It is high “tourist” season here and visitors are giving generously to the community. Cozumel expects 35 cruise ships this week. Full flights with families on spring break arrive daily.
A growing trend is adults of all ages coming to the island for longer stays of 2 or 3 weeks to 4+ months during the winter to enjoy tropical weather and volunteer their time. Friends of Cozumel hosts Volunteer Thursdays, a 2-3 hour commitment a couple of times monthly.
A special shout out of THANKS for these recent wonderful donations . . .
6 backpacks of various donations from Volunteer Christian Builders delivered by cruisers Richard/Brenda Crosby and Friesen family
35+ backpacks filled with school supplies donated by Cozumel Barhop visitors
~300 backpacks donated by Bob/Linda Choura; delivered by Debi/Randy Bartkoski; Richard/Christine Underwood; Jerry/Ann Peters and Don/Ava Quinn
39 backpacks, color pencils, scientific calculators, brought by Larry/Karen Pedersen
50 scientific calculators by Tracey Kirsling-Hendricks & John Hendrickson
Remember this theme song from the old TV series “Golden Girls”? Celebrating love and friendship is the focus for Valentines Day in Mexico. In a troubled world with natural disasters and so much negative daily news, it is important for us all to reflect on the blessings and inspirational stories that have and will continue to occur.
Our heartfelt thanks on behalf of Cozumel families.
Your love and generosity enabled Friends of Cozumel to achieve these results in 2022:
Provided school supplies to ~800 students; 20% students have special needs.
Increased scholarships to benefit 56 high school and 14 university students.
Continued covid family support through spring 2022
Meals: Collected and administered funds for meal program served 3 times/weekly by Vida Abundante; 60,000 meals served during the pandemic
Food: Distributed nearly 1,300 “despensas” dry food boxes during the pandemic to 120 families
Medicine/Medical treatment: Paid prescriptions, diagnostic exams and transportation costs for families seeking treatment on the mainland
Community Clothes Closet opened 1-2 times/weekly serving 20 families/week; then transferred to Vida Abundante
Installed new technology for safe drinking water systems for 50 families; 154 systems in use
Expanded support to the most vulnerable people including seniors and disabled adults confined to their homes; babies received formula and ecological diaper kits; and complex family situations served through Diana’s SMILE (Single Mother’s Independent Living Endowment)
Changed volunteer involvement from 3 week-long “mission” experiences a year to short- term volunteer work sessions throughout the year; 50% are now local volunteers; hosted multiple visiting groups with long-term relationships supporting Cozumel families.
This month, we have been blessed to receive two large donations of school supplies as we build our inventory levels in anticipation of the annual distribution in July or August. Last year we increased the number of students to approximately 800 that would receive school supplies in collaboration with the Cozumel Chrysalis Group. We knew it would be a challenge to procure the quantities that would be necessary to do the same number of students again in the 2023-24 school year. However, donors have once again proven that we should never underestimate the generosity of people who visit this island that we all love.
Cozumel Bar Hop has been a strong supporter of the Cozumel Chrysalis Group for a number of years as they collect school supply donations from people who go on their tours. January was no exception as we received the supplies that are in the photo above. A huge THANK YOU is due to COZUMEL BAR HOP for their continued support.
Last December, we received a message from Mike Larsen that a group of approximately eleven people would be visiting Cozumel in January and their tradition is to bring school supplies to wherever they vacation. We met with them and were overwhelmed by the generosity of this group. They travel to various destinations in the Caribbean and support education in this way. We are blessed to make new friends that often become repeat donors.
If you are visiting Cozumel in the coming months and would like to help us out, here is a list of our greatest needs. If you don’t have room to bring supplies we gladly accept dollar donations that enable us to purchase paper products locally.
Last August we had our largest distribution (~800 students) ever. Distributing supplies to this many students over two days requires a lot of coordination and a LOT of volunteers. Bob and Linda, a couple who helped us for the very first time with school distribution are committed to see this succeed in the future and told us they would be actively looking for school supplies for 2023.
