Dramatic makeovers are not just limited to reality TV shows. Friends of Cozumel (FOC) volunteers transformed a “bodega” storage space into a sensory therapy room for special needs children served by Corazones Unidos (means United Hearts).
The therapy center was previously known as “Casita Corazon”. It was founded by Carrie’s Heart, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization based in Houston, Texas dedicated to improving the education, community involvement and overall quality of life of children with disabilities worldwide. Corazones Unidos is now an independent Mexican “civil” (non-profit) organization that serves 8-12 youth, some of whom are severely impacted by multiple disabilities. Therapists work as a team with family members to provide therapy for the children three times a week.
Carlos, lead therapist, met with FOC volunteers to share his vision of transforming a disorganized storage area you could hardly walk through into a multi-use sensory therapy room that includes a gym, sensory board and light therapy.
The team had a daunting challenge but jumped into the process by cleaning out and organizing items stored in the room, designing the room layout, acquiring materials needed, constructing and installing the therapy equipment.
DURING—work in progress photos:
A Ball Therapy Pit was located in the corner surrounded by foam mats with letters in bright colors and extra padding installed to protect the children from sharp edges or corners. The Sensory Board mounted under the window was created using a wide array of colors, shapes and textures for children to feel and experience. A “lap top” sensory board was constructed using common hardware items (slides, latches, knobs, etc.) to further develop children’s fine motor skills.
AFTER-the results photos:
Special “black out” curtains were made for the windows. Black lights will be utilized for special light therapy sessions. The gym design containing a hanging ladder, overhead bars and hanging balance swings was inspired from an idea Carlos found on Pinterest.
Cristina is deaf and communicates using her own system of signs. She and her spouse Victor live with their three children in a neighborhood of families with limited resources. Unfortunately, their house had no means to secure the windows or doors, allowing thieves to rob the family of their meager possessions.
A small team of Friends of Cozumel volunteers visited their home to learn how they could help.
“We’re very excited to come along side this beautiful family,” said Shelley, a returning volunteer from Minnesota.
The house has no heating, air conditioning or plumbing. The bathroom has two, five-gallon buckets filled at an outdoor hydrant. One is used for bathing and washing dishes. They other is used to flush the toilet. Their furniture consists of a bed, hammock and two plastic chairs. Only one fork, two plates and a couple of pots blackened from wood-fire cooking remained in the small collection of kitchen items. Nonetheless, it’s a happy home. Cristina has made the best of their resources despite the limitations.
“In meeting Christina’s family, what stood out to me is the love and care shown, especially between the young sisters,” said David from Minnesota. “It was beautiful. I feel honored to help this family create a safer, more functional home.
To create a safer home, window security fencing and door locks were installed to prevent break-ins. Dangerous electrical wiring was also repaired and lighting was added in the room used as a kitchen.
Functionality was improved by constructing two countertops with easy-to-clean laminate. One was for food preparation and cooking on a single burner hotplate, and the other surrounded a new stainless steel sink where water could be carried in and then drained after use. Shelves were made from reclaimed materials from the recycling center and stocked with enough plates, silverware and cooking utensils for the entire family. The finishing touch was a gently used refrigerator, dining table and chairs donated by generous FOC supporters.
For the first time, the family of five could sit together around a table for their meals. But the first meal at that table included more than just the family.
“We want to be able to thank you in some way,” Victor said to the FOC volunteers working on the project. “You have done something wonderful for my heart and for my family so we want to feed you a special breakfast.”
The breakfast included a traditional beverage of horchata, guacamole, tortillas, refried beans and heaping servings of a savory pork dish seasoned with gratitude.
“We may have given them a sink,” said Kristin, a returning volunteer from North Carolina, “But they gave back so much more.”
Cristina and Victor’s family gave FOC volunteers an opportunity: to problem-solve, to give reclaimed materials a second life, and to cope with language limitations—both our own and Cristina’s.
But perhaps the most valuable opportunity was to be engaged with this family to build a sense of pride and connection for everyone involved.
