Saturday, 4 of July of 2015

Reflections of Diving Cozumel and Serving Others

See the beauty of Cozumel’s underwater world and volunteers’ experiences in this YouTube video:

Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization
Mission Trip To Cozumel – March 2014

It is approximately 13 minutes long. Their mission projects at Vida Abundante Church by 27 divers are featured in the middle of the video.

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Vida Abundante’s Dream Becomes a Reality — March 2014

Dreams and miracles DO come true . . . just ask Vida Abundante Pastors Salomón and Mariela.

March 2014 has been an incredibly exciting month hosting visiting mission volunteers while bringing unexpected surprises to benefit the community. As a result, the property Vida Abundante has rented since November 2013 has been transformed into an inviting, comfortable outdoor worship center. Add to that, Friends of Cozumel has received nearly all the school supplies needed to reach our goal of helping 300 children this summer.

VA Land in October 2013

Land in October 2013 prior to move.

VA Facility in March 2-14

Ready for worship service in March 2014.


Thanks to the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization who sponsored a mission effort involving 27 volunteers for a day and a half doing various projects to enhance Vida Abundante’s rental property (i.e. plumbing, painting, donating chairs). They also brought loads of school supplies. Mission Ships, a Christian cruise group of 19 women and teens, arrived for a day to share in worship, hosted a children’s festival, visited children with special needs and they donated literally hundreds of pounds of school supplies, shoes, flip flops, Bibles, educational materials in Spanish and other donations. Several other visitors arrived during these mission activities also bringing donations from their churches to bless Cozumel families.

The pastors as well as our Friends of Cozumel volunteers were buoyed with enthusiasm hosting mission visitors. Just when we thought we could relax a bit the second week of March, the unexpected happened. Vida Abundante’s prayers of many years were answered when the opportunity and resources all came together in a matter of days to purchase the land where they are currently located in Colonia Emiliano Zapata. The RIGHT place, the RIGHT time (landowner dropped the price of the land nearly 1/3 from ~$44,000 USD to ~$30,400 USD if paid for in a short time), and the RIGHT resources (donations for the down payment and offer of free legal services) allowed the church to seize the moment. The decision was made based on faith supported by a realistic financial plan.

Vida Abundante signed the purchase agreement and made the initial payment on March 14, 2014. The church is working hard to earn money for the monthly payments and is seeking funding for $13, 880 USD to help pay the balance owed to the landowner by December 2014. For more information click on the following links:

Felicidades Vida Abundante

Pastors Mariela and Salomón sign the purchase agreement

Summary of Vida Abundante Land Purchase and How You Can Help

‎Financial Plan for Vida Abundante Land Purchase

How to Make a Donation

Purchase of this land is critical to Vida Abundante’s vision of serving the community as shared by Pastors Salomón and Mariela:

“We were called to this neighborhood, the one with the most need in Cozumel. The Lord brought us here because it has the highest rate of domestic violence, addictions, family breakdown and suicide.”

“Our vision is to purchase this land as a center for spiritual help, a refuge and education center. But the costs are high. Our vision is big, but so is God. He will help us.”

The congregation celebrated the land purchase recently during a Sunday evening family service. They have already put plans in place for weekly fundraisers, member pledges and are exploring opportunities for additional funding sources. If all goes as planned and depending on donations received, they can have the land paid off in 2 and 1/2 years.

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Moving Mountains – March 15, 2014

Sharyn and Julie disembarked from the cruise ship in matching t-shirts that said “I Move Mountains.” The shirts were from Sharyn’s place of work in Texas, but the slogan seemed appropriate for their day of volunteer work with Friends of Cozumel.

Sharyn and Julie

They wanted a job to do – we had one for them!.

They showed up at Vida Abundante church to deliver donations on behalf of Sharyn’s mother Joyce. Then they said “We’ve got the rest of the day. Put us to work.” Soon they were up to their elbows in dirt, transplanting young palm trees for the church altar. After that, they grabbed paint brushes and helped transform the stained bare block walls on the pastors’ quarters.

Friends of Cozumel is so grateful for volunteers’ time and donors’ generosity, but we also really appreciate those helping us make connections with others who want to give back to the community. Sharyn and Julie showed that a couple of simple connections can move mountains–or donations–great distances. The school supplies and bras came from women in Joyce’s U.S. church. Joyce made the FOC connection through Ilene and Byron Kendrick, two of the FOC leadership team who know her through mutual involvement in Volunteer Christian Builders.

Julie and Sharyn

Julie and Sharyn also got to try painting.

Thanks to Sharyn and Julie for helping to make the connection. And thanks for your time, labor and your own generous financial donation. We can all move mountains in our own way. Contact Friends of Cozumel if you have donations but need help getting them to the island. We just may be able to connect with some cruisers coming our way.

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Can You Feel It? – March 14, 2014

Steve and Pamela Sikkila

Missionship members celebrate their day.

A clown, a teacher, a veteran, a handful of teens and their moms—they’re just ordinary people with good hearts who got together and decided to take a trip with Mission Ships. Two years ago, Deanne Slifker and Dee Walter came up with the concept of combining a girl friends retreat with a mission trip. This year 20 participants joined the group on a cruise stopping in Cozumel. It developed out of the CREW Project—Christ Reaching Every Woman.

face painting

One of the children after being painted.