In November we received a call that they had purchased 300 backpacks at a very special price as a local Walmart store that wanted to clear out inventory after back-to-school sales. Now, the only challenge was to find a way to get them to Cozumel. We then reached out to another volunteer/donor couple who lived in a nearby state and would be visiting this winter. Debi not only agreed to find people to bring these backpacks to Cozumel, but also found someone who was going to be traveling through the other state and could pick up the backpacks. She also found people to donate luggage. Debi and Randy brought the first group of 90 backpacks (and 50 dictionaries) the first week of January. It just shows how you can never underestimate the creativity and power of a network of donors.
If you are visiting Cozumel in the coming months and would like to help us out, here is a list of our greatest needs. If you don’t have room to bring supplies we gladly accept dollar donations that enable us to purchase paper products locally.
Day of the Dead and All Saints Day (Nov. 1-2) is a special time on the island when loved ones who have passed are honored by their families and friends.
CAM school students, parents and staff had a wonderful celebration recently. Friends of Cozumel (FOC) was invited as a special guest at this celebration in recognition of the ongoing support our volunteers and donors provide to the primaria (elementary) and secundaria (middle school).
CAM serves youth with various disabilities and include an early identification program for infants through preschool. FOC provides school supplies to 140 CAM students and teaching material for the staff.
Hurricanes are in the news across Canada, the US and the Caribbean. Friends of Cozumel with the aid of our local volunteer leaders proactively prepared to help 140 Cozumel families with emergency mini-despensas in the event of a category #2+ hurricane. Despensas are dry food products. The food was purchased when “Ian” was forming in the Caribbean. Since then, Hurricane Ian’s path has changed to have the greatest impact on Florida.
Although we will not distribute the mini-despensas now, they are stored and ready to distribute from two locations whenever needed just before a hurricane. Families on our list will be advised via whatsapp to come to: 1) Vida Abundante Church or 2) Amigos de Cozumel bodega (our storage location) on a certain day/time and bring their bag. The mini-despensas include enough food for 1-2 days: 4 liters drinking water, tuna, mayo, crackers, spaghetti, tomato puree, precooked pouches of refried beans, canned mixed vegetables, powdered chocolate milk, a candle, matches, and cloro (bleach) to clean after hurricanes. Volunteers will deliver the mini-despensas to home-bound families.
The most economical brands of products were purchased from various stores. Each despensa cost 188 pesos ($9 USD) per family . . . a great “investment” to ensure families in need have food/drinking water during a hurricane. This is one example of how monetary donations we receive for “Greatest Needs” are used. The despensas will be stored until the island is forecasted to have a category #2+ hurricane or the end of the season. If not used by November; these despensas will distributed to help families during “low tourism season” when many jobs are affected.
Although local families with low resources may lack the funds to cover windows with wood panels or hurricane shutters; the process for preparing homes for those with resources provides temporary work/income for local families. We salute the families Friends of Cozumel supports who are very creative in using whatever they have to prepare their homes for hurricanes.
Today we were honored to provide school supplies to CAM Primaria and CAM Secundaria schools in Cozumel for the upcoming school year that begins on August 29. Friends of Cozumel provided individual supplies for each student, a quantity of pens, markers and other supplies for the teaching staff plus four cases of white paper for the administration. The CAM schools in Mexico are established to serve children with special needs of all types. We are proud of our partnership with the CAM schools.
This weekend, we will be distributing individual backpacks, school supplies and paper products to over 630 children from families with limited resources.
Messsage from Amethyst Amatista, Cozumel Chrysalis Group Director…..
