Author Archives: pedersenll

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

 

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

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

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

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

Karen and Larry in Cozumel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sew Busy—Feb. 5, 2018

Sewing supplies are often donated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Ilene’s perspective:

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

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

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

~ Ilene from Texas

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

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

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

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

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

Centro de Autismo chairs and tables before.

Sue sands chairs prior to priming and painting.

Centro de Autismo chairs and table after refinishing.

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

Several coats of varnish protect the picnic tables.

Students clean the space for the new tables.

Students have a place to eat their lunches.

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

Casa Oracion is a church outside of town.

Carolina shows the boxers she learned to make.

Larry teaches a participant how to use a circular saw.

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

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

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

Volunteers Mike and Jabes at the drill press.

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

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

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

CAM Laboral School Welcomes Volunteers – Feb. 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Lorie helps students measure ingredients.

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

Here’s the recipe they made:

No-Bake Chocolate Cookies

No-bake cookie dough.

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

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

Thanks to donors who provide ingredients.

Add a little friendship to your list of cooking ingredients.

The hardest part is waiting to eat the cookies.

Anne’s CAM School Experience:

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

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

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

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

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

Lynn helps a student see his project with his hands.

Lori (center) helps a student.

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

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Imagination Turns Trash into Possibilities–Feb. 2, 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workshop participants learned by doing.

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

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

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

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

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

Market bags were made from old t-shirts.

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

Proud builder of a new key and towel rack.

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


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

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

It Takes a Pueblo – January 31, 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

Anne is a first time volunteer with Friends of Cozumel.

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

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

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

Pastora Mariela works on a banner for Vida Abundante Church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byron uses a sawzall to break down a reclaimed pallet.

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vida Abundante Church Building a Dream Block by Block – Nov. 26, 2017

In March of 2014, a dream of Pastors Salomón and Mariela as well as Vida Abundante (Abundant Life) church members began to unfold.   The Pastors’ vision was to acquire land to develop a permanent multi-purpose facility to serve the community.  They targeted their search in the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood, one of Cozumel’s areas of greatest need (high incidence of family issues including addictions, economic need, suicide, violence, etc.).  A property in the heart of the neighborhood became for sale.  It had a couple of rooms in need of repair that could become a home for the pastors’ family, some partial construction and enough space to construct a center.

It is more than a church.  The goal is to construct a building over time for worship services and youth activities that serves the broader community as an educational center and refuge for hurricanes and other community needs.  Both pastors recently completed a year of intensive training to become certified as international chaplains to lead community projects and serve as first responders for natural disasters, including travel to other areas of Mexico as well as other countries including the US.

Significant fundraising efforts by members and generous donors led to signing a purchase agreement and the land was fully paid for in 9 months!  Over the next two years (2015-2016) improvements included: roof repairs and modifications for the pastors’ family rooms; roofs installed over two partially constructed rooms and an additional space to make small classrooms, bathrooms and a storage area.  During these two years, worship services, educational activities and community events were held under the same tin roof that was donated in 2010 and moved from previous temporary locations.

 

Photo of the land when it was originally purchased – Mar 2014

With the tin roof installed, worship platform and chairs made it ready for Sunday service – Mar 2014

 

The biggest challenge with the tin roof open air structure is that anytime there are significant rains accompanied by wind, worship services and other activities have to be cancelled.  It is extremely hot in the afternoon sun and there is no protection from mosquitos. 

An architect hired in December 2015 developed a plan to maximize the space available, ensure construction complies with local requirements, is handicap accessible and to provide cost estimates.  It may take a number of years to raise sufficient funds for the entire construction project so it was decided to build in phases as funds become available.  This “build as you can pay” approach is typical for local families, organizations and businesses.

Constructing the cement block exterior structure is planned in three phases followed by installing windows and doors; then several phases of interior work.  The facility is being built in thirds including the walls, columns and roof for each section from the front altar area to the back of the church that is the street entrance.  This allows activities to continue during the construction process:

Apr. 2016 – Phase 1 front wall built to form the altar area

Oct. 2016 – Phase 1 two side walls and columns completed

Jul. 2017 – Phase 1 Support beam (1’ thick, 30” high spanning 39’ wide), roof and electrical installed    

Workers pour cement to form the first beam that supports the roof for Phase 1 – Jul 2017

The original tin roof provides shade for areas not yet enclosed. Jul – 2017

 

Nov. 2017 – Phase 2 Walls, support beam, roof and electrical installation completed allowing space to hold worship services. A “bodega” to store tables and chairs built beside altar. Begin phase 3—Construct north side wall.

