Sunday, 1 of March of 2015

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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Passion for Sewing and Serving Others – March 2013

Becky Gomez, FOC Mission Volunteer (Left back) and Elizbeth Martinez, local sewing instructor, with mending class participants

Many of us have hobbies or interests we enjoy but avid sewers, quilters and knitters seem to have this PASSION for their art that goes beyond a way to spend leisure time. They describe it as “Sewing is who I am . . . it doesn’t feel right if I’m not sewing everyday” or “Sewing is my personal ministry to serve others.”

We’re fortunate to have volunteers and donors who share their love of sewing in many different ways . . . sewing items for others, teaching/helping with sewing classes, donating equipment/fabric/supplies, maintaining equipment inventories, servicing sewing machines and organizing opportunities for local women to use donated sewing machines.

Volunteer sewers have tackled everything from making curtains, fitted sheets for a daycare, chair cushions for special needs children, vinyl covers to protect sound systems, sewing machine carriers, bean bags for educators, pencil pouches for school backpacks, and beautiful decorative banners for Vida Abundante Church (photos below).

Quilted Nativity for Vida Abundante by Becky Gomez

These + Aleluya banners by Jane Donahue

Pastors Salomon & Mariela, banner by Treva Mahan

Our focus on sewing began five years ago by teaching women job skills

Treva cleaning machines”

to support their families. Two volunteers, Ilene Kendrick and Treva Mahan, have championed this cause for years raising funds to help pay for a local instructor and purchase machines as well as bringing donated fabric, notions and yes, more sewing machines. It is comical to see their very “creative” solutions for bringing machines via cruiseship and plane. Donated machines help supplement those purchased locally and provide extras needed for women to check out to use at home.

Notions like zippers and special accessories are readily available in local stores, although most women we help in sewing classes can’t afford to buy what they need. Many are single mothers with extremely limited resources. If they work and are lucky enough to receive minimum wage (about $7US per day, NOT per hour), saving $ to buy fabric and notions is a huge challenge. The GREAT news is a small core group of women have enough sewing experience to start earning money doing alterations or they can save money making vs. buying their children’s school uniforms.

Special thanks to these donors . . .

  • Becky Gomez, Lincoln NE, donated her Baby Lock machine with embroidery capability; zippers, thread, patterns for sewing boxers class and more
  • Lynn Hedrick, Cozumel, donated sewing kits for participants in mending, sewing and crafts classes held Feb. 2013
  • Paul at Sew Creative, Lincoln NE, provided a serger, a HUGE supply of serger thread and more. This serger was donated to Elizabeth Martinez, local sewing instructor, so she could further develop her expertise and then teach serger skills to advanced level sewers
  • Sue Feiler, Cozumel, donated a new serger used by Friends of Cozumel for projects to benefit the community and for advanced sewing classes
  • Treva Mahan, Paris TX, scouts garage sales and contacts sewing clubs year-round. She acquired, transported and donated multiple machines 2010-2013 to develop a pool of loaner machines and this past year made 20+ bags to protect all the machines
  • Many, many island visitors and their friends “back home” who have donated fabric and notions to support sewing classes

See more sewing related photos and posts by scrolling down this page to . . .
Are We Done?
Sewing a Godsend–A volunteer’s perspective

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Gardens Grow Food, Pride and Family Involvement – March 2013

The entire family is engaged and proud of their new garden

April and I just returned from visiting Jose’s, an extended family of 10 children and 6 adults who live several miles outside town in a collection of very modest concrete block and wood pole structures.  When you pull up to their place, the kids come running out to greet you.  They are ALWAYS excited to have visitors and as soon as we receive their hugs they say “Come see the garden!” 

Everyone in the family is proud of their new raised garden bed, including the men who enhanced it after installation during the Friends of Cozumel mission project week last month.  The men cut and stripped wood poles from young trees in the jungle then anchored the poles in concrete on top of the blocks to create a canopy of palm fronds providing partial shade for the young plants.   The garden is beautiful, thriving with healthy plants and has a truly amazing “order” in stark contrast to the chaos of this family’s daily life and living conditions. 