After over 25 years of service to the community, Chrysalis is now merging with another fine organization here on the island, Friends of Cozumel. Friends of Cozumel began about 15 years ago, also helping students from low-income families. Their focus has been on school supplies, and their numbers are impressive. In recent years they have been supporting over 500 students. I have known the founders of Friends of Cozumel, Karen and Larry Pedersen, for close to 20 years. They are very much hands on and have a great team of volunteers to help. There is no one on the island I would trust more or would even consider working with. The Chrysalis office has been emptied into the Friends of Cozumel bodega and is now closed. The owners of the property that has been the Chrysalis office, simultaneously chose to re-purpose this house, so this all came together at a good time. What does this mean for Chrysalis? I will continue to work to raise funds, coordinate donations dropped off at our locations on the island, and volunteer alongside Karen and Larry as my time permits. It does mean that we will also focus just on school supplies, as we have done for the past two years. We will no longer supply shoes or uniforms as we did prior to the pandemic. I look forward to continuing our joint mission of serving the Cozumel community.
Amethyst – Cozumel Chrysalis Group/Friends of Cozumel
It’s that time of year again! We are busy assembling packets that will be distributed in August to 700+ students in Cozumel. Each student will receive a new backpack, white & colored paper, notebook(s) along with a packet that includes items required for their grade level. Having willing volunteers help us prepare all of these individual packets makes the job go quickly. If you are coming to the island to visit in the future, we will continue to look for donations of school supplies. You can refer to our list of needed supplies http://friendsofcozumel.com/education/school-supplies/ or contact us directly (email@example.com) for more information and to arrange a dropoff.
Mexico uses a “Traffic light” model as an indicator of Covid risk and to manage occupancy levels during the pandemic. Highest to lowest risk rankings are red, orange, yellow and green. States within Mexico may have different rankings. Quintana Roo is the state where Cozumel is located and includes cities on the mainland (Cancun, Tulum, Chetumal and Playa del Carmen, etc.).
The island had achieved green status a number of weeks ago. However, as the Omicron variant spread and more tourists arrived for high season, the number of covid cases and hospitalizations spiked resulting in a return to orange status. We suspended operating the Community Closet until this past week when Cozumel returned to “YELLOW” (75% capacity for restaurants and many services). NOTE: As of February 21 the status for all of Quintana Roo will be “GREEN” (100% occupancy)!
The job market is gradually opening back up providing some families with work to provide the basics they need. The Community Closet is stocked with gently used clothing, shoes and household items in addition to cleaning and hygiene products like shampoo, soap, antibacterial gel, feminine products at greatly discounted rates.
On Thursday, February 10, twenty families (limit of 2 persons per family) were invited to visit the closet during scheduled 30 minutes sessions. Families are given a coupon for 100 pesos of credit depending on the number of persons in their family so they can use the credit to purchase the items they need. They also have the option to purchase additional items beyond their credit if they have money to do so.
We extend a HUGE THANKS to the many people who have donated clothing and household items for this project and to the volunteers who help monitor the families as they arrive. All the families have been vetted by community leaders who help us identify families with the greatest need.
Covid cases are spiking here similar to many other locations. We remain in “orange” status with enforced limitations to reduce covid exposure to local families and visitors. Examples of precautions now in place: Everyone (including tourists) over the age of 2 are expected to wear masks indoors and outdoors except when exercising and eating/drinking. Only one adult family member may enter supermarkets. Organizations/businesses are limited to 30-50% of capacity depending on the type of business or organization.
Vaccines are being administered in a number of public places by age group but the long lines have discouraged many from getting vaccines. People age 60+ have had the opportunity to receive both vaccine doses. Younger age groups are anxiously waiting for the second dose.
Good news . . . we see modest signs of economic recovery including: increased number of visitors coming on flights for vacations, packed ferries bringing tourists for day trips from the mainland, limited number of cruise ships returning, etc. More restaurants are reopening a reduced number of hours or for takeout. Some shops close to the cruise ship ports are now open as well as some hotels. A few tour operators and selected other jobs are being hired but less skilled workers (the majority of the families we support) are still without work. The double edge sword is more visitors coming to the island = increased exposure especially from those who may not comply with local expectations to wear masks, etc.