 

The completed roof beam for phase 2 – Nov 2017

The first two phases are complete-Nov 2017

 

Dec. 2017 – Gather cost estimates for next steps.  Meet with architect and engineer to discuss modifications to original plan to accommodate kitchen and bathroom needs for building to serve as community hurricane refuge center and facilitate educational events. 

Next Steps…2018 and beyond

Jan. – Jun. 2018 Launch fundraising campaign; cornerstone dedication with key donors and church members; finalize plan modifications and funding needs.  Continue Phase 3 as funds are available to construct south side wall, column, back wall/façade that faces street, and roof section.

Phase 4 Install windows and doors to fully enclose the structure.  

Phase 5 Construct kitchen/serving area; modify access to existing exterior bathroom or add bathroom

Interior and exterior finishing – As you see from the photos, the walls are rough cement block.  Two coats of cement will need to be applied on the exterior and interior by hand to create a smooth surface to be painted.  This is a lengthy, labor intensive process. Tile or some type of flooring will be installed over the cement floor to provide a smooth surface that can be easily cleaned.  The total floor space will be approximately 1,100 square feet.  Other needs include:  Shelving and storage cabinets, chairs and additional tables, sound system, projector and screen, health and safety equipment (signs, first aid supplies, fire extinguishers), etc.

Transforming the dream to reality is a HUGE challenge for a small congregation of families that have very limited resources.  In addition to the financial aspects of the building project, the time invested to plan and supervise the construction in the absence of having a general contractor, finding available building materials, weather, and having to start/stop building as funds, materials and workers are available complicates the process. 

The pastors and members are thrilled with the progress that’s taken place to date.  Thanks to several individual donors and organizations like Volunteer Christian Builders who have contributed funds along with members’ fundraising efforts for Phases 1 and 2, Vida Abundante now has a small space protected from rain to worship for the holidays.  The space will expand as phases are completed.  2018 presents new opportunities to continue serving the community while building the church. 

Larry and Karen in Cozumel

Scholarships Help Students Continue Their Education – November 10, 2017

A high school education is not the norm nor taken for granted in Cozumel.  However, it enables learning trade skills and gaining further education that results in greater job opportunities and helping families become self-sufficient. 

Lack of financial resources is the biggest obstacle for students continuing their education to high school or beyond.   The “inscripción” (registration/tuition fees) for public high schools and the local university is approximately 1,300 pesos (~$80 USD) per semester plus weekly or monthly school related expenses depending on the area of study.  Of course, private schools and some public university programs are more expensive.

Friends of Cozumel (FOC) began a scholarship program several years ago funded by private donors who sponsor one or more students.  We dedicate at least 50% of the earnings from each Gran Bazar to scholarships.  Scholarships are available to high school and university students as well as young people or adults who want to study English or specific trade skills.  All recipients are from Cozumel families with limited resources; have to demonstrate academic achievement; and each student volunteers to give back to the community.

Meet a few of our scholarship recipients below; 75% of the 24 are high school students; 25% are university students.  We anticipate adding learners to study English or special trade skills in the coming months.  

 

Guadalupe (left) and Dulce (right) were grateful to volunteer with us during our distribution of school supplies.

Sisters Dulce and Guadalupe are high school students FOC identified to receive Chrysalis scholarships for first semester tuition and uniforms.  Like other high school scholarship recipients, they will be eligible to receive FOC partial scholarships (50%-80% of tuition) for second semester if they maintain a grade point average greater than 7 of 10.  Their family includes two younger siblings, mother with a rare blood disease that impacts her ability to work consistently and father who works as a cement laborer but sometimes struggles with alcoholism.

 

 

Nuria (center) with the medical team from UADY that participated in our Summer ’17 mission.

 

 

 

Nuria is a 5th year medical student at UADY in Merida.  She is bilingual and has been an FOC volunteer for years.  Nuria led a team of med students to provide a health fair including screening for diabetes in July.   Other university scholarship recipients are studying business administration, interior design, veterinary medicine and marketing.

