On our site visit to Guadalajara last fall we met young Renaldo*. The five-year-old is the youngest of three children in his family, and he attends the La Luz (in English, “The Light”) Children’s Home, a home for children who have one or both parents serving time in prison.
When we met Renaldo, he was making a special picture for his sponsor, Stephen Suelzle, a printer who lives 2,469 miles away from him in Portland, Oregon. Thanks to Suelzle’s sponsorship and the extra monetary gifts he provides, Renaldo regularly receives clothes, shoes, and toys, which are all purchased by our Volunteer Coordinator at La Luz, Sister Nellie.
Suelzle has been a sponsor through Children Incorporated for more than a decade, helping kids in Brazil and Mexico. We contacted him to find out more about how he discovered Children Incorporated, his relationship with Renaldo, and what sponsorship means to him.
CI: How did you get involved with Children Incorporated?
SS: Around twenty years ago, I met a young man, through mutual friends, who was from Brazil. He was only here a short time, and without proper permissions. He just really wanted to see America. We spent a lot of good time together. But eventually, immigration made him go back. I have always wanted to sponsor children. So initially, I started sponsoring boys in Curitiba, Brazil to sort of remember him.
CI: Had you previously sponsored a child?
SS: No. This was the first time.
CI: Is Renaldo your first sponsored child with Children Incorporated?
SS: No, there were at least three others. They were all boys who were a wide range of ages. The first were from Brazil, and then later, Mexico. I originally asked for boys from Brazil, and let Children Incorporated decide beyond that, because I knew they would know best who needed help. Children Incorporated suggested someone from Mexico, and that’s how I started sponsoring boys at La Luz.
The more I heard about the La Luz Home, the more I liked it. I especially liked that it sounded much more like an extended family situation (because of the adults who work there, and other children who are there), as opposed to someplace to just stick kids who had nowhere to go.
CI: What do you know about Renaldo?
SS: I know he’s five years old, and in his third year of pre-school. He always sends me drawings and colorings. I seem to remember soccer being mentioned, too.
CI: What do you know about his living situation?
SS: Only the basics. He stays at La Luz during the week, and goes home to his mother on the weekends. I think his siblings stay there, too. I don’t know the names or ages of the rest of his family.
CI: Do you know where his father is, or what happened to him?
SS: Because of the nature of La Luz, I assume he is in prison, or in a similar situation. But I don’t know anything else.
CI: Do you communicate with Renaldo directly?
SS: I haven’t so far, because he was so young. But he is old enough now that I think it would be a good idea – and to send him my picture as well.
CI: Does he send you letters?
SS: All the time. They always include a wonderful drawing, or something he has colored. I look forward to them, and keep them all in a photo album.
CI: What does he say?
SS: He always thanks me for helping him. In February, a social worker sent me a letter where they told me he had said, “I am very hard-working. I liked my gift very much.” In at least one picture, he addressed me as “Mr. Stephen”. I liked that. Mostly, he just says, “Thank you.”
CI: Are his letters in English or another language?
SS: The letters are always in Spanish, and translated into English [at the Children Incorporated office]. The writing that I assume to be his is pretty good for a five-year-old!
I send extra money each month, besides the sponsorship amount, so he can get extra things he might need; and then I also send extra for his birthday and Christmas.
CI: Do you send him gifts?
I send extra money each month, besides the sponsorship amount, so he can get extra things he might need; and then I also send extra for his birthday and Christmas. The coordinator at La Luz takes care of purchasing the gifts for him. In a way, it makes me feel like I won’t let him down.
CI: Does Renaldo ask for specific things, or does the Volunteer Coordinator pick things out for him?
SS: I always designate the extra money for something he might want or need. In other words, my hope is that the child would have some say in how the money is used. It’s important to have the things you need. But if possible, it can be huge to have something you really want every once in awhile at least, especially for a child.
CI: What do you know about Mexico?
SS: I couldn’t pass a history test about Mexico. I only know that when I visited there a long time ago, I felt so at home. I would have stayed if I could have. I have always enjoyed the company of Mexican people in my life, and have a good friend now who is from Mexico.
CI: What do you know about Guadalajara?
SS: Not very much, I’m afraid. I wondered what the neighborhood was like, and at one point, I used Google Maps/Street View to find out. It was so amazing to see the La Luz building and surrounding area. To be honest, it looked just like neighborhoods here in the U.S. Having that connection, even if only online, meant a lot to me.
CI: What do you know about the home he attends?
SS: I only know that it is for children who have one or both parents who are in jail. I don’t know anything about its funding or founding, or anything like that.
CI: What has surprised you most about La Luz?
SS: Everyone there – the children and social workers – seem to be so happy, and to be doing a good job. This isn’t really surprising, but rather something that makes me very happy.
CI: What advice would you have for someone considering sponsorship?
If you decide you want to sponsor a child, then commit to doing it – making sure that the sponsorship money is there every month – because it is just as important as taking care of your own children.
SS: If you decide you want to sponsor a child, then commit to doing it – making sure that the sponsorship money is there every month – because it is just as important as taking care of your own children. While I’m sure there are procedures in place to take care of the loss of a sponsor, I would never want to be the one to tell a child I wasn’t going to sponsor them anymore.
(* Name changed for child’s protection.)