Friends of Cozumel continues to provide:
Despensas (dry goods pantries) to 110 families monthly; 1,500 despensas since 4/2020
Expenses for Vida Abundante Church’s community kitchen for meals Mon., Wed. and Fri. for 200 families/650 family members; 40,000 meals served since 4/2020
Financial help for prescription medications with documentation from their doctor
Baby formula and ecological diaper kits for families with babies under age 2, and
Drinking water purification systems; delivered to 100 families since 4/2020
The weekly Community Closet has been temporarily suspended until we believe it is safe to open and maintain safe distance. When we reopen, a reduced number of families (5 at a time) will be invited to come and receive credit to select clothing, hygiene and home goods.
Friends of Cozumel is extremely blessed for the continued support of donors and volunteers. You are the ones that make all this possible. Thank you . . . Larry & Karen Pedersen
Kristin was an avid Friends of Cozumel volunteer and advocate for serving families in need. If you would like to help continue Kristin’s life of service, donations may be made to Friends of Cozumel, one of the memorial options designated by her family. A scholarship fund has been established in her honor to be awarded to students studying in medical, health or marine related careers. Or donors may designate their gift for “Families in Need” to provide medical treatment. Electronic donations may be made via PayPal or other options in this link: http://friendsofcozumel.com/your-help/how-to-make-a-donation/
Following is the Obituary from Kristin’s Celebration of Life service held in North Carolina on June 19, 2021. Other informal gatherings of Cozumel friends will be organized in the coming months.
Kristin Kay (Burns) Bowen
January 24, 1963 – June 08, 2021
Kristin was born in Royal Oak, MI to Leona and Billie Burns. She grew up in Southfield, MI with her brother William Richard Burns and graduated from Southfield Christian Academy. Following high school, she attended Olivet Nazarene College, where she met her future husband William A. Bowen. They were married on August 11, 1984 and lived in New Jersey before making their way to Greensboro, NC in 1988. A year later they had their first daughter Sara, followed by Mandy and Jake.
Kristin loved God and dedicated her life to His service at an early age. She introduced her Savior, Jesus Christ, to her children by reading them Bible stories and sharing her life experiences with them. Along with her faith, she treasured her family. She guided, counseled, prodded and cheered them on as they moved through school, sports and relationships. The family loves travel, scuba diving and sailing, and Kristin was great at planning and participating in those adventures.
After raising her family, Kristin fell in love with the people of Cozumel, Mexico. She was first drawn to Cozumel for the scuba diving, but soon joined up with Friends of Cozumel to serve the local islanders by exposing them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and by performing service projects including offering school supplies, clothing and shoes for school age children. Kristin served God with her heart, voice, hands and wallet. She gave regularly to her local church, Friends of Cozumel, and other missionaries including Rob Kimmons and David Carter, both serving overseas through Pioneers where they minister to people from Europe and Africa. In addition to serving others, for the last nine years of her life, Kristin owned and operated an industrial sales company with her husband, where she served as president and director of finance.
Kristin Kay Bowen, January 24, 1963 – June 8, 2021
She was a blonde force of nature that could make even the most serious-minded volunteer crack a rare smile. Kristin came to Cozumel regularly, toting her frequent flier weight limit in donations. She showed up ready to work at our various project sites, usually carrying her camera and a Barbie doll just for fun, because…well why not?
Kristin’s work with Friends of Cozumel began in 2010 when she visited Cozumel with 13 other family members on a cruise port-of-call. They combined their vacation with service work by delivering supplies needed for FOC’s school backpack project. Kristin returned to the island just a couple of months later when she and her parents volunteered for a mission week with FOC. And she kept coming back for more than a decade—often several times a year. Serious illness kept Kristin away this year, but she continued her financial support as well as her interest in FOC projects.
She passed away at home surrounded by family in Greensboro, North Carolina on June 8, 2021.
Kristin played an integral role as a supporter and mission volunteer helping people in need.
As a leader in Friends of Cozumel projects, she led by doing. She didn’t hesitate to jump in, often emerging from a long, hot day wearing paint and sawdust from a construction project or with sea salt dried in her hair from helping local children learn to snorkel. She donated and transported shoes to island children, helped distribute literally thousands of backpacks of school supplies, and even shopped the sales for affordable dresses for young women who otherwise would not have a gown for their quinceañera. She gave very generous donations to the construction of Vida Abundante church and community center.