The group’s day-long visit to Vida Abundante church was filled with activities, music and prayers. Part of the group also visited the new site of Casita Corazón, a place where families can bring children who need therapy for disabilities.

Through translators, Pastora Mariela explained Vida Abundante’s mission. “We were called to (move the church) to this neighborhood—the one with the highest rate of suicide on the island.”

Pastora Mariela and her husband Pastor Salomón are initiating programs to support women and further the education of children. Mission Ships organizers learned some of their needs from Friends of Cozumel and arrived prepared.

flip flops

Over 190 pair of flip flops were brought for distribution.

The volunteer group of mostly women came loaded down almost as if they were divas with a different pair of shoes for every outfit. But the shoes they brought were for children in need. There were also donations of Bibles, school supplies and more “chanclas” (rubber flip-flops) than you’ve ever seen in one place. Their financial gifts will fund summer Bible School and purchase even more Bibles.

Families from the church congregation and curious neighbors streamed into the church’s outdoor worship space to accept the chanclas being given away. Meanwhile, other volunteers offered the excited children a chance to learn to make rubber band bracelets, have their face painted, see a puppet show and receive a new toothbrush.


Lucie helping one of the children.

“This is everything I want to do when I’m older,” said 15-year old volunteer Lucie Amhein. “I love how everyone is excited and appreciative. It’s great for everyone. Us helping makes them happy, and that makes us happy.”

singing together

Vera never could act her age!

Vera Grimes used her talents as an art teacher and clown to turn childrens’ faces into her canvas for delicate flowers or fierce lions. “Poverty is overwhelming for me, but children are children and they appreciate this,” she said. “It’s good to share. They are happy. The love is amazing and I think they’re more respectful as a community (than in the U.S.).”

Mission Ships organizer Deanne loved seeing both the volunteers and the children so engaged. “This takes it to a whole new level,” she said. “I get a little emotional around so many beautiful faces. I know this is what I’m called to do.”

singing together

The group enjoyed devotions and songs prior to the childrens’ activities.

That same sentiment was shared through a new song written by Friends of Cozumel organizer and Vida Abundante church member Larry Pedersen. Can You Feel It? was created specifically for Mission Ships and will be used as a theme song for the CREW Womens’ Conferences. Vocalist Gary Larsen, another FOC leader, first sang the song, then everyone else joined it. “Can you feel it? There’s a special feeling here. It’s ever present…”

Since the group’s return home, their Facebook messages show evidence of the special feeling created during their Cozumel visit. “People are talking about it as a life-changing experience,” said Deanne.

Asked how she felt about the Mission Ships experience, Pastora Mariela said “Very beautiful, very tired, very happy.”

“This exceeded my expectations by about a million times,” said Dee, Mission Ships’ co-organizer. “I stand in awe.”

Mary Alice and Mariela

Mary Alice bonded with Pastor Mariela.

Nail Painting

Most of the children loved having their nails painted.

Belinda with Jose

Belinda bonding with Jose at Casita Corazon.

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Following the Road Signs – March 9, 2014

Steve and Pamela Sikkila

Steve and Pamela Sikkila visit Vida Abundante.

Vida Abundante isn’t anywhere near the tourist zone of Cozumel. But Steve and Pamela Sikkila followed the street signs to find the church in the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood. They’re regular visitors to Cozumel. Who could argue with leaving a Minnesota winter for a few days of sunshine and beauty on the island? This time, however, they brought along more than their beachwear.

“We saw photos of some friends taking donations to people in Isla Mujeres and that planted the seed,” said Steve.
“There is a great contrast between affluence and the less fortunate,” said Pamela. “We asked ourselves ‘What do these vacations mean? What should we be doing?’”

Steve says they started to “pay attention to the messages” and soon decided to talk with the small congregation at Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. “It’s where I grew up—just 80 or so people attending on a regular basis,” he said. “I was stunned at the willingness to help.”

new shoes

Steve and Pamela Sikkila brought 36 pair of new shoes.

Their help turned into more than three dozen pairs of new children’s shoes, a pile of school supplies, and a monetary gift to help with the church pastors’ living expenses. At Vida Abundante, the pastors rely on weekly offerings and donations rather than a salary for their full time work.

After a prayer shared with Pastors Mariela and Salomón, Steve said “Don’t thank me. I’m just following the road signs.”

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The Writing on the Wall – March, 2014

Group 1 staining their boards

David Colvard paints over “WCSDO was here”.

Graffiti on buildings and walls isn’t any more prevalent in Cozumel than in U.S. cities. When it occurs, the message is typically painted over quickly to discourage additional defacement. That’s what took place at the new site of the Vida Abundante church. But this graffiti was proudly painted in broad daylight by volunteers from the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization. As everyone watched, they tagged the unpainted cement block wall with “WCSDO was aqui” (WCSDO was here). It was a positive message—but was still covered quickly as the volunteers dove into their painting tasks. They were on a mission.

Painting was just one of the many projects the group of 27 undertook to help Vida Abundante settle in to their new outdoor worship site. Their work was part of a seven day trip that had two purposes: combining scuba diving and mission work.