Antonia and one of her granddaughters were proud to show off the garden

Cilantro, lettuce and carrots are growing in neat rows with space allocated for subsequent plantings.  Antonia, the gardener and family matriarch shown in the photo with a grand daughter, provides a tour pointing out squash seeds drying in the sun to be planted in a couple of weeks.  She clearly has a vision and “plan” for next steps.  In the years I have known her, I’ve never seen her so positive and confident.

It is gratifying to see Antonia’s enthusiasm for making natural organic fertilizer (compost).  She is practicing what she learned in an educational workshop taught by Adrian Medina as part of our garden mission project.  Adrian is a local compost expert, biologist and dive instructor.  Antonia has three compost areas:  one enclosed in a bag given to each family at the compost workshop that she is monitoring the desired heat temperature and is nearly ready to spread on her garden; a second active compost container where the family puts all organic left over food matter; and a third container storing leaves and other natural plant materials to add to the food matter. 

We had to laugh because when Antonia showed us the compost container for food matter, there were a couple of non-organic garbage items the kids probably put there.  She immediately called everyone together to re-explain that only organic food items go in that container and the rest is “garbage” to be thrown away.  She is teaching the children and holding them accountable for knowing what goes into the compost and what is not organic.  One difference we noticed representing a significant change in the family’s outdoor living area is the ground around the raised garden bed is raked clean of clutter.   

Luisito, Ivonne and baby Maria Paula will benefit from fresh food.

Who benefits from garden efforts?  The entire family, especially the children like Luisito, Ivonne and baby Maria Paula pictured here.  Antonia continues to sell flower clippings and various types of chili peppers.  Although the garden bed plants are not yet mature, she plans to use some to feed the family and sell others.

Antonia’s husband works as an “albanil” . . . a cement laborer, when he can find work.  He is starting to help her sell cuttings of flowers and chili peppers by taking them to neighbors and into town.  I asked Antonia what she does with the money she earns.  She said “Compro mis fijolitos y tortillas para la familia” (Translation:  I buy my beans and tortillas for the family.)  For the first time in her life, she is earning $ and helping put food on the table.  She feels good about herself, is involving the kids in pumping/carrying water from the well to water the garden and she has a common project to do with her husband that benefits the whole family. 

Many of us who are involved as volunteers with Friends of Cozumel took a break after our February mission projects.  Check back often.  We are now resuming frequent posts about mission efforts.  We’ve been so blessed with cruiseship visitors and spring break vacationers bringing donations to benefit the community.  THANKS to everyone!  ~ Karen   

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Are We Done?

How can you tell if you’re done when there’s so much left to do? That’s the question for Friends of Cozumel volunteers. Some say it’s when you absolutely must return home to your ‘real’ work. Others say it’s when you run out of time and energy. But perhaps there is no such thing as being done as long as the need remains.

The project list could go on and on, but the rewards continue, too. We’ve received lots of smiles and blessings. And it’s great when you can see you’ve made a dent in solving a problem.

When we tally up the numbers, it’s clear we had an impact. These stats provide the details, but the photos below also help tell the story.

  • Total of 40 volunteers including 2 Canadians, 7 Mexicans and US visitors from, Colo., Iowa, N.C., Neb., Minn., Texas, Oregon. Half volunteered for projects on a half or full-time basis. Others joined for one or more activities during the week. Half are island visitors combining some vacation time with mission projects; the rest are island residents.
  • Total of 22 community service projects focused on benefitting children with special needs, providing learning opportunities for children and adults, helping families and non-profit organizations that support them to become self-sufficient, and promoting local volunteerism.