“It was wonderful and humbling to see the smile on Cristina’s face as the improvements were made in her kitchen,” said Gary, a member of the FOC leadership team. “The enthusiasm the family had as they worked along side us and the gracious spirit of thanks given to us made me smile.” ###
Fifteen minutes before the scheduled time to load the 13,783 items (give or take a few) for the Gran Bazar, the skies opened up and dumped a deluge. Friends of Cozumel volunteers had spent hours, days and months preparing for the twice-yearly yard sale. They were ready to transport dozens of suitcases and plastic crates to where hundreds of people were expected to show up. But when the rain comes, the streets flood and people stay home. And the place where the sale was to take place is an outdoor church with only a partial covering overhead. Uh oh. Problemo.
A few minutes later, the clouds began to move and Maria, a local volunteer, said “Es cambiado. No habrá más lluvia.” It’s changed. There won’t be any more rain.
Despite the puddles, yesterday’s Gran Bazar went off without a hitch at Vida Abundante Church. Some of the donated clothing, shoes and household items were new and some were gently used. Prices were kept low to help families that only have a few pesos to spend. Then proceeds from the bazar are used to support Friends of Cozumel projects, scholarships, and churches serving families with limited resources.
“No matter how many times I do this, it never ceases to amaze me how big the crowd is and how they rush to come in when we open,” said Kristin, a returning volunteer.
While some volunteers helped with sales, crowd control or entertaining the children of shopping parents , others worked with adults to fit them with donated reading glasses. The goal was simply to connect with people who need some of the things we could easily provide.
“I like the diversity of the people we see at the Gran Bazar,” said Larry, a member of the FOC leadership team. “You see people of some means buying a mountain of things for their family and then the next person may be a 70-year old senora who buys a single piece of used clothing that she is very proud to pay a few pesos for. I have total respect for both cases.”
“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Cooking over a wood fire is a novelty that we might enjoy occasionally when camping. But imagine cooking that way every day, rain or shine, for a large group. That’s what Senora Facunda does.
Facunda is an 82-year old Mayan grandmother. She’s the matriarch in an extended family living in a group setting that includes 15 children and several adults.
Facunda’s outdoor cooking area includes a cement floor, a grate over concrete blocks and a couple large pots, blackened by the fire. She struggles to keep her kitchen functioning throughout the hurricane season’s wind and rain. When the fire goes out, there’s no food for the family.
Friends of Cozumel volunteers offered help to Facunda by purchasing lamina—tin roofing material—to surround her kitchen area, protecting it from the elements. They also installed overhead lights in the kitchen and near the room where she sleeps.
The children were excited to try out their English hellos when the FOC volunteers (los gringos) arrived. As the tin was installed, the kids covered their ears to soften the noise of the grinder’s cutting wheel and the drill.
“This fix may seem a little rough,” said Gary, a volunteer from Nebraska. “But the senora was happy and grateful that she’ll be able to keep the fire burning in bad weather. We’re trying not to impose our own values here; we’re just offering to help with things that will make her life a little better.”
“Food is not just fuel. Food is about family, food is about community, food is about identity. And we nourish all those things when we eat well. “ ~ Michael Pollan]]>
Each year, the demand for help in accessing school supplies seems to increase. Many families struggle supply the required materials in order for their child to attend school.
What began as a modest effort to help a few dozen families send their children to school has now grown beyond 500 students. And what started as the need for a few extra pens, pencils and markers has now grown to thousands.
That means Friends of Cozumel volunteers must begin months in advance of the July distribution time to gather, sort and assemble the necessary supplies.
A group of 10 resident and visiting volunteers gathered recently to help begin the sorting process. They followed lists in an assembly line that sorted writing utensils, erasers, highlighter, scissors, and more into handmade pencil bags according to the grade level requirements. FOC volunteers made the zippered pencil bags from recycled denim and other fabric scraps. Some of the bags were also made by local people learning to sew.
“We taught how to make these at the sewing workshop,” said Ilene from Texas. “Everyone made two—one for themselves and one to donate to the school supply project.”