“So many people say they feel closer to God underwater than at any other time,” said Jim Mustoe, one of the organization founders. “You just can’t fully appreciate the awesomeness of God until you see what he made underwater.”

Group 1 staining their boards

Steve Baumetz carries roof sheeting

WCSDO trips help members leave the hotel zone to get to know the community and its people through service projects. Their first mission trips were to Roatan, Honduras and Nausau in the Bahamas. Then they contacted Friends of Cozumel to see how they could help during their March 1-8 visit to Cozumel.

WCSDO is a national organization that began about five years ago. Local chapters have formed in Dallas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Seattle and South Florida with approximately 1,000 members.

Dallas members Heather and Denny Gepford have been divers for six years. Their trip to Cozumel is their second experience with mission work.

Group 1 staining their boards

Heather and Denny creating a lot of dust

“God has done a lot for us out there so we thought maybe we should do something for him, too,” said Denny.
“You know some people just throw money at it,” said Heather amidst the dust created by a belt sander. “But this work makes it so much more real. This bench I’ve been working on—someday someone sitting on this bench will meet Jesus for the first time and that’s exciting.”

In addition to several painting projects at the church, the WCSDO volunteers also installed a section of roof, a water storage system and much needed plumbing for a restroom. They replaced windows and screens in the pastors’ quarters, repaired electrical outlets and potted plants for the altar. In addition, they distributed eyeglasses to the community and made a monetary donation to the church to help replace the congregation’s rickety wooden chairs.

Group 1 staining their boards

Dean applies a coat of varnish to the back of the cross after it was hung

Judy and Dean Hadfield of California saw significant improvements as worked progressed over two days. Even without a closed structure that is typical in the U.S., the outdoor space began to look more like a church. “It reminds me of the TV show Extreme Makeover,” Judy said. “When Dean visited the day before the group started work, he told me ‘it’s going to break your heart.’ But you won’t get that impression now. We came in with this big crew and wow—look how quickly it changed.”

“We’re having a blast,” said Dean, a recently retired firefighter who was paint-spattered, but happy. “What I get out of this—I now have a visual to pray for this specific church,” Judy said. “When you get boots on the ground, it’s so exciting to see.”

The work of the WCSDO group made an impact on the Vida Abundante church as well as the volunteers. Nineteen year old Ben Radyk from New Britain, Conn. said “It’s interesting to see how so many people from everywhere from California to Connecticut can work together. And it’s interesting to see what people here go through; life is hard here. We’re very privileged as Americans. This definitely adds perspective.”

At the end of the day, the task list was checked off, the seven-foot wooden cross was hung, new chairs awaited the next church service and fresh paint covered the writing on the walls.

Pastors Mariela and Salomón summed it up simply. “This is a miracle that this group is here,” Salomón said. “A true miracle is taking place today.”

Group 1 staining their boards

Denny and Heather check out project list


Lots of hands make for light work

Teay painting

Teay painting one of the walls

Group Prayer

The group prays for the pastors

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Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Come to Cozumel – March, 2014

Today, twenty-eight (28) members of the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization (WCSDO) have arrived in Cozumel to begin an eight day mission trip of underwater exploration and spreading messages of hope to the locals.

The Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization (WCSDO) is a diverse group of divers who explore the underwater kingdom while bringing aid, relief, and hope through their mission work. As is customary on mission trips WCSDO members will provide free reading glasses to those in need. In addition, Vida Abundante Church has been selected as the benefit church to receive much needed assistance with plumbing repairs, renovations and other projects and ministries our organization can assist with.   We’ve also received numerous donations of school supplies which will greatly aid our distribution this coming July/August.

We’ve been busily outlining the projects, purchasing materials and sorting out the needed tools so they can accomplish all the work that they hope to do.   Watch for updates in the week ahead!
For the official press release click here

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Visiting volunteers kick off the new year – January & February 2014

Roy's group

Family and friends of Roy & Kathleen Heifrin served as volunteer cruise “sherpas” transporting donations to Cozumel Feb 7.

We’re excited about expanding Friends of Cozumel mission/service efforts in 2014. Although we are not hosting a specific mission project week this winter as we have in past years, we’re fortunate many repeat experienced volunteers and new donors are visiting the island as well as Cozumel residents who want to serve the community. Working together informally we’re stretching the impact throughout the winter versus concentrating on one or two intensive weeks.

FOC is. . .

  • Initiating a NEW scholarship program in 2014 to benefit students in need continuing their education beyond secundaria (high school). Scholarships will also be available to adults who want to learn to read/write, speak English or participate in skill training to enable them to get jobs to support their families.
  • Expanding the School Project to provide 300+ children with school supplies and shoes.
  • Partnering with more groups dedicated to volunteerism. SAIL continues their community partnership and will soon post about their January 24 visit. Three NEW FOC partnerships are: VolunCations (Cruise mission group Dec. 2013); Mission Ships (Cruise mission group March 2014) and Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization (March 2014).
  • Local teens volunteering

    Local teen volunteers Milton, Alex and Nuria (seated) served as Gran Bazar cashiers with FOC leader Ilene Kendrick (with Santa hat).