  • Enhanced quality of life for children with disabilitiesthrough construction of therapy equipment, repairs for Casita Corazon, preparing a donated lift van to transport children to therapy.
  • Increased knowledge, skills and learning experiences for individuals, families, non-profit organizations and ministries to help them advance economically—by providing 7 classes in composting, sewing, mending, crafts to sell, basic home repairs, conversational English.
  • Supplemented food resources for 32 children and 16 adults –by implementing garden beds and container gardens in six family homes.
  • Enabled families to receive daily needs of clothing, shoes, household goods through the Gran Bazar and distribution of reading eyeglasses
  • Helped Cozumel becoming an audiometric evaluation, therapy and resource center—through construction of a soundproof testing room for Manos y Voces, enclosing a teaching classroom for the hearing impaired, and making improvements positioning Manos y Voces to be a holistic evaluation/therapy/retail resource center. Families will no longer have to travel to the mainland to receive services.
  • Built cross cultural bridges of understanding—through a number of interactive events for local families and volunteers.

A huge thank you to every single one of this mission week’s volunteers. You KNOW how much effort you put into this. And we couldn’t have done it without the contributions of so many generous donors. Literally hundreds of people have given everything from used and new clothing to sewing machines and tools to money. Thank you, thank you and muchisimas gracias por todo.

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Sewing Skills a Godsend–a volunteer’s perspective

Diana (right) helps a sewing workshop participant.


Learning to sew and having a sewing machine, was a godsend to me in my life. Hard to believe now that there was a time when I made all the clothes for my family. My birthday money put shoes on my child, and my hands made her dresses and PJs. I could put a curtain on my window, because I knew how to sew.

In our sewing workshop we taught women how to use a sewing machine to replace zippers. One woman who had no electricity in her home used a treadle sewing machine, so the electric ones used in the workshop were a bit frightening to her.

Sharing my sewing knowledge with women who have less than I did was very special and empowering. Sewing is a skill they can use to clothe their families and could even help them make money.

It’s unbelievable that I can teach without speaking the language by just sitting next to them. It reminds me of my grandmother who was a seamstress. I show them how, then they show me, and I say “perfecto!” Is that even a word? But we smile at each other and then we are both happy because I know it will make a difference in their lives.

Can it get better than that? ~ with love, Diana, a local volunteer

Sewing classes attended by dozens of local women would not have been possible without generous donations of sewing equipment, zippers, thread and other supplies. Thanks to Sew Creative of Lincoln, Neb. for a serger, to volunteer Becky Gomez for a sewing machine, and to many additional volunteers and supporters for their help.

Jan (left) helps Juventina (right) who said “It’s very important for me to learn more to be able to work in this economy and to help other people that I know and to help my family.”

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Angels visit Cozumel – February 5, 2013

Sample of the finished product

The thirst for learning continued to blossom Tuesday morning. Diane had shown the women at the craft class a sample of a ribbon angel. Their imaginations took flight with so many ideas of what they could do with these angels that another class was scheduled. Becky, Karen, Sara, Sandy, and Ilene agreed to return with Diane to teach again. Not only could the angels be sold to tourists, but they could make red ones for children’s Valentines, Christmas decorations, and they could be given to babies as guardian angels at baptisms. Four women were scheduled to attend, but word of mouth about the craft class the night before brought 10 instead, including several young girls.


The craft class after completion

These skills are not something typically learned in the local culture, but these women and girls devoured the learning experience. They kept telling us they would teach more women in their fellowship groups. God had supposedly sent angels to make angels and they would grow more angels in their community. Maybe they were right because their enthusiasm sure made us volunteers feel like angels! ~ Diane from Nebraska

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Hope Blooms

Becky showed how to construct fabric flowers.

On Monday evening 11 ladies and one man gathered at Vida Abundante Church with lots of enthusiasm. They all were anxious to learn about crafts our volunteers make. While we enjoy crafts as a hobby, they were hoping this might be a way to raise funds for for a church building. This fellowship currently meets in an open air space covered by a tin roof.

Diane helped class participants use a glue gun while making flowers.