“Kristin and her husband Billy have been great supporters as well as frequent donors,” said FOC Co-director Larry Pedersen. “We always ask how funds should be used and about four years ago, Kristin said ‘I see so many families that need medical help and don’t have any resources. I want some of the money to go for that type of aid.’ As a result, the Families In Need Fund was established and has grown.”
Friends of Cozumel continues to assist local families almost weekly with support for doctor consultations and medication.
“Five years ago, a local soccer player tore his ACL in a game and the family had no funds for an operation,” Larry said. “When Kristin learned about this, she immediately came forward and paid for the surgery. The family is forever grateful. That’s the kind of person she was—ready to step in and help without hesitation.”
Kristin could make people laugh. And she cared deeply. Her easy smile and love of the island people will be remembered by so many.
“Kristin’s spirit, enthusiasm and fun-loving nature has been an inspiration to all of us,” said FOC Co-director Karen Pedersen. “You couldn’t help but smile when you were around her. She left a lasting impression on everyone.”
Water systems that purify tap or well water to be safe for drinking continue to be a popular with local families. Recently we were able to deliver water systems to 14 families who have children in the CAM Primaria School. CAM Primaria serves elementary-age students with special needs. These families incur a lot of expenses caring for their children so not having to purchase purified water is a great financial savings and health benefit.
This week, we are receiving 40 more filters brought down by visitors. Our goal for the first two weeks in May is to make an 25 additional systems (13 more for CAM Primaria families; 10 other families that are on a waiting list; 2 extra)
We are very fortunate that the majority of items are available to be purchased locally. The filters are the only component that we bring in from the United States. Donors have already provided funds to purchase them. We only need people able to bring them to us. A package of 10 filters fills half of a rollerboard and weighs approximately 10 pounds. If you are interested in helping us out by bringing in some filters, contact Larry Pedersen at PEDERSENLL@HOTMAIL.COM or (515) 249-9241.
Supporting families in need during this past year has required us to modify our approach to mission efforts. Friends of Cozumel hosts Volunteer Thursdays every week. Island visitors, resident expats and locals interested in volunteering serve together in small teams. Language and cultural differences are not obstacles. There is a lot of pointing, laughing, guessing and learning as we work together.
Examples of typical Volunteer Thursday projects and the local families who benefit . . .
Interest continues to increase among local families in having water purification systems. The systems are made with two buckets and a ceramic charcoal filter that cleans impurities from tap or well water to produce safe drinking water. This is a significant $ savings for families because it eliminates having to buy purified drinking water and encourages them to stay hydrated for their health. We’ve been blessed by two non-profit organizations that funded materials for an additional 45 systems!
Friends of Cozumel frequently receives emails and texts from visitors as well as island residents expressing a desire to “build something” or assist us in a service project. During the past two months these volunteers have spent half-days cutting, sanding, staining or painting the wood bases and assembling the buckets and filters. As a result, 20 systems were delivered to local families in February. We are currently preparing 10 more systems that will be delivered in the coming two weeks and supplies are on the way for even more builds.
Chris staining parts prior to assembly
Rick and Steve installing filters into the buckets
Steve B. pre-drilling parts for the stand assembly
We are fortunate that most items necessary for the systems can be procured locally or purchased online. The filters are still purchased via Amazon and transported here by volunteers. Our goal is to have systems on hand and ready to be provided to families that want them.
Debi painted messages on the legs of the stands
Eight systems have filters installed and are being tested for leaks prior to delivery
Friends of Cozumel is continuing to focus on basic necessities of food, prescription medications, baby formula and ecological diapers as well as supporting the third generation (seniors) and those with special needs.
Families are also requesting support for these emerging needs:
Clothing, shoes, home goods—to fit growing children and/or replace home items
The initial “Armario Comunitario” (Community Closet) held February 1-2 as a pilot project was so successful that we have opened a temporary location (preview here) to continue addressing the first two emerging needs above of clothing/shoes, home goods and hygiene products. It is open at least once a week by appointment only. We enforce covid protocols (masks required, limit of two representatives per family over age 12, temperatures taken and antibacterial gel at entry, only 8 families invited per hour to ensure social distance).
The Community Closet is different than Gran Bazars we hosted in past years. It is by invitation only (not open to the public) for families who have all been vetted (identified as low resource families). Families receive credit coupons ($100, $200 or $300 pesos; approximately $5-$15USD) based on the number of people in the family. They can purchase addition items if they wish. The goal is to provide families the opportunity to select good condition second-hand items and/or inexpensive new items and hygiene products. All the items are donations priced at reasonable rates (Examples: good condition used t-shirts 10 pesos or about $.50USD; new t-shirts for 20 or 30 pesos about $1 – $1.50 USD; shampoo for 20 pesos, toothpaste for 10 pesos).
The Community Closet is staffed by local and/or visiting volunteers usually on “Volunteer Thursdays” but can easily be open other days.
Special thanks to the many donors who continue to give $ as well as “in kind” donations, especially during the past year when many families are out of work due to Covid. We often say “It takes a village. . .” This all happened (opening a temporary community closet for 2-3 months) from the idea to a reality in less than 24 hours. The owner of the property just two doors from our storage bodega deeply discounted a rental apartment as their part in supporting the community. One of our local leaders cleaned the space immediately; four visiting volunteers painted it; other volunteers transported the crates of items from the pilot project directly to the new location. We “hired” local parents without work to help lift/haul and organize everything. Opening a community closet was not in our plans. However, covid has provided us opportunities and challenges to serve the community in ways we hadn’t previously imagined.
Watch for future posts about purified drinking water systems. “Volunteer Thursday” events will continue now through April.
After months of preparation and many, many volunteer hours, the summer mission for 2019 has successfully concluded. The numbers are impressive: thousands of smiles, bushels of shared experiences, dozens of tired bodies and hundreds of grateful hearts. Here are a few more specific results.
If you’re a user of inexpensive reading glasses, chances are you have a pair in every room of the house. It’s easy to buy several pair at the dollar store—unless you live in Cozumel.
While we can solve our need for magnifying readers, people in Cozumel simply don’t have easy or affordable access to nonprescription glasses. Many older adults have eyesight that prevents reading and a visit to an optician is way beyond their budget.
Friends of Cozumel offered free nonprescription reading glasses at two sessions last week at the DIF Senior Center and during school supply distribution. 220 people were fitted with glasses by volunteers with optometry training. It was gratifying to hear recipients say getting the glasses was life-changing. Now they can read a book, a package label or their Bible for the first time in years.
Looking for easy-to-transport donations to bring to Cozumel? You can support this effort by helping us replenish our nonprescription reading glasses inventory, especially in magnification powers of +1.50, +2.25, +2.75 and +3.25. Sturdy unisex frames that appeal to both genders are helpful and lots of lens cleaning cloths are needed, too.
Friends of Cozumel volunteers and project participants got drenched today— first from a thunderstorm and then in the ocean.
One of FOC’s educational projects is to help island residents learn more about their environment. Many have never seen fish in their natural habitat or gone into the sea beyond wading near the shore.
Eighteen participants listened intently to instructions on how to use the snorkeling equipment and stay safe in the water. Then participants were paired with FOC volunteers who were experienced snorkelers and divers.
After the briefing, participants were fit in donated flotation vests, fins and masks, despite the thunderstorm that popped up. Rain is not unusual in Cozumel and no one seemed to mind, until lightening forced us out of the water. Once the weather cleared, everyone was anxious to get back into the sea, even with the choppy waves and shoreline surge.
Those who were anxious at first eventually got more comfortable in the water. Colorful fish distracted them from their own fears and many asked for names of the creatures they were seeing. Back on shore, fish identification cards were passed around as the new snorkelers talked excitedly about their experiences. They clearly loved being able to experience the sea in a new way.