    • Encouraging past mission volunteers to visit families and conduct informal mission efforts on their own this winter.
    • Involving more local Mexican adults and teens in volunteer opportunities.
    • Recognizing a few organizations and families we’ve supported are becoming self-sustaining (our goal). This allows us to refocus donations and volunteer efforts to those with greater needs. So if you’re wondering why we aren’t posting info about NUAFA or the CAM School for example, it is because these organizations have become more self-sufficient over time with other sources of support.

    Special thanks to Mary White (MN) as well as Mark and Marilyn Freese (MN) who recently traveled to the island and brought donated school supplies. It feels a little bit like Christmas in January each year when the SAIL women’s Bible study group visits. They came loaded down with a HUGE amount of school supplies, children’s shoes, handmade baby blankets, clothing, fabric for sewing classes and much more. We also want to thank Mike and Susan Beech (Cozumel) for donating a door from their home that we could use with another family. This is a great example of “repurposing” something that still has a use for the right home.

    On a personal note . . . We’re very happy to be back on the island enjoying the warm weather after being in the frozen Midwest far too long. Our sincere apologies to individuals and groups whom we were unable respond in a timely manner as we addressed family health issues. We appreciate your understanding and are energized by the enthusiasm of so many people who want to give back to the community. What a GREAT start to the New Year. ~~ Karen and Larry

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    Vida Abundante Children Project – December 2013

    Pastors Salomón and Mariela planned a 24 hour youth event this weekend that began at 7pm Friday evening and included a sleep over at the new location on 80 Avenida bis. They asked if we would like to be part of the activities on Saturday and we suggested that a project building nativity scenes might be an experience to emphasize the Christmas story and provide a hands-on activity for the kids.

    We prepared kits that included the wood pieces for the stable and figurines to place inside the stable. We began the activity time by talking with the children about the story of Mary and Joseph not being able to find a room in the Inn and having to settle with sleeping in the stable with the animals where baby Jesus was born. We discussed why God might choose a lowly stable for this birth when realistically, anything was possible; and how the star to guided shepherds and wisemen to the stable.

    Group 1 staining their boards

    This group began by staining their boards to get a rustic look.

    The children had already been divided into teams for other activities earlier so we had two teams begin by coloring the Mary and Joseph cutouts while the other two teams team began sanding their boards to remove defects and applying stain. We provided plastic gloves and oversized t-shirts to ensure the stain got applied mostly to the wood. Surprisingly, we were successful with that.

    drilling holes for the screw placement

    Byron helped the children as they used drills for the first time.

    XXX XXX The look on their faces was priceless as they each took turns using the drills to make holes for the screws. Some children were very nervous, not wanting to mess things up. Others, like little Israel just grinned and couldn't squeeze the trigger fast enough! They found it wasn't so easy to install screws with a drill if you didn't apply enough pressure, but we got the frames assembled.

    Chalo ready to hammer

    Chalo was ready with his hammer as Mariela provided encouragement.

    Once the frame was assembled, we had the children nail the roof and back piece into place. Hammers were flying as nails bent, were pulled and straightened, then tried again. This was a great first-time experience for most of these kids and they were excited to see their structures take shape.

    Each child was provided with figurines of a baby Jesus, a sheep and one other plastic animal to place into their stable. They also decorated with some bits of fabric, fake moss and grass and placed the star above the stable. The glue did it’s part to keep things in place and little 5 year old Israel held his up to Karen and exclaimed “Look, I built this all by myself!”

    We asked the group to place their nativity sets together and assemble for a group photo. It was priceless to be part of this activity with the children. I’m confident there will be other projects like this in the future and a lot more sawdust in my shop!
    - Larry Pedersen


    a completed project

    The children placed the figurines and added some fabric, moss and grass for effect.

    group photo

    We ended up with 21 completed nativity sets so each child could take theirs home.

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    Voluncations visits Cozumel – December, 2013

    Christopher and Anne Bean have two passions in life: 1) their Christian faith and, 2) cruising to destinations to meet and serve people in need. Their goal is to assist other people that might be interested in combining volunteer work and vacations together and have started with “Voluncations”, an effort to combine cruises with mission work.

    Antonia, Gustavo and Enrique proudly display one of their completed nativity sets

    Antonia, Gustavo and Enrique proudly display one of their completed nativity sets.

    Anne and Christopher arrived in Cozumel via the Carnaval Glory on Tuesday and we immediately headed to the home of Jose and his 8 siblings and cousins. Once there, we grouped the children together to talk about the Christmas story and told them we were going to create nativity sets that they would be able to keep. After an hour of sanding, staining, screwing, nailing and decorating (with all the work done by the children) we had completed three nativity sets that they were able to place in their homes. The children were very proud of their work and it was fun working with them as they built the sets.

    We even managed to find a little time to play “street soccer” with the children before we left so they could clean up and prepare for school. (These children attend school in the afternoons). Of course, the kids had all the “right moves” and quickly displayed their superior ability to place the soccer ball in the goal. Oh well, it was time for us to go find some lunch.

