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After a little more than a week in Mexico, the time has come for Luis and I to visit our last affiliated site before returning home to the United States.

With many parents working long hours or overnight shifts, it is crucial for young children to have a place to live, learn and play with their friends during the week.

Hogar Santa Maria is located just across the river from the city center of Guadalajara where you will find high rise hotels and a bustling main street. The contrast is stark as we drive from our hotel to the neighborhood where Santa Maria is located — it is completely different from one side of the city to the other. Wealth and commerce are contrasted with poverty and old, small buildings. One side is modern and striving, growing towards the future, while the other seems to not be a part of the same world.

The same but different

These were all the same feelings I had the first time I visited Santa Maria in 2016, but I doubted that everything had stayed exactly the same due to the pandemic. If Santa Maria was anything like all our other affiliated sites in Mexico, our coordinators also had to go through big changes to continue to provide for the children in our program.

When we arrived at the Home, we were greeted by one of the four sisters who takes care of the children, and Santa Maria’s full-time social worker. Unfortunately, our coordinator was away in Mexico City having surgery and couldn’t be with us for our visit, but we were made to feel welcome all the same, given a tour of the facility, and heard about how our sponsorship program has been going over the past few years.

The social worker explained that they were able to continue to provide support for the children during quarantine when the children were sent home, largely thanks to our sponsors. The children only returned just a few short months ago when public schools finally opened again, and now 18 children are living at Santa Maria again during the weekdays. Since before the pandemic, attendance has gone down, and although the home isn’t at full capacity again, almost all of the children who attend have sponsors through Children Incorporated.

It so apparent that these children feel loved and safe at Santa Maria.

As we wandered through the dormitories and the small classrooms, we talked also about the ways in which Santa Maria is a blessing for families in the community. With many parents working long hours or overnight shifts, it is crucial for young children to have a place to live, learn and play with their friends during the week.

The parents pay a very small fee for the children to stay at the Home, which as it was explained to us, was mostly just to ensure they felt invested in their child’s care, and less about what the money really provided. Fortunately for these children, their sponsors help make sure they have healthy meals every day, new clothes and shoes, and school supplies throughout the year.

As we finish up our tour, the children arrive excited and, unknowingly to us, expecting our visit. As we gather in the dining room, the children have a surprise for Luis and me — they have learned a song to sing to us to say thanks to our organization and all of our sponsors.

It so apparent that these children feel loved and safe at Santa Maria, which is so important to giving their parents peace of mind while they work. For these children, Santa Maria ensures they and their parents have nothing to worry about while they are there so they can focus on enjoying just being kids.

***

How do I sponsor a child in Mexico?

You can sponsor a child in Mexico in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our sponsorship portal, create an account, and search for a child in Mexico that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD

Only four days into our trip to Mexico, our Director of International Programs, Luis Bourdet, and myself are already in our third city, Guadalajara. 

After visiting our affiliated sites in both Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende, I am excited to also return to the La Luz Home in Guadalajara after six years. I have fond memories of meeting the children and getting to hear about this truly incredible site and the abundance of programs that it has for children in the community, including our sponsorship program. 

I have fond memories of meeting the children and getting to hear about this truly incredible site.

Difficulty Through the Pandemic

Our volunteer coordinator, Sister Elizabeth, picks us up early in the morning along with La Luz’s driver, who spends most of his day taking the children back and forth between the Home and the local public schools that they attend. When Luis and I get in the van, there is a young boy sitting next to Sister Elizabeth that at first, I don’t recognize with his mask on.

As we drive to La Luz through the early morning traffic of Guadalajara, Luis and I catch up with Sister Elizabeth about how things have been for her during the pandemic. She admits that, like many other of our affiliated sites, it was difficult for them not knowing when the children would be able to go back to school and knowing that all the families that they support were in need of more resources than ever before.

Remember Fernando

About 20 minutes later, the driver pulls over in a residential neighborhood, and we all exit the car — including the young boy, who removes his mask and takes off running down the sidewalk to a big metal door about 30 feet away. I suddenly realize — I have been here before! We are at the home of Fernando whose family we met on our last trip to Mexico. I hadn’t recognized him, but without his mask, I can see clearly that it is the same Fernando, only taller.

