Tag Archives: poverty

A Part of a Global Village

I first met Reverend Eardley L. Mendis in the winter of 2019 in Chicago, Illinois at a  Children Incorporated meet-and-greet hosted by our CEO and President, Ron Carter, and myself.

Reverend Mendis with Children Incorporated President and CEO, Ronald H. Carter

A long-time donor, Rev. Mendis arrived at the gathering — despite the freezing temperatures and snow-covered streets — holding a small photo album containing pictures of the Senehasa Children’s Home in Sri Lanka that he ran along with his wife in the 1970s and 80s.

As I flipped through his pictures, Rev. Mendis told me about meeting our founder, Mrs. Jeanne Clarke Wood, at the home, and how much her support — and that of the Children Incorporated sponsorship program — meant to the children in the community.

After our meeting, I had the pleasure of interviewing Reverend Mendis to find out more about Senehasa, which means affection in Sinhalese, and the impact it had on children living in poverty in Sri Lanka.

SC: How did you get involved with the Senehasa Home?

In 1979, my wife and I started to serve children in the neighborhood where we lived twelve miles south of the city of Galle in a town called Gonapinuwala.  At the time, I was serving as a parish pastor in the Anglican Church in Galle.

“Thanks to the support from Children Incorporated sponsors, we were able to provide more food to children, employ additional staff and improve the buildings.”

Our work began when church members would tell me about malnourished children who lived nearby who they knew were not going to school. We thought that offering them a place to stay — and food — was a good way to help.

SC: What can you tell us about the home?

EM: It was actually two projects — one was a children’s home, and the other was a daycare center. We owned the property, and there was a building that needed to be put into use. We converted it to meet the needs of the children.

The children would arrive around 8 a.m. and would get a morning snack and lunch and then another meal before they went home because there was very little food for them to eat in the evenings. Other children lived in the dormitories all year long.

SC: What year did you first get involved with Children Incorporated?

EM: In 1981. A German national was on vacation in Hikkaduwa, a town just a few miles away from Gonapinuwala with a lovely beach and tourist hotels. While he was there, he heard about the Senehasa Children’s Home and came to meet us.

During the visit, he told me about Children Incorporated. He was a sponsor, and he said he was going to go back to Germany and write Mrs. Wood a letter recommending that we work together.

A few months later, I received a letter from Mrs. Wood saying that she wanted to include the children in our home in her sponsorship program. So we partnered with Children Incorporated even before Mrs. Wood had visited Sri Lanka. It was very important for us to have her support at the time — at first, my wife and I were paying all the expenses ourselves to take care of the children in the home, but after some time it had become too much for us to do on our own.

SC: That is amazing! When did you first meet Mrs. Wood?

EM: She came to the home a few years later, in early 1983. And then I had a chance to go to Richmond, Virginia in the summer of 1983 and visit the office. At the time, Children Incorporated worked out of Mrs. Wood’s home. I had a wonderful time talking to the staff about our program in Sri Lanka.

SC: How many years did you partner with Children Incorporated?

EM: I moved to Chicago in 1987 to pursue my doctoral studies. My wife stayed in Sri Lanka and continued to run the home. Unfortunately, the second Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna insurrection began the same year and violence and conflict erupted in the country. In 1988, I moved my family to the United States so they would be safe, and in 1989, I closed the home.

“I always knew — and still know now — that with Children Incorporated, the children are the primary focus and I have seen and experienced it for myself.

SC: That is very sad. Is the home still there today?

EM: Yes, it is. Today, it is being taken care of by local staff and used for community events. There are meetings and groups that use it for retreats. We still own the property, and both the land and the buildings are still being used.

SC: That is nice to hear. how did you feel that the Children Incorporated program affected the children at the home during the years it was in operation?

EM: Thanks to the support from Children Incorporated sponsors, we were able to provide more food to children, employ additional staff and improve the buildings. Donations also helped us have play equipment on the grounds.

More than just the material items, sponsorship gave the children a feeling that they were a part of a global village — a global family. It gave them a sense of belonging, and the sponsors brought a lot of joy to the children through their letters and pictures.

It is a great thing. The program is excellent for serving the welfare of children.

I always knew — and still know now — that with Children Incorporated, the children are the primary focus and I have seen and experienced it for myself.