Becky and Diane taught the group to repurpose fabric scraps to make flowers that can be used in many ways from shoe decorations to jewelry. Ilene and Sandy taught them how to make beads from rolled strips of newspaper. Nuria, Karen, and Sara helped translate during the classes and even Sara’s husband threw himself into the project.

These crafts hold great hope for these women. They plan to sell them on the town square to raise money for a permanent church building with a real learning center.

One woman came back the next day to show us that she had gone home and immediately put her new skills to work. She had made absolutely beautiful flowers to attach a train to a wedding dress.


Ilene demonstrated how to create beads from newspaper while Nuria

The flowers were not the only thing blooming. Fellowship blossomed between cultures, skills grew, and hope bloomed for a better life for this tiny church and its families. ~ Diane from Nebraska.

The fabric flowers can be used for decoration or jewelry.

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Handy Women Unite—Tuesday, Feb. 5

Nine local women attended a workshop to learn home repair skills.

The women were in charge.
Laura repaired the toilet so that it flushes now. Sandy showed how to make a shelf, level it and attach it to a concrete wall. Jodi showed how to install a doorknob. Shirley worked on a dripping faucet. Sara translated.
Nine women attended a home repair class held by Friends of Cozumel women volunteers on Tuesday.
“From my perspective, we wanted to give a bit of empowerment to women so that they would know how to do some things on their own to improve their homes,” said volunteer Shirley.

Creating a shelf was easy once they had the knowledge and tools needed.

“They were pretty wild about working with the electric drill. It was really cute.”
The nine local women were also given a packet of donated hand tools—screwdrivers, wrenches, hammer, channel locks, pliers and a tape measure.
“They seemed to really enjoy it,” said local volunteer Sandy. “Pastor Mariela said her faucet had been leaking forever and she was going right home to fix it. And Maria was going home to put up a shelf. We know we’ve succeeded if they ask for more workshops—and they certainly did.” ~ Phyllis from Nebraska.

Any way you look at it, being able to repair a toilet is a valued skill.

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This House Has a Heart—Monday, Feb. 4

Karla wanted to make friends with the pinata rather than taking a whack at it.

Casita Corazon translates to Heart house. A year ago we began renovation of this once-abandoned property. Today it’s a tidy and comfortable place that serves as a second home to families of children with disabilities. The families usually come several times a week for therapy and support, but tonight was just for fun. Friends of Cozumel held a family festival for about 65 people. This included 20 volunteers along with 45 children and adults. Based on the sheer noise level, it seemed like everyone had a wonderful time.

Izzy volunteered to help with the bean bag toss.

It was a mixture of favorites from both the Mexican and U.S. cultures—carnival games (including darts, bean bag tosses, basketball, pencil pulls, fishing booth and other games) with Dollar Store prizes, hot dogs on the grill, and a piñata. And the new swing constructed by Roger survived strenuous testing by experts with years of experience.

The swing is actually a therapy aid, one of several projects at Casita Corazon. It will have two special platforms for the children with disabilities to experience motion and learn balance. In the meantime, Roger installed two bench swings for the rest of the children to enjoy this evening.

Roger created a swing that will become a therapy aid for Casita Corazon.

In addition to repairs and an electrical wiring check on the home, a donated lift van is being renovated and a garden bed is being installed. Adults from participating families were also fitted with donated eyeglasses.

The glasses were the inexpensive magnifiers that we often refer to as ‘cheaters’ but they make it possible for those who can’t afford corrective lenses to be able to read or thread a needle.

It was hard to tell just who had more fun – the children and their families or the volunteers who hosted the event. It is always a pleasure to see the children enjoy activities that they don’t otherwise have an opportunity to experience. Tonight’s festival made it clear that Casita Corazon is much more than a gathering place. Just like a human heart, it’s a vital part of many lives, connecting people who care for each other.

Susan and Carl help two teens choose glasses.

Shelley, a volunteer from Minnesota, applied temporary tattoos at the family festival.




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