We enter his home, which is occupied only by his older sister at the time — his mother is at work and his other siblings are at school. Fernando is the only child in the family young enough to still be attending La Luz — he is still too small at 10 years old to not have more supervision since his mother works long hours at a local school.

Because of his mother’s demanding work schedule, I know it’s best that Fernando is still at the La Luz Home — as long as he is there, he will be under the loving care of the Sisters and his sponsor — and it’s obvious that it has helped him a lot. He looks healthy and happy, and excitedly gives us a short tour of his small house, even though not much has changed since our last visit.

Big Help From Sponsors

Fernando is pictured in his school uniform standing on the patio of the home he shares with his mother, siblings, grandfather and aunt.

Once we have finished seeing Fernando’s home again, we say goodbye to his sister and head to the La Luz Home, only a short five-minute drive away. The children are still in school, so Sister Elizabeth gives us a tour, and we have a meeting in her office with the Home’s full-time social worker. They tell us that all twenty children at the Home are currently sponsored through the Children Incorporated program, and it’s a big help for them to have the support.

Every child at the La Luz Home, including Fernando, is there because one or both of their parents are incarcerated, so having a sponsor doesn’t just mean they are getting resources they need each month, like food and school supplies, but it means they have someone that they know cares about their well-being.

Like Fernando, some of these children have the same sponsor that they did six years ago when I first came to La Luz, and that can be life-changing for these children, who might not always feel special growing up in poverty with parents who struggle in really desperate situations.

Around the time that we wrap up our meeting, La Luz’s driver is bringing the second group of children to the Home in the van, and both the girls and boys excitedly run from the entrance through the courtyard and into their separate dorms to change out of their school uniforms and get ready for lunch. Sister Elizabeth invites us to chat with the children while they eat, and I have the chance to take some photos of them enjoying their soup and tuna salad, giddy knowing that the guests for the day came specially to visit with them.

I love knowing that, like Fernando, these other children who I am only just meeting for the first time are getting the chance to live long-term at La Luz as well.

Saying Goodbye for Now

I love knowing that, like Fernando, these other children who I am only just meeting for the first time are getting the chance to live long-term at La Luz as well. It’s a great relief to know that they have some consistency here that doesn’t always exist in their home lives.

As we depart for the day and say our goodbyes, I give one last wave to Fernando and the other children, myself just as giddy as the children knowing how much our sponsors are doing to help ensure that they all get to grow up at La Luz.

***

How do I sponsor a child in Mexico?

You can sponsor a child in Mexico in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our sponsorship portal, create an account, and search for a child in Mexico that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD

It has been roughly two and half years since we have been able to visit our affiliated sites, and I personally couldn’t wait to have the opportunity to travel to Mexico again. It finally happened in mid-May, and the trip exceeded all of my expectations.

When the pandemic hit, kids not only couldn’t go to school but in some cases could no longer stay in the group home and had to instead return to unstable and impoverished environments.

Without a doubt, our volunteer coordinators have had a tough time through the pandemic. Whether in the United States or abroad, school closures made accessing the children in our sponsorship program so much more of a challenge, but it was more important than ever as families tried to cope with so much uncertainty.

The devastation of the pandemic

Our affiliated sites in Mexico were no exception and in some ways, had it worse than other sites we work with. Each of our sites in Mexico — one in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and San Miguel de Allende — functions as a group home as well as a resource center. Therefore, when the pandemic hit, kids not only couldn’t go to school but in some cases could no longer stay in the group home and had to instead return to unstable and impoverished environments.

This was exactly the case at our affiliated site in Mexico City, Casa Hogar Santa Inés. When Luis and I arrived there a few weeks ago, we were greeted by our volunteer coordinator, Sister Flor, who gave us a tour of the facility while the girls were still in school. Sister Flor informed us that the girls had returned to Santa Inés three weeks prior. During that time, their mothers, or family members that acted as their guardians, would come to the Home once a month to pick up hygiene items and food, thanks to the girls’ sponsors. Beyond that, Sister Flor would call around and check on the girls during the week, making sure the girls’ basic needs were met the best she could.