SC: Thank you so much for your time. Could you please tell us a little more about your life in Chicago currently?

EM: You are welcome. Yes, today I am part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and serve a multi-cultural church in Logan Square. Our primary outreach is for the homeless population, and we provide winter clothes and food for all who enter our doors.

I also continue to be a Children Incorporated donor today — I do what I can, and I am grateful to have seen for myself what donations to Children Incorporated is doing for those in need.

***

HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN SRI LANKA?

You can sponsor a child in Sri Lanka 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 Sri Lanka that is available for sponsorship.

A Thank-You to Our Supporters

I will never forget the first time I visited the offices of Children Incorporated. It was on a Monday in February of 2003, a day that became one of the most significant in my life. That was the day that I was hired as Assistant Director to the U.S. Programs Division of Children Incorporated.

I clearly recall the sense of deep gratitude I experienced upon being hired to work at Children Incorporated, and through the years as I have moved from one position to another, my thankfulness has only grown.

I had worked for another, much larger child sponsorship organization for nearly twelve years, and I was happy there. I had hoped to stay with that company for the remainder of my career, doing work that was beneficial to children and families around the world. Yet in August of 2002, without warning, my position and those of several of my co-workers were eliminated. I was stunned to lose a job I loved, and for several months, I sought without success to find another place to work and to serve.

An extraordinary moment

Then, on a Sunday evening that February 2003, as I was attending church, something quite extraordinary happened. I asked the church to pray for me in my efforts to find a job. After the service ended, a man who seemed familiar walked up to me and began a conversation. He explained that he had at one time also worked for my former employer, and he recalled meeting me there. Then, he said, “You should call Children Incorporated, the place where I work now. They may have something for you,” and he gave me the number of then-President and Chief Executive Officer, Marian Cummins.

I called Mrs. Cummins the next morning, and she couldn’t have been nicer. She invited me to come in for an interview that same day. I went and was greeted by not only Mrs. Cummins, but also by Jeanne Clarke Wood, the founder of Children Incorporated and two other staffers, Odell Dunavent and Helen Strathy. I was hired on the spot, and I started my position at Children Incorporated just a couple of days later.

A place to feel at home

I knew from my very first day at Children Incorporated that it was a special organization. I closely observed how the small but dedicated staff interacted with one another, and just how much work they seemed to get done. I listened as the division directors spoke with project coordinators in the field, and I was amazed to hear them referring to sponsored children by their names and not just by numbers as had been the norm at my previous place of employment.

From day one, I knew I had found my work home. The transition from a large, formal, often sterile environment to one of caring, personal connections and heartfelt dedication was a welcome change for me. I clearly recall the sense of deep gratitude I experienced upon being hired to work at Children Incorporated, and through the years as I have moved from one position to another, my thankfulness has only grown. I tell people all the time how blessed I am to work for an organization like Children Incorporated where I know that I am making a difference each and every day.

We are but the vessel through which children are fed and clothed and cared for in many diverse ways. You make all of our work possible, and I am thankful for you!

Thanks to you this Thanksgiving

You also make much more of a difference in the lives of children than you may even begin to realize. The programs Children Incorporated has established to provide assistance to youngsters functions only as a direct result of your giving. We take the dollars you provide — and with the able assistance of our network of volunteer coordinators — offer children education, hope and opportunity for their futures.

We are but the vessel through which children are fed and clothed and cared for in many diverse ways. You make all of our work possible, and I am thankful for you!

***

Excelling in San Pedro Sula

Honduras’s industrial center and second-largest city, San Pedro Sula, has a reputation for being dangerous. Deemed the “murder capital of the world” for almost a decade until 2016, crime and economic distress have led to the mass migration of Honduran minors seeking safety from gangs and drug-related violence.

But for those children who have no choice but to stay behind and face danger and violence, places such as our affiliated project the Maria Reyna Home offer a safe environment in which to grow up — and receive a quality education.

A home for neglected girls

Founded in 1942 as a girls’ orphanage, the Maria Reyna Home cares for orphaned, abandoned or neglected girls. Located in one of the most impoverished and most crime-ridden neighborhoods in San Pedro Sula, the Home offers a refuge from slum housing, hunger, disease, crime and pollution that are all-too-tragic realities in the city.

For those children who have no choice but to stay behind and face danger and violence, places such as our affiliated project the Maria Reyna Home offer a safe environment in which to grow up — and receive a quality education.

“At the Maria Reyna Home, children from some of the darkest districts of San Pedro Sula are accepted. They have suffered neglect, malnourishment and even abuse before they come to live at the Home,” explained our Director of International Programs Luis Bourdet.

While living at the Home and attending classes on the grounds, the Sisters of Mercy of the order of St. Vincent take care of the children every day. They provide a clean and adequate living space, nourishment, protection and most importantly — an education. And according to Luis, the girls do very well academically at Maria Reyna.

“The change of living conditions is so great that most students excel in school here, while they had a hard time before,” said Luis.

“The sisters provide the children with training in embroidering and baking so that they have a skill once they graduate from high school. Because of this, many children upon graduation want to continue with their education.”

A new initiative

During his visit, the Sisters and Luis discussed a recent initiative to raise funds for additional accommodations for students who want to continue their education after graduating from high school.

“I agreed with the sisters completely that this was a vital need for the school, and Children Incorporated has agreed to support the home so they can remodel and accommodate those students who have the desire to attend local universities or technical schools,” said Luis.

“After the renovations are complete, some of the children will be able to stay, during a transitional period. That way they can be supported while finding sound employment so that they don’t return to the harsh conditions they come from.”

Additionally, the Maria Reyna Home administration plans to request scholarships from the local government and local universities for those students that are exceptional in academics.

In conjunction with the Home’s efforts, Luis also wants to support these young women through our Higher Education Program Fund so all who wish to can continue to pursue their academic dreams.

***

How do I sponsor a child in Honduras?

You can sponsor a child in Honduras 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 Honduras that is available for sponsorship.

For Our 55th Anniversary, Help Us Reach Our Goal of Raising $55,000

Fifty-five years ago, our founder, Jeanne Clarke Wood, aided by her father, J. Calvitt Clarke, started Children Incorporated.

In honor of Mrs. Wood and the work she started 55 years ago, our goal now is to raise $55,000 for our Annual Appeal.

By sending handwritten letters and making personal phone calls, Mrs. Wood located sponsors for an initial enrollment of just 95 children. Support for these young people was so generous and effective that many more boys and girls were added in the years that followed.

Today, Children Incorporated stands to honor to Mrs. Wood. What she started 55 years ago continues to provide life-changing resources to children in 21 countries, including the United States. Basic needs assistance — food, clothing, school supplies and much more — has been provided to hundreds of thousands of children, and many lives have been improved both by our child sponsorship program and other avenues of support.

Amazed by the generosity

As I reflect on the scope of work undertaken by Children Incorporated, it amazes me how just a few dollars can change a child’s life. I’ve seen it first-hand as I have visited schools, daycare centers and orphanages both in the United States and abroad. I recall one little girl whose only means of true self-expression was drawing, yet her family couldn’t afford paper and art supplies for her. She was linked to a caring sponsor who sent her sketch pads and pens and markers, and the child, who had struggled to keep up with her school work, suddenly began to excel. Another child — a young boy — was extremely shy. He was unable to look anyone in the eye and had no self-esteem, but when he was provided with new clothing and a decent pair of shoes, all that changed. His confidence grew, and he became a model student. A third child suffered from such extreme back pain that she could barely walk. Her parents were unable to afford a simple lift shoe to help balance the uneven pressure on her spine. Children Incorporated stepped in, purchased the elevated shoe, and the girl’s pain ceased.

A determined organization

There are so many stories like this that exemplify Children Incorporated’s values and our proven track record of good work over the years, some of a grander scale — such as the one where an entire village built below sea level was washed away during a monsoon, and Children Incorporated raised funds and contracted with builders to put up a solid housing complex on higher ground.

We appreciate you — our sponsors and donors —for traveling this journey with us. Together, we are making the world a little brighter, child by child.

In an ideal world, there would be no need for an organization like ours to exist, yet we all know that isn’t the reality. The needs are sometimes overwhelming. There is no way we can meet them all, but we are determined to meet as many as we possibly can because we believe wholeheartedly that all children deserve a chance to grow, learn and prosper.

Meeting the needs of children around the world

When our founder, Jeanne Clarke Wood, started Children Incorporated, her goal was to improve the lives of as many children and families as she could possibly reach, and that remains our mission today. In honor of Mrs. Wood and the work she started 55 years ago, our goal now is to raise $55,000 for our Annual Appeal. This money will allow us to meet several needs on our waiting list including the completion of an unfinished classroom at a school in Argentina, the establishment of a sponsorship program in storm-damaged US territory Puerto Rico and the further distribution of life-saving mosquito nets in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

We appreciate you — our sponsors and donors —for traveling this journey with us. Together, we are making the world a little brighter, child by child.

Please consider donating to our 55th Anniversary Fund today!

***

Attending, Learning and Graduating

Students in attendance at Boyd County High School in the small rural town of Cannonsburg, Kentucky are fortunate to have their resource center volunteer, Vickie, in their lives.

Thanks in large part to Vickie’s efforts, the school has a high success rate — much higher than many other schools in Eastern Kentucky. As of last year, 93% of students at the school graduate within four years, and 65% enroll in some type of higher education.

A committed coordinator

Renee with one of our sponsored children at Boyd County High School.

Renée with one of our sponsored children at Boyd County High School

While meeting with Vickie in the Resource Center at Boyd County High School, our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube noted that Vickie had a deep commitment to her students.

“Vickie is always working on new initiatives to keep high school kids attending school and learning with a focus on graduating and going on to college or trade school,” said Renée.

Renée recognized that Vickie has an extremely tough job — she explained to Renée that the economy of the region had declined over the past ten years, and it has hit families hard.

A loss of jobs

Vickie cited the steel mill as an example, which, due to imports, cut its workers from 5000 to 2500 over the last decade. Because of these job losses the overall poverty rate in Boyd County is an astounding 20%.

“Vicki is always working on new initiatives to keep high school kids attending school and learning with a focus on graduating and going on to college or trade school,” said Renée.

In addition, 34% of households are headed by a single parent — in large part due to issues with drug abuse in the county. Because of these problems, Boyd County High School administrators have a lot to handle when it comes to supporting students. Many children lack adult supervision and the support they need at home to do well and focus on their futures after high school.

Overcoming every obstacle

Yet all of these obstacles don’t get in the way of Vickie helping kids and making sure they get the encouragement they need to succeed and to go on to higher education.

Vickie (right) is an incredibly dedicated volunteer coordinator.

According to Renée, Vickie is an incredibly dedicated Children Incorporated volunteer coordinator. She makes sure to check in with sponsored students weekly to find out precisely what they need. She also encourages them to write letters to their sponsors so they can feel connected to a caring adult in their lives.

That communication is so essential for kids because outside of the school environment, sponsors are often the only ones showing the kids they are worthwhile and capable of succeeding in life.

Excelling academically

With quite a few students raising themselves and their younger siblings because their parents are absent or unable to care for them, it isn’t surprising that they struggle to do well in school.

With so many distractions, they don’t have the time and energy to focus on their future. But thanks to Vickie and these students’ sponsors, kids at Boyd County High School not only are getting the attention they need every day, but they are excelling academically.

***

HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN KENTUCKY?

You can sponsor a child in Kentucky in one of two ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members, or email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org.

Pride in Her Students

For years, Catlettsburg, where our affiliated projects Catlettsburg Elementary and Ponderosa Elementary Schools are located, was known as “The Gate City” because it was here that barges were loaded with coal to be shipped down the Ohio River to other ports.

Although the children may come from strikingly different economic backgrounds, that doesn’t change how they interact with one other.

The decline of the coal industry in Kentucky and West Virginia has severely diminished the city’s economic importance, and commerce is now minimal. Today, this area of Boyd County, Kentucky suffers from high rates of both poverty and illiteracy, since a significant number of adults have never completed high school.

These social and economic problems negatively affect even the youngest members of Catlettsburg, which is why both Ponderosa and Catlettsburg Elementary serve as bright and welcoming places for children to learn and escape some of the harsh realities they face at home.

The Haves and Have Nots

While visiting the two schools, our Director of U.S. Programs Renée Kube, met with our volunteer coordinator Jenny. Jenny oversees the resource centers at both schools, ensuring that children — including sponsored and unsponsored children in our program