   

Blanca and Edwin are the first in their respective families to graduate from prepa (high school)

 

 

Blanca graduated from high school in July 2017 with a major in Food and Beverages along with her “novio” (boyfriend), Edwin, who majored in Human Resources.  They are the first from their extended families to complete high school and are looking forward to continuing their education at a university.  Both are working for a year to save money for university, caring for Blanca’s grandmother, Antonia, who will be having an operation in the coming months and they plan to take English classes at a local technical school. 

 

 

 

Alex, a former FOC scholarship recipient, also graduated with a major in food and beverages, studied English for a year while working and now has an excellent job at Coral Princess resort.  He has received special training under the chef and is now doing a rotation working in the beverage side of the business.

Interested in learning more or contributing to the scholarship fund?  Contact Karen at pedersenkj@hotmail.com

Karen and Larry in Cozumel

Technology . . . What would life be like without it? November 1, 2017

An amusing post came up on my Facebook feed recently.  It was a photo of a billboard outside a restaurant: “We don’t have WIFI.  Come in and talk to each other.  Pretend it is the 1990s.” 

What would your life be like if you didn’t have access to technology?  Where “friend” relationships were based primarily on face-to-face conversations and information spread primarily by word of mouth? 

It is hard to imagine not having technology for personal communication, work or school.  Yet that is the challenge local Mexican families with limited resources face.  Students in secundaria (middle school), prepa (high school) and university all have homework and special projects that require technology. USB drives are required school supplies.  Few students have access to the internet or tablets/laptops in their homes.  School technology resources often don’t work or are limited to school hours.  Internet cafes are an option but many families can’t pay the fees.  Neighborhood parks offer free wifi but students need their own devices and must be comfortable with their personal safety in a public place often after dark.

 

Last year FOC initiated a pilot project in collaboration with Vida Abundante Church to open a small drop-in center for homework.  FOC purchased four laptops.  A local computer tech volunteers to configure the laptops, run updates and install online security.  The church provides a classroom with locks to secure the laptops, free internet access, printing and someone to monitor use. 

Beginning this month the project is being promoted more broadly with two set times and other days by appointment.  Individuals and teams of students now have a safe place to work together on school projects where they can concentrate on their homework and has free access to wifi, laptops and printing.  Adults may also use the laptops for online investigation for their own learning. 

Interested in supporting education through technology to benefit Cozumel youth?  Approximately 200 usb drives (any size) are needed by July 2018 for our school supply distribution to Cozumel students.  They can be ordered in quantity (5, 10 or more) online for approximately $4 USD each.  Local cost is more than double so it takes one or two days wages for a parent to purchase.  We’re looking for donations of usb drives (used ones are fine if contents are cleaned off).  Another option is to volunteer to transport usb drives (they are small and lightweight) if you are coming to Cozumel via cruise ship or plane.  We can order and pay for usb drives with FOC donor funds to drop ship to your location to bring.  If you are coming to Cozumel and are willing to donate or transport usb drives, contact us via email pedersenll@hotmail.com or Facebook private message.

Larry & Karen in Cozumel

 

 

Top 10 School Supply Needs for 2018—October 25, 2017

We’re often asked “What school supplies are needed?”  Our goal for 2018 is to provide 500 students with backpacks, supplies and athletic shoes.  Extra donations will be used to expand our list or for “basic school supply packets” like the 175 additional students we benefitted this past summer who may not be on our Friends of Cozumel school distribution list.

As of Oct 23 we have 185 backpacks on hand – 315 more to go!

Here are the 10 highest priority needs for the next 8 months November – June.  We will update this list throughout the year as we receive donations.

 

  1. Backpacks—all sizes (small, medium and large)
  2. Athletic shoes boys’ and girls’ youth sizes 10 through adult men’s and women’s size 10. Youth sizes needed begin size 10-13 then the numbers change to 1-5 that bridges into adult sizes.  Youth size shoes 10-5 can be any color.  Adult sizes 5-10 are needed in primarily white (small accent color OK).  Male students can use adult sizes 5-10 in white or black (doubles as required black school uniform shoes).
  3. Pencil sharpeners—good quality with catcher for pencil shavings
  4. Pens—Black, blue and red needed
  5. Markers 8-12 count; thin or thick style
  6. Dry erase markers—prefer black
  7. Highlighters—Prefer yellow; other colors OK for high school and university
  8. Basic calculators
  9. Scientific calculators
  10. Spanish-English student dictionaries

 

Other back to school basics if you see a good deal:  No. 2 lead pencils; glue sticks; crayons-24 count; scissors (blunt or point ends); USB drives of any size; 1” 3-ring binders for university students; toddler size shoes less than youth size 10.  Boys’ and girls’ socks and underwear are given to selected students.

 

Volunteer Ilene (left) earned a smile by fitting this student in sparkly shoes.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for finding bargains from our school supply super shoppers: 

  • Now in the fall is the best time to find backpacks at reduced prices in discount stores like Walmart and drugstores (Walgreens, CVS) because they clear out school inventory to feature holiday items. Talk to the manager and offer $2 or $3 each for backpacks.   
  • Walmart frequently has sales on athletic shoes for $3-$5.
  • Dollar stores are great sources to find basic and scientific calculators. Check to ensure the batteries work.  Some dollar stores and Big Lots have Spanish-English dictionaries for $1-$3. 
  • Check the sales bins of office supply stores for close-out deals.
  • Menards and some farm supply stores also carry school supplies and offer end of the season closeouts.
  • Online shoppers . . . There are great deals out there for buying in quantity. For example, we can order a case of 24 good quality backpacks for approximately $3-$4 each to drop ship to any US location.  No shipping costs for Amazon prime members.  Approximately 7-8 backpacks fit inside each other with the outside one zipped.  So 3 or 4 cruisers could easily each bring one backpack full of other backpacks off a ship to deliver a case of 24 backpacks.   Dollartree.com is an easy way to purchase a box of  24 basic calculators for $24 or the scientific calculators  for $1 ea  (min. of 4), a box of highlighters or dry erase markers.  USB drives are another great online deal when purchased in quantity and take up little space to transport.
  • If you are flying to Cozumel, BE SURE TO KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS and have them handy when you arrive to show Customs officials if requested.

Karen and Larry in Cozumel

 

Record Breaking Results Of 2017 School Supply Dist. – Oct. 18, 2017

Muchas Gracias . . . Many thanks to all our Friends of Cozumel (FOC) donors.  This truly was a record breaking year for amount of supplies and monetary donations received.  As a result, the project benefitted significantly more students.

Back to School Update . . . Cozumel students in kindergarten through high school have completed the first two months of school and are receiving mid-term grades.  University students studying here on the island as well as students attending universities in other Mexico locations have different school calendars.  Scholarship recipients are sending in their first term grades to be eligible for continuation of their scholarships so the school project continues throughout the year and we’re gearing up for 2018.

Record results of 680 students benefitted . . . 505 students received backpacks with school supplies for their specific year in school.  All are from families in need and must provide documentation showing each student’s grades or proof of school enrollment.  We collaborate with Chrysalis and other organizations that benefit a specific list of pre-identified students to eliminate duplication of resources.  In addition, FOC provided 175 basic school supply packets to youth served by DIF (local social service agency) and a shelter program for women who have been abused and their children.  

CAM School special needs students and families

Student breakdown and trends (of 505 who received backpacks and supplies)

33 Kindergarten

 

234 Primaria (Elementary grades 1-6)

 

96 Secundaria (Middle school 7-9)

 

84 Prepa (High School 10-12)

 

28 Universidad (University)

 

30 CAM (2 schools for special needs youth with various disabilities). 

 

 

 

Years ago, when we began the school supply project, most students were in primaria (elementary school).  We’ve seen a dramatic shift to secundaria, prepa and university.  Another trend is the changing balance of males vs. females in school and profile of who continues beyond the obligatory school attendance age of 14.  In the past we experienced female students dropping out of school earlier than males.  In 2017 FOC served 46% males and 54% females.  The breakdown for high school is 45% males; 55% females and for university 18% males vs. 82% females. 

Coming Soon . . . Check back for postings how volunteers can participate in the school project, highest priority school supply and shoe donations needed for 2018, scholarship program and other community service/mission projects.

Karen and Larry in Cozumel    

Week of Events Helps Community–Aug. 15, 2017

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

 

Donated backpacks and supplies help children attend school.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

~ Contributed by Eric and Almendra @yucatanliving.com

The Being and the Doing—Aug. 3, 2017

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Alondra (left) and Sarah became fast friends.

 

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

 

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

Soles that Light Up—July 30, 2017

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Getting a new pair of shoes made his day.

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

 

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

 

~Phyllis from Nebraska

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

People arrived early and waited patiently for school supplies.

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Thank you. Your help will create lots of smiles.

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

 

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