The same but different

In total, twenty-seven girls came back to Santa Inés Home once the government allowed it and are back to school. The younger girls, those in pre-school and kindergarten, attend a local public school. The older girls, who attend primary school, go to a private school where each of them has received a scholarship to cover their school fees and books. The girls sleep at the Home from Sunday until Friday, and then are picked up by a parent or guardian, some of which travel upwards of two hours across Mexico City to Santa Inés.

For the most part, Santa Inés looked very much the same as I remember from when Luis and I visited back in 2016 — the grounds are incredibly well-kept, the dormitories are brightly painted and cozy, and the playground area offers ample space for the girls to play and just be kids in a safe and loving location. Sister Flor explained to us that outside of the support that each girl receives from her Children Incorporated sponsors, she relies on social services through the government and donations from local pharmacies and groceries stores to make sure the Home has everything it needs to provide for the children.

A big difference I did notice from our visit was just how many more services the Home is now providing to the children than before.

A big difference I did notice from our visit was just how many more services the Home is now providing to the children than before. A dentist volunteers time once a week to check on the girls’ teeth, and a computer lab and library are available for afterschool tutoring. A small infirmary is fully stocked with medications, and a clothes and supply room are abundant with items. Sister Flor even told us that she works to help the girls with their English. It seemed that over the years Sister Flor and the other administrators had really gone above and beyond to make the Home the best that it could be.

A place to call Home

After we finished the tour, we had a chance to meet the girls as they arrived from school. Sister Flor told us that she hopes that now that the Home is fully operating again, she can continue to add more girls to their program, which I think is a fantastic plan.

Even with all the challenges that the Home faced over the last two years, it was obvious that they still managed to grow and expand what they are able to offer, and any child would be fortunate to be able to call this place Home.

***

How do I sponsor a child in Mexico?

You can sponsor a child in Mexico in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our sponsorship portal, create an account, and search for a child in Mexico that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD

As a part of our work with our affiliated sites in the United States, our volunteer coordinators write letters to talk about their resource center programs and how our sponsors are changing the lives of children at their schools.

Today, we hear from Jenny at Catlettsburg Elementary School in Kentucky, who is incredibly grateful to have partners just like Children Incorporated and knows first-hand how our work helps change the lives of children in need.

Today, we hear from Jenny at Catlettsburg Elementary School in Kentucky, who is incredibly grateful to have partners just like Children Incorporated and knows first-hand how our work helps change the lives of children in need.

Jenny’s Letter

“It’s almost time for some summer fun as the staff and students in Boyd County, Kentucky finalize plans for the end of the 2021-2022 school year. While it is hard to see our current 5th graders leave us and venture on to the middle school, we know we have done our absolute best to prepare them for the next step in their educational journey.

To help them prepare for their big transition into middle school, all 5th grade students attended the Family Resource Center-sponsored ‘Transition Program’ recently.

This program was held on Monday, April 25, 2022. The 5th grade students traveled to Boyd County Middle School to the event. While at the school, the students were broken into eight groups and paired with a student tour guide and one adult staff member. These groups then got to take a tour of their new school and sat in on all 6th grade core content classes as well as all 6th grade extra-curricular classes. They also met their new principal, their new assistant principals, and their new guidance counselors while on this visit. The students had an opportunity to ask any questions and voice concerns before the beginning of their new school year in the fall.”

Special memories and friendships

Catlettsburg Elementary School

A view of the entrance to Catlettsburg Elementary School

“Along with a visit to the middle school, the Family Resource Center provides all 5th grade students with an autograph/memory book and a graduation pen at their 5th Grade Breakfast Graduation Ceremonies. These books can be used by the kids to record special memories and friendships made during their elementary years. The Resource Center also provides all 5th grade students a pamphlet for their parents to have to prepare the adults for the next step in their child’s education and make the transition a smooth one for every child.