    Anne and Christopher with Pastors Mariela and Salomon

    Anne and Christopher with pastors Mariela and Salomon

    Anne is very involved in children’s ministry and offered to bring a teaching kit to be used with the children at Vida Abundante. We met at the church’s new location and talked with the Pastors Mariela and Salomon about their goals to minister to the people in this local neighborhood. Salomon shared with us that there is a very high level of domestic violence and alcoholism in this neighborhood and they have a lot of experience in helping families deals with these issues. Anne presented teaching materials entitled “La Historia de la Estrella” (The Story of the Star) which teaches children about the birth of Christ and the role the star played in guiding the wise men to the birthplace. Anne had prepared enough supplies to present this story to 120 children. The pastors quickly agreed they would utilize this project with a youth gathering that is taking place this coming weekend and perhaps during the family festival being planned for the following weekend.

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    George Family Helps Send Cozumel Children to School – December, 2013

    For many young children, waking up and going to school is simply a part of the daily life. Packing their backpack full of crayons, pens, and folders, they set off like always. But for some, a harsher reality awaits; one where school is a privilege that many don’t have. Though, as far as Natalie George is concerned, that should never be a possibility and with Friends of Cozumel, she was determined to take action.

    Lincoln, Neb. donors Natalie George (center) and her family believe every child should have the opportunity to go to school.

    Lincoln, Neb. donors Natalie George (center) and her family believe every child should have the opportunity to go to school.

    Natalie initially heard of Friends of Cozumel from friends who are actively involved in the organization. Friends of Cozumel is an informal network of families, friends, colleagues, donors and volunteers who share a common interest in benefiting families in need as well as the broader community of Cozumel, Mexico. A main project of Friends is their School Supplies Drive, the project Natalie took part in. There are many families in Cozumel with very limited resources. If a family can’t provide the list of required (and expensive) school supplies, their children are not allowed to attend school. After reading an article on the organization’s website, Natalie reached out to a member of the organization’s leadership group asking for more information. From there she received a list highlighting essential school supplies that for many families are too expensive for local purchase.

    “We basically have always been big on school shopping. I think we take for granted those things. It’s not much out of your pocket to send your kids to school,” said Natalie when asked about her donation.

    Natalie hunted down sale price items and with the help of her family began collecting a bulk of supplies. In total, Natalie donated 251 different supplies with items ranging from 17 backpacks, 6 24-pk crayons, 8 rulers, and 1 3-hole punch. “I enlisted my mother’s help in searching for deals on the backpacks. We looked for things on sale. 65 cents here, 45 cents there. We got them cheap.”

    The people at Friends of Cozumel were humbled by her donation to the project. “She donated almost a complete set of school supplies to send a couple dozen kids to school who wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise,” said Phyllis Larsen, a member of the leadership group and friend to Natalie. “It was a big surprise and gratifying to know someone noticed the subtle message to donate.”

    The George family turned bargain shopping into a mountain of school supplies for families in need in Cozumel.

    The George family turned bargain shopping into a mountain of school supplies for families in need in Cozumel.

    While her donations won’t be distributed in Cozumel until summer of 2014, Natalie is pleased with her decision to participate, “After hearing the stories, any help is appreciated to continue what they’re [Friends of Cozumel] able to do.” I think it’s important and kids should have an opportunity. And the only way things are going to change are by educating people.”

    If there is anything to take away from Natalie’s story it’s that with either the smallest donation or the biggest effort, one can make a difference in the life of another.

    On behalf of Friends of Cozumel, a special thank you to Natalie and her family.


    (Written by Amanda Schmidt, an advertising and public relations major at the Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln)

    Amanda Schmidt

    Amanda Schmidt

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    Juan Diego as a vampire? — October 2013

    Special needs children sponsored by Carrie’s Heart and their families gathered at the Casita Corazon Cozumel on October 30 for a Halloween fiesta . . . Mexican style. Events like this are special opportunities these families look forward to where they can celebrate in a very caring environment.

    WOW . . . wish you all could have joined us to see Juan Diego’s face painted as a vampire and yes, that is a scary Halloween ring on his finger. Juan Diego is a young man in his early 20′s confined to life in a carriage similar to a large baby stroller. He was born with spina bifida and hydrocephaly. Although he is visually impaired, completely nonverbal and receives nutrition through a gastric feeding tube, those of us who know Juan Diego could see he really enjoyed the Halloween fiesta. His eyes were sparkling and alive with the stimulation of being right in the middle of the festivities. He enjoyed having his face painted and Leticia, his mother, requested we get some of the photos printed so they have them as a keepsake.

    See more photos: click here

    Special thanks to Lee, Dianne and Cynthia, visiting volunteers who helped plan the fiesta and provided fabulous Halloween pumpkin buckets of special treats for each child. Lee and Dianne Wilson are frequent island visitors who devote a great deal of their time as volunteers at Casita Corazon to plan stimulation activities and assist with therapy 4 – 7pm three times a week.

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    We are very excited about the success of this year’s school distributions. 229 children have benefitted from our FOC efforts this year by receiving one or more of the following: backpacks with school supplies, shoes, uniforms, socks, underwear, etc. WOW . . . exceeded our goal by 27% from our original plan to help 180 children continue their education in 2013.

    Everyone had to register before receiving supplies.

    This year, we held distribution to everyone from a central location where we store our supplies which was on a side street. This created exposure as people passing by noticed lines of people each day and many curious people came up to inquire about the distribution. We explained that we were working on a pre-defined list of recipients and we would be happy to take their names and see if we had anything left over. Once we completed our initial distributions, we took an inventory of remaining items and began contacting these families. We did not have sufficient supplies to provide everything that they might need (especially with shoes as sizes on hand were limited) but we were able to provide all children with backpacks and a core group of supplies. As you can imagine, they were EXTREMELY grateful!

    We never would have imagined that we would have been able to help so many families and children this year. But, due to the efforts of so many people who continue to donate all of these wonderful supplies we were able to assist a number that exceeded our imagination – THANK YOU!

    After receiving their supplies, children were fitted with shoes

    We are busy buying school supplies for next year as we have established a goal to help even more children next year. We are planning to again provide shoes to as many children as possible. These can be new or gently used shoes. We found that we were running short of young adult sizes in the 4 ½ to 6 ½ range.

    It is such a joy to see these children’s faces light up as they receive their supplies. Many of them respond with hugs, words of thanks and in the case of Vida Abundante – a thank you note from each and every child. We had mothers hugging us as tears ran down their faces . In the words of one mother of 5 “I don’t know where my children’s next meal will come from. Without your help we would never be able to keep them in school. Gracias, gracias!”

    What a blessing to be part of this effort!

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    Gran Bazar A Success – July 2013

    Charo was able to redeem her coupons and get clothing for her children

    Sunday, we held a gran bazar at Vida Abundante Church between 3:30 and 5:30 pm. We knew our schedule would be tight as church service takes place at 6:30 but it seemed like the right day to do this.

    On the previous days during our distribution of school supplies, we gave each child a coupon redeemable for 25 pesos in clothing at the bazar. Many of the used pieces of clothing are priced anywhere from 5 to 20 pesos so a family with 4-5 children would have 100-125 pesos to spend and they would be able to get a number of clothing items.

    A family proudly shows off their purchases

    The priority with this bazar was to get clothes distributed to the families that had received school supplies. It appeared that we were successful as many vouchers were turned in. Our bazars have become very popular and we did have a large number of paying people as well and to our surprise, we took in more money than we ever expected. Some of this money will be used to purchase school supplies for next year while some will go toward future projects that might benefit additional local families.

    We now have people busy in the United States, purchasing school supplies that are on sale at local stores during their “back to school” sales. If you can help us, please contact us with your email address by writing to We’ll be happy to share what our greatest needs are and what we believe is currently on sale.

    The heat of the afternoon did not keep people away

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    First Day of School Supply Distribution – July 2013

    The line began forming 30 minutes ahead of distribution

    On Friday, we had our first day of distribution for school supplies. This year, we’ve targeted a list of 180 students who would receive backpacks, supplies, shoes, socks and underwear from Friends of Cozumel. Also this year, we are doing the distribution from a central location where we have all of our supplies stored (our “bodega”).

    As we contacted people to tell them the location and dates they could pick up their supplies many told us that they would probably come on Friday, and they did. We distributed backpacks to over 93 children on Friday alone which was a great start! Having a lineup of people outside caused many passers-by to stop and ask what was happening. After all, no one wants to miss out on a good deal. When told what we do, many asked us how they could got their children on the list. We had to explain that this year’s list was final but we would take their information. As it turned out, we ended up with 14 new names to consider for next year.

    A local family with 5 children was very happy to have their new supplies

    With 93 given out, we’re half way there. We have 50 to distribute at Vida Abundante next week so we have approximately 40 to take care of this evening. The families as so, so appreciative of this support. It’s low season here and work is hard to find. This is a gift that is very much appreciated.

    Deciding which backup to take can be a difficult decision

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    Enabling people to support their family – July 2013

    Each time I prepare to make the trip to Cozumel, I always get excited, wondering what opportunities the Lord will provide us while we are on the island. One of the highest priorities for the work we do with Friends of Cozumel is working with families so that they might be able to use the skills and resources that they have, or that can be provided to them to improve their situation. One thing that I see over and over is a willingness and eagerness to learn and an appreciation for everything, no matter how small.

    Alondra displays the dress made by her mother from an older used dress

    We receive many donations through Friends of Cozumel and recently we received a surger, a specialized sewing machine which puts a professional seam finish on a garment. I have owned a surger and used it many times, but by no means understand the complexity of the machine. In fact, when one of the threads would break, I would call my daughter to come re-thread the machine. So, as I would say, I know just enough to be dangerous.

    Elena is a young mother with 4 children and she and her husband Milton struggle to support their family through the low season in Cozumel. Milton is a hard worker and makes furniture, but items are just not selling right now. Elena has attended several of the sewing classes we have sponsored through NUAFA and through the years she has acquired her own sewing machine, but not without great sacrifice. She sews all of the clothes for her family as she acquires fabric. When visiting with her earlier this week, she showed us the end of school dress she had made for her daughter, Alondra, out of a dingy dirty dress someone had given her. She made the fabric white as snow and cut and fashioned a beautiful dress through her recycling efforts.

    She shared with us that she wanted to earn some money for her family by making the skirts for the school uniforms. When we left there that day I knew that the surger could aid Elena in her business and make her garments have a professional finished look. Karen and I discussed this idea and I agreed to teach Elena what I knew about the surger (which remember is very little). We approached Elena with this idea and she was so excited.

    Elena takes measurements for a new skirt she will make for this girl

    Our training is complete, although there is a lot for Elena to learn about the surger. I told her that when she figures it all out, she can teach me when I come back to Cozumel. Several of our volunteers decided we could help Elena with her business if business cards were created, so now she has cards to hand out to those interested in her services.

    Today, Elena measured her first customers and will begin sewing the uniform skirts. No purchased patterns for her, she measures and then makes her own patterns to fit each person, including whatever personal details they may desire. It is exciting to see Elena begin her business as she strives to feed and provide for her family and what a joy for Friends of Cozumel to be able to have a small part in this by loaning to her, donated resources she could never personally afford. If Elena finds that the surger does help her in her business, it is my desire to find another donor who would provide a surger for Elena to have as her own.

    – Ilene Kendrick

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    AIB Hospitality & Travel Management Association (HTMA) Visits Cozumel – May 2013

    HTMA college students from the AIB College of Business in Des Moines, Iowa supported education for Cozumel kids in 2011 and 2012 by buying school supplies on sale in July-August. This has been a tremendous help in filling 180+ backpacks for children from families with very limited resources.

    HTMA’s mission is to develop a better understanding of the travel and hospitality industry through networking, guest speakers and having fun. This year 10 AIB college students and two chaperones put HTMA’s mission into action by visiting Cozumel May 17-22, 2013 during the college’s Spring Break. Their volunteer efforts included a pre-trip service project, transporting donations to the island, meeting the director of tourism for Cozumel as well as conducting a project on-site to benefit tourism.

    Friends of Cozumel volunteers met HTMA members at the Allegro Resort where they stayed and connected them with Pedro Hermosillo, Cozumel’s Director of Tourism. Pedro shared information with the group about the role of the Tourism Department and methods they use to promote the island. Pedro issued a challenge to HTMA for their on-site service learning project . . . “Help us capture the essence of the island to encourage visitors your age to come here by preparing a short, informal video that can be shared via YouTube and other social media.”

    We gathered the evening before the group left to view some of the video clips in their original format. The students have since returned to Des Moines and are back attending college classes. Some of the students are editing the footage to share with the Cozumel Tourism Department to use in promoting the island via social media. At Pedro’s request, HTMA members are documenting their personal experiences, discoveries and reactions as first-time visitors to help develop a profile of tourists’ concerns/issues as well as a profile of what they value most about coming to Cozumel.

    HTMA Donation Initiates Friends of Cozumel Scholarship Fund

    HTMA surprised Friends of Cozumel by presenting a $350 check during their recent visit to the island. The donation is a result of a pre-trip fundraising effort and is being matched by two donors to initiate a scholarship fund. College students reaching out to help others realize their dreams . . . Thank you HTMA group!

    The Friends of Cozumel scholarship fund is beginning with a modest amount of $1,050 US we hope to grow with other donations. You may be wondering if or how ~ $1,000 US can be of much benefit. It is a matter of perspective . . . Here in Cozumel, a high school age student can enroll in a technical training program at a public institution for $80-$130 US per semester. Undergraduate tuition at a public university is ~ $150-$250 per year depending on the program of study. Individual classes at a technical school are significantly less but still out of reach for many families struggling to feed their children.

    The scholarships will benefit local Cozumel residents with limited resources who have demonstrated a commitment to learning, who seek special technical training beyond secundaria or prepa (middle or high school) or a university education. Scholarships will also be available to non-traditional students such as single mothers who want to pursue specific skills or English classes to increase their employment opportunities to support their families as well as for adults who desire to learn to read and write. We plan to include a service expectation as part of the scholarship effort so recipients can “pay it forward” as a volunteer helping others in the community.

    Friends of Cozumel volunteer Larry Pedersen is an alumnus of AIB College of Business and proud to collaborate with HTMA, a great group of college students committed to service, learning and having fun.

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    Honoring Mothers — May 2013

    Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing Friends of Cozumel volunteers and donors who are mothers and grandmothers. Mother’s Day is also a time to recognize “It takes a village” to care for family members of all ages. We’d also like to honor all the aunts and special friends who are not mothers including our sisters, Phyllis and Lori, who share their love and support with their nieces/nephews as well as Cozumel children. Later today we’ll be joining Vida Abundante Church for a special Mother’s Day celebration. ~ Karen and Larry

    Remembrances of Mother’s Day in Cozumel . . .

    We visited Margarita (mother at left), her husband and their four children just before they went to a school Mother’s Day program. Margarita’s family lives in one room apartment with a patio. The children receive backpacks with school supplies and a pair of athletic shoes as part of our School Project. Shirley Larsen, a Friends of Cozumel mission volunteer from California, helped them start container gardening in February. Margarita was excited to receive a couple of additional plants for Mother’s Day as well as a baked pastry to share with the family.

    Friends of Cozumel volunteers grew cherry tomato plants, Spanish oregano and various ornamental potted plants to give as Mother’s Day gifts to six families. April’s labor of love each year is to put together personal gifts of hygiene, beauty products, make-up samples and other goodies in decorative bags to give to a dozen mothers and grandmothers of families FOC supports. Many of them are mothers caring for children with disabilities and/or single mothers supporting their family. It is a special treat for these moms because most of them don’t have the funds to be able to buy nice soap, shampoo, toothpaste, body lotion, etc.

    It was so fun to see the pride that the younger children in Jose’s family had when they arrived home from school and raced to give their mother a gift they made in class. Lili is mother of four children (back center holding photo); Francesca is mother of four (at right) and Antonia (seated in center) is their grandmother.

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    Happy Mother’s Day / Feliz Dia de Madre – May 2013

    Happy Mother’s Day to all of you! In Mexico, they celebrate Mother’s Day on May 10th regardless of which day of the week it lands. I’ve been playing keyboard with the Vida Abundante Church and we had a group that was practicing some songs to sing in honor of Mother’s Day. (I assumed they would be sung during this week’s church service) Last week, Pastor Salomon told us “We’ll practice one more time next Thursday evening and we will be ready”. I inquired as to what time we would meet to practice and he said “alas once” (11 p.m.). I asked him why we might be practicing so late in the evening and he explained that way the songs would be fresh when we went out to sing them beginning at midnight? WHAT???? I thought that he was simply joking with me and I asked if this was a joke….he then explained that it’s tradition to go out and serenade the mothers beginning at midnight and that our plan would be to go to every mother’s house from our church until all had been visited. I asked how long that would take and he thought perhaps 4-5 hours.

    By this time, I was certain they were kidding me and asked again if this was truly what we planned to do. The group thought it was rather funny that I didn’t believe him but he soon convinced me that was the plan so this past Thursday evening we met at the church at 11:00 pm to go through the songs and then at midnight our small caravan of 14+ singers, a guitarist and myself with my portable keyboard headed out in our three cars and two mopeds.

    The first home we went to was ready for us and after singing the songs, treated us to drinks and delicious empanadas. I certainly hoped that we wouldn’t be eating like this at every home we visited (thankfully, that wasn’t the case). But, we continued to visit and serenade mothers until we had visited everyone. Surprisingly, we were finished shortly after 3:00 a.m. and I was able to get three hours of sleep after arriving home. Oh…..we did come across other groups doing the same exact thing so I knew it wasn’t just us and no one was pulling a “fast one” on me.

    I went to a florist Friday to purchase some flowers and you’ve never seen such chaos! They couldn’t make bouquets fast enough! It seemed that everyone was buying flowers for Mother’s Day. That’s one of the things you learn about the culture here in Mexico – the family is “numero uno”. I think that’s one of things we respect here, just how much they value the family unit and the respect that is given to the mother, who frequently serves as the head of the household.

    So, if you’re not doing anything at midnight on May 9th next year, come join us for an evening of singing! ~Larry

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    Garden Project Continues GROWING — May 2013

    A key focus for Friends of Cozumel is to engage in projects that have “sustainability”. We’ve all heard the phrase “Buy a man a fish and feed him for a day – teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” We’re all about teaching people to fish. The garden project we initiated with six families in February fits beautifully with this concept.

    Antonia’s latest harvest . . . fully grown carrots. The entire family is very proud of the produce they’ve been able to grow since the raised bed garden was constructed three months ago.

    Antonia is pictured here checking her compost container. She and her husband are patriarchs of “Jose’s family”, a multi-generational extended family of 10 children and 6 adults living together in a modest settlement several miles from town. They are now in their late 50′s. Antonia’s husband worked for years as a laborer clearing trees from jungle land for development, hand stripping the branches and carrying logs on his shoulders. He’s been out of work for months because he isn’t physically able to continue carrying heavy loads and machinery now replaces some manual labor.

    Antonia mentioned she wanted to put in another garden “some day” if she could get her husband to help clear a place. Her success in selling cilantro, chili peppers, lettuce and flower starters to people who pass by their place has resulted in a huge change. Antonia is earning money for the first time in her life to buy tortillas and beans for the family to eat AND her husband is now working with her to expand their gardens. She told us it IS his work.

    Lack of resources is a consistent challenge for them. We assumed that if/when they were ready to expand their garden, assistance would be needed with materials for garden beds, purchasing soil, seeds, etc. Yesterday we visited them and were completely blown away to discover in the past four weeks they tripled the size of their garden entirely on their own by adding two more raised beds.

    They replicated the approximate size and depth of the initial garden bed by piling large stones and using other reclaimed materials to contain the soil without the need for cement. Antonia’s husband and other family members walked deep into the jungle to scrape good soil into buckets and mix it with organic materials, then hauled it all by hand back to their home area. They used earnings from selling produce to purchase more seeds in the market and she also dried seeds from chilis and vegetables to use for planting. The two new gardens are planted with radishes and cilantro with an incredible “order” of straight rows and staggered stages of growth to ensure a continuous harvest.

    You can see and feel Antonia’s excitement as she discusses their garden. Several months ago when she first started selling a couple of things for a few pesos, she made it clear this was not a business . . . she was just “growing things”. Now she’s thinking ahead, making decisions and “investments” for her small home based business. For example, she’s decided to plant more cilantro because that’s what people want and she can sell it for 5 pesos (about 40 cents) per handful. She “invested” in buying small plastic bags to fill with dirt to start flowering plants to sell. She’s changed her mind and now would like a sign or two listing items for sell. And she has ideas for future expansion.

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