After about three hours, the 10 FOC volunteers had filled 350 of the pencil bags. Then the momentum stopped.
“Oh no—we’re out of blue pens,” said Shelley, a volunteer from Minnesota. “And dry erase markers, too.”
Larry, FOC leadership team member, explained that donations are still being accepted and that we hope to have enough to serve 500 students, kindergarten through university, come mid-July.
“People will help,” he said. “If they let us know when they’re coming, we can connect with them. We’ll make sure their donations get into the hands of students in need. And we appreciate every single pen, pencil and calculator.”
Greatest needs: Friends of Cozumel School Supply Project:
300 two-pocket folders
100 pencil sharpeners
300 blue ink pens
50 sets of markers, preferably washable
100 dry erase markers
100 basic calculators
100 scientific calculators
If you’ll be coming to Cozumel and could bring a few of these items to donate, we’d love to talk to you. Please email Larry at: Pedersenll@hotmail.com
“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” ~ B.B. King]]>
This place that many call paradise, is a feast for the senses.
The tropical sounds of wind in the palms and unfamiliar birds mix with the din of electric sanders and a table saw. Rather than a smell of coconut oil on the beach, we can smell sawdust and adhesive used to create a laminate counter top. And though there’s a clear blue body of water near by, no one is jumping in to cool off. Not yet anyway. Instead, highly skilled volunteers work alongside others with only a hint of construction experience. They sense progress in their work for a variety organizations and individuals in need.
One project is to construct 32 sturdy wooden shelves to hold educational materials in classrooms and offices. After cutting, assembling and sanding the local pine lumber, the shelves were coated with several coats of fast drying enamel paint to protect them from the extreme humidity of the island.
“Very few people here know how to build these types of things or have access to the needed tools,” said Karen, a local resident and member of the FOC leadership team. “Using the talents of these volunteers, we’re are able to custom design things that fit specific needs and spaces.”
The finished shelves will be installed at the CAM schools (Centro de Atencion Multiple), CRIM (Centro de Rehabilitación Integración Municipal), and Centro de Autismo—all organizations that provide education and therapy for children and adults with disabilities in Cozumel.
“There’s a need for higher quality and more substantial materials than what is available to people here,” said Byron, a volunteer from Texas and a member of the FOC leadership team. “’They don’t have funding to buy these things and we can provide them with something that will give them good use for a long time.”
Byron is also working on an individual woodworking project of a custom designed table-top lectern and offertory box for Vida Abundante church. Hours and hours have gone into the project.
“Why do this? I guess you could look at the theological side,” said Byron. “In Matthew it says to let your light shine before others so that they can see your good works and glorify God.”
Volunteers will continue their construction work on projects such as a sensory therapy board. Children at Corazones Unidos will use the board to feel various shapes and textures—perhaps creating their own sense of progress.
“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi
Autism affects brain development and may cause difficulties in social interaction, motor coordination and communication. Therapy often includes behavioral work in social and play skills and opportunities to interact with peers. And what better place to conduct that therapy than in a colorful setting of swings, slides, and climbing structures ripe for exploration and interaction?
A playground set was recently donated to Centro de Autismo through Blue Skyes Over Autism, a nonprofit organization in Houston, Texas that provides support and education to families living with autism. But before the playground could be put to use, a safe space had to be created for it. And it was going to require a lot of hot, sweaty work.
That’s where Friends of Cozumel and 10 youth volunteers from Vida Abundante church were able to help. They did all the work by hand, yanking weeds out by the roots and spreading gravel with shovels. It was all part of a goal to continue involvement by local youth and adults in serving others through FOC projects.
After the outdoor space was cleared of rocks, weeds and debris, the surface was smoothed out. Then a fine gravel base was spread under the playground equipment. Plants were trimmed and soon the area looked like a well-manicured park.
“It’s a true joy to see the willingness of these youth to assist in a project like this,” said Larry, a volunteer and member of the FOC leadership team. “I hope that one day they can also learn about autism and the impact it has on local families.”
Lee, a returning FOC volunteer from Alabama, did his share of hauling rock, too.