As with every end of the school year, we have been busy conducting programs and activities that are happening now, as well as making plans for summer and fall programs coming soon.  The annual WOW Summer Camp is in June and July at Catlettsburg Elementary. This year’s theme is a “Career Carnival” and the students will be focusing on career/job readiness, reading and math content areas, STEAM activities, and enrichment/educational crafts. Over the years, Children Incorporated enrolled students are some of those in attendance at this camp and have always left with sharpened academic and social skills.

During spring break this year, we met all of the currently enrolled Children Incorporated families at Walmart for a “Family Shop Day”. It has been nearly two years since we have been able to allow the families to go to Walmart with us to shop due to COVID, and we had a wonderful time! Students got the chance to pick out spring and summer clothing, and the parents loved having the opportunity to try the items on their child for proper fit.

You have put thousands of books in our students’ hands, clothes on their backs, and food in their bellies.

A great deal of gratitude for Children Incorporated

As we wrap up what remains of the year, we look back and smile while counting our blessings to have wonderful community partners such as Children Incorporated. From funding our “Books 4 Home” program, to meeting students’ basic and educational needs, your organization is very much appreciated by ourselves, our students, and their families. You have put thousands of books in our students’ hands, clothes on their backs, and food in their bellies.

In closing, not only are the children enrolled in Children Incorporated having their basic needs met, but through continued correspondence with their sponsors throughout the years, they are making lifelong mentors and creating special friendships. The Family Resource Center wishes each and every one the sponsors a relaxing summer with lots of fun times with your family and friends. We look forward to working with you again for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year.”

Warmest Regards,
Jenny

***

How do I sponsor a child in Kentucky?

You can sponsor a child in Kentucky in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our sponsorship portal, create an account, and search for a child in Kentucky that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD

Prior to the pandemic, we have always visited our affiliated sites every two or three years to not only check in with our volunteer coordinators in person, but to see for ourselves the impact that our programs are having on children in need. Relaying messages of hope and inspiration to our sponsors and donors is an important part of our work, and one that we couldn’t wait to get back to doing.

“One the really crucial parts of site visits involve gathering information and stories about communities, families, and the children we are supporting so we can highlight the impact our supporters are having on all three.”

“After a few long years of only having contact with our volunteer coordinators over phone, email or video chat, we are thrilled to be ready to travel again to conduct meetings and site visits — starting with a trip to Mexico,” explains Children Incorporated’s Director of Development, Shelley Callahan.

A Reach Bigger Than Imagined

“One the really crucial parts of site visits involve gathering information and stories about communities, families, and the children we are supporting so we can highlight the impact our supporters are having on all three.”

“It’s never just individuals that are being helped through our sponsorship program and our special funds and special projects — it’s a much bigger and broader range than many people can imagine, and visiting our sites lets us show that off,” Callahan stated.

“I have been looking forward to returning to Mexico since first visiting in 2016. With this upcoming visit, we will not only be reporting from the ground about our current work, but we will be looking at ways in which we can expand our programs in Mexico to reach even more children and their families.”

Starting next week, we will be sharing with you Stories of Hope from Mexico from our four affiliated sites in Mexico City, Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende, and Monterrey — in the meantime, please follow our social media to see photos and videos from our trip!

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How do I sponsor a child in Mexico?

You can sponsor a child in Mexico in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our sponsorship portal, create an account, and search for a child in Mexico that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD

What do we mean when we talk about special projects at Children Incorporated? Our special projects come from a variety of requests from our volunteer coordinators at our affiliated sites, but they all mean one thing — crucial support for children, families and communities.

“Furthermore, our special projects allow our donors to help more than just one child or one family – often the projects we support help hundreds of children or members of a community by creating jobs and improving the overall structure of a place or location.”

“We consider three different types of support when we talk about the ways that our donors can help some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” explains Children Incorporated’s Director of Development, Shelley Callahan.

“First, our sponsorship program partners sponsors with individual children. Secondly, our special funds focus on certain aspects of helping children and families with, for example, warm clothes or emergency assistance — necessities that are beyond sponsorship.”

“Thirdly, our special projects range from infrastructure to renovations to building projects that are vital to us having access to the children we support, making sure they have a safe place to live and learn and that even more of their basic needs are meet,” Shelley continued.

“Furthermore, our special projects allow our donors to help more than just one child or one family – often the projects we support, such as building a dorm or an agricultural school or renovating an old kitchen in a group home, help hundreds of children or members of a community by creating jobs and improving the overall structure of a place or location.”

“Over the years, donations to our special projects have allowed us to hire teams of engineers to build greenhouses, playgrounds, and additions on schools. On a smaller scale, our special projects offer things such as art supplies for summer camps or reading materials for libraries — items that fill in the gaps that our coordinators are missing in making their programs that support our children successful,” expressed Shelley.

The Dandora Center in Kenya celebrates the new renovations on multiple classrooms thanks to our donors

Read more about our special projects around the world from past years and find out how you can support future projects through your generous donations!

A Place to Call Home

In partnering with our nearly 300 affiliated sites around the world, including Casa Central, it is our goal at Children Incorporated to work with our volunteer coordinators to provide everything that we can for children in our program so they can receive an education – including offering them a safe and stable place to live.

“Casa Central is a social service center located in the center of the city but serves and supports children from the peripheral, struggling areas of Guatemala City,” explained Children Incorporated Director of International Programs, Luis Bourdet.

“Many of our sponsored children live in shacks, and the support through our sponsorship program has given them food, clothing, and educational supplies. Yet our volunteer coordinator, Sister Estefania, recognized that some of the children, despite the resources we offered, are still struggling due to the terrible housing conditions they live in. Through her immense efforts, she was able to secure titles for land in different areas of the city, and Children Incorporated was able to fund the construction of eight houses which have offered stable homes for eight children in our program,” said Luis.

“The houses are simple, but of permanent nature, made of cinder block, metal trusses and metal roof, two metal exterior doors, and protected from the weather. The families selected are so grateful and thankful for this support.”

Children Incorporated was able to fund the construction of eight houses which have offered stable homes for eight children in our program.

A New Playground and New Supplies for Students in Richmond

Children Incorporated staff members Renée Kube, Shelley Oxenham, and Chuck Smith helped rebuild a playground at G.H. Reid Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia, where we partner with Communities in Schools of Richmond (CIS) to support sponsored children in the Richmond area, near our headquarters.

Just a few months prior, over summer break, the old playground was set on fire, and it spread around the equipment, melting and disfiguring most of it, and leaving the 750 Richmond public school children with few options for outdoor play.

Renée, our Director of U.S. Programs, explained that the playground rebuild project was able to happen thanks to KaBOOM, a national nonprofit that builds playgrounds, especially in low-income areas.

The CarMax Foundation also stepped up to contribute funds and materials for the build, and Renée attended the volunteer workday, along with her Children Incorporated coworkers Shelley, U.S. Programs Specialist, and Chuck, U.S. Sponsorship Manager.

About 250 volunteers built the playground from the ground up in just one day. One of the jobs Renée, Shelley, and Chuck were assigned was painting maps and game boards onto the playground surface.

Renovations at the Lou Ann Long Hostel made the kitchen safe for staff and children.

By the end of May, we had $1,000 to donate to G.H. Reid, and we couldn’t wait to present the check to them, as well as contribute some supplies to get them started.

A New Kitchen for the Lou Ann Long Girls’ Hostel in India

In many developing countries, food is often cooked over open fires in poorly ventilated kitchens. It is estimated that 3 billion people worldwide cook over an open flame, which releases toxic smoke that is dangerous to health and safety.

At one of our affiliated sites, the Lou Ann Long Girls’ Hostel in India, the cooks prepared meals for the students in a small, dark one-room kitchen with only one small window that was continuously filled with thick smoke. The kitchen was badly in need of updating, but the administration did not have the necessary funds.

Thanks to our donors – just like you – Children Incorporated was able to renovate Lou Ann Long’s kitchen. New gas stoves with proper ventilation systems were installed, and modern sinks and updated windows and floors now provide more space, a cleaner environment, and natural light for the kitchen staff.

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How do I sponsor a child with Children Incorporated?

You can sponsor a child in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our sponsorship portal, create an account, and search for a child that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD