princesses and most of all, her family and friends. She was the inspiration for the Connecticut Art School, owned and directed by Sharon. And Sarah helped create many great memories during past trips to Cozumel.

“This week we’ve been celebrating life and finding ways to spread joy, Sharon wrote. “Thank you for helping us to make that happen. If we make it back to Cozumel, I hope we have the chance to meet.”

And just maybe she’ll catch a glimpse of joy on a student’s face or a tiny heart sewn onto a backpack.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

NOW is the time to buy school supplies for Friends of Cozumel—July 28, 2019

Here we are in the midst of distributing school supplies for the coming year and believe it or not, NOW is the time to also begin replenishing supplies for next year. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But the fact is that prices for school supplies are at the best levels now as stores promote back to school for this year. We always do our distribution in Cozumel in July and the supplies have to be transported to the island so we can’t wait until next year’s back-to-school sales to buy them.


Here’s an example: A 12-count box of Cra-Z-Art colored pencils is typically $1.50-$1.97 but Walmart has them for $0.50 right now. We will more than 400 of these next year so last week, one of our volunteers went out and purchased 300 boxes at the current price to give us a start toward next year’s inventory. Thanks to her!

If you know you’ll be visiting Cozumel in the coming year and want to donate supplies to our effort to support 500+ students, do yourself a favor and purchase your supplies now so you can maximize your dollars. If you’re going to be on a cruise that stops through Cozumel it’s very easy to purchase a backpack and fill it with school supplies. Then when you stop in Cozumel, a local Friends of Cozumel volunteer will meet you to receive your donations. We once had a family of 14 on a cruise that brought us 14 backpacks, each filled with supplies. What a HUGE boost!

For a list of specific needs reference our website http://friendsofcozumel.com/education/school-supplies/THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

~ Larry from Cozumel and Florida

School supply distribution is a team effort—July 27, 2019

Months of preparation by Friends of Cozumel volunteers has come to paid off with a successful school supply distribution to more than 520 students from kindergarten to university level. The smiles and thank-you’s made the long days of work worth it.

The numbers:

  • 460 students received backpacks, supplies (pens, paper, protractors, dictionaries and so on), and shoes.
  • 60 or more will receive supplies at the CAM school for children with disabilities.
  • 180 volunteer positions were filled over a two-day period to work with each student and family attending the distribution.

The process:

  • First, families in need are identified by community leaders as well as the FOC leaders. 
  • They’re screened for financial need, sources of other support and special circumstances such as number of children in the family and disabilities.
  • Documents are also checked for the students’ grades and school registration. 
  • Thanks to local leaders Carla, Elena and Maria as well as Pastores Mariela and Salomon for helping FOC make sure all school supply and shoe donations get into the hands of people who truly need them.

Some students’ are also awarded a “beca” or scholarship, for tuition. Twenty three high school students and 14 university students receive FOC becas. This is a wonderful illustration of the program’s success since many of those students have been supported by FOC since they began attending school. Special thanks to scholarship recipients who pay it forward by also volunteering to help as FOC volunteers.

We appreciate all of our generous donors. Want to continue to help? Buy school supplies NOW for next year while they’re on sale. Watch for an updated list of needs to be posted soon. Your donations, big or small, make you part of this tremendous team effort. We certainly can’t do this without you. THANK YOU. 

~ Phyllis from Nebraska


Pool party delights and teaches — July 26, 2019

Emanuel and several other children went to a pool party with Friends of Cozumel volunteers. They played games, laughed and shouted, and had snacks. It looked and sounded like a pool party, but in reality it was water therapy for children with autism. 

FOC has an ongoing relationship of support with Centro de Autismo and FOC volunteers enjoyed working with their students yesterday. Spending time in the beautiful pool at the home of FOC volunteers Mike and Hettie was also a welcome respite from the heat.

The water therapy session was a step forward for two new friends, seven year old Emanuel and FOC volunteer McKala. 

FOC volunteers (from left) Liz and MaKala make friends with Emanuel and Jael.

Emanuel didn’t start school with other kids because he didn’t speak. He had some limited therapy traveling to Playa del Carmen on the mainland, but needed something more. Friends of Cozumel provided a “beca” or scholarship so that Manuel could participate in therapy several times a week without having to travel. Thanks to the therapists and programs at Centro de Autismo in Cozumel, he’s now speaking and attending a regular school. His mother Marta says the programs have also helped her learn a great deal about how to parent a child with autism.

MaKala from Texas couldn’t have been happier to meet Emanuel. She’s a recent college graduate and a first-time volunteer for Friends of Cozumel. She leaped at the opportunity to make a friend and also practice the adaptive aquatics skills learned during her study of recreational therapy in college. 

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard that this was one of our volunteer opportunities,” she said. “I was so excited.”

In the process, the children had a great time and event taught the volunteers a thing or two.

“It was nice to hear from parents how much FOC has helped. And the language barrier didn’t stop the therapy the kids got today,” said McKala. “I even learned the Spanish words for ‘jump’ and ‘take me there.’”

To learn more about Centro de Autismo, go to https://www.facebook.com/Centro-de-Autismo-Cozumel-1506168346267706/

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Friends of Cozumel Holds Orientation for Mission Week – July 25, 2019

The living room of the Cozumel home was crowded as the energy of Spanish and English conversations continued to escalate. Returning volunteers were eager to greet friends they they hadn’t seen since working together at the previous Mission Week. First-time volunteers may have wondered what in the world they’d gotten themselves into. But they soon found out during the orientation to this summer’s Mission Week last night. 

They learned that FOC priorities continue to be education, support of children with special needs, serving the community and promotion of volunteerism.

This summer’s projects will range from school supply distribution to more than 500 students, to a water therapy pool party for students with autism, a Gran Bazar, eye glass distribution, and workshops.

To accomplish that, 57 volunteers have converged from the U.S., Canada and Mexico. 

Six volunteers are joining us for the first time. Sixteen are youth who in addition to receiving scholarship support from FOC, want to give back by helping out. There are also eight family groups amongst our volunteers, including one family with participants from three generations.

There’s a lot of work to do and we welcome you to follow our progress. Check out our blog or Facebook page during the next week to see how we’re putting your donations, encouragement and financial support to work.  

~ Phyllis from Nebraska





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boxes of despensas typically include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

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

Adriana and her siblings are grateful for the help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gracias, amigos. Your help is so appreciated.

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

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

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry welcomes the volunteers to their day of service.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Students at CAM Laboral enjoyed sharing their art with volunteers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on the photos below to see a larger version.

Glasses Cause Smiles—Jan. 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carmen learns to make a market bag during a workshop.

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

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

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

Reversible cloth bags were made from repurposed materials.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–  Phyllis from Nebraska

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

Winter 2019 Mission Week Begins – Jan. 24, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the week’s projects include:

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

– painting home exteriors for owners with physical disabilities

– replacing a roof for a family in distress

– painting the interior of newly constructed Vida Abundante church

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

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

– providing interaction and a fiesta for children with Autism

– gathering food for families in need

– sorting and preparing school supply donations

– some special faith-based projects

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

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

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

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

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