“It was hard work but the rewards are worth every minute of it,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be able to serve the people and these children on this beautiful island. Thank you Friends of Cozumel for this wonderful opportunity.”
“Enter into childrens’ play and you will find the place where their minds, hearts, and souls meet. ” ~ Virginia Axline
By Ilene, a volunteer from Texas who is part of the Friends of Cozumel leadership team
Two years ago the pastors at Vida Abundante asked if we would provide costumes for the children to use in skits and other activities at the church. We made them costumes and they’ve used them ever since. Last time Byron and I were here in Cozumel the pastors asked if they could get some biblical costumes for the teenagers and adults. Knowing the ladies at the church love the opportunity to learn new things, especially using the electric sewing machines, I told them “Sure. We’ll hold a sewing workshop and teach you to make your own costumes.”
Now the time had come to launch that idea. Our volunteer team serviced the sewing machines donated previously to Friends of Cozumel, measured the donated fabric brought from the U.S., cut out and surged all of the pieces and then took them to the church. The participants for yesterday’s workshop were to be people with some sewing experience because the goal was to produce costumes for the church, rather than teaching basic sewing skills.
At the first of our two-hour sessions, we had seven participants. One lady had never sewn before and another had never sewn on anything but a treadle machine.
“I’m so nervous, I’m sweating through my clothes,” said a workshop participant named Martha.
We were fortunate to have the assistance of Elena, a local sewing teacher, who learned to sew in some of FOC’s very first sewing classes several years ago. She helped our new seamstresses have a successful day, completing a vest and several belts.
We had lots of fun with Rita who had never used an electric sewing machine. She had a hard time not moving her foot up and down, so the machine would barely start, then stop. Then when she would get started again, she had trouble getting the concept of taking her foot off of the peddle to make it stop. She never got discouraged and laughed and had the best time. We all had lots of laughs and everyone completed at least one item.
At the second workshop, we had new participants and were surprised when Pastor Salomon asked if he could learn to sew. He did a great job and completed several projects. We didn’t believe we would complete all the projects that we had
cut out, but everyone worked hard and we completed everything we had prepared: 11 tunics, 15 vests and a whole bunch of belts.
I came dragging in at the end of the day, but we were all so excited with what was accomplished.
“I loved working with the people because of all of their enthusiasm,” said Ellen, a volunteer from Texas. “And I know the blessing of this sewing experience will be a blessing to the church.”
“That’s the thing with handmade items. They still have the person’s mark on them, and when you hold them, you feel less alone.” ~ Aimee Bender
Volunteer teams began their project planning today and will continue their work through February 6. The 2017 Winter Mission projects include:
• Constructing shelves for schools and therapy centers,
• Sewing classes,
• Home improvement projects for two families living in extreme conditions,
• Developing a sensory therapy room for special needs children at Corazones Unidos,
• Constructing an outdoor recreation area for autistic children at Centro de Autismo,
• Distributing clothing, food, eyeglasses to families in need,
• Holding a Gran Bazar,
• Assembling drinking water systems,
• Assembling school supplies,
• Mentoring local teens and adults in community service.
Throughout the next 10 days or so, we hope to give you an insight to our experiences. Follow us on Friends of Cozumel’s Facebook page or on the web. We’ll look forward to your comments and encouragement as we combine our efforts to make a difference and have some fun.
“The happiest people I know are those in the service of others.” ~ Gordon B. Hinckley]]>
Jose passed from this earth on Thursday afternoon, January 19th at his home. He was 22 years old.
Some people would say that because of his condition he never was able to make an impact in this world. But here are the facts….
True, Jose never went to school. He never was able to hold a conversation with any of us. He never played soccer. He was not able to do many of the things we take for granted in our daily lives. But he did touch many lives. He created memories for many of us that will not be forgotten and now he is free of the body that held him captive on this earth and I believe he is dancing in the clouds.
We should never discount the impact another person might have on other lives just because they have physical or mental limitations of any type. Jose made a difference – we should all hope to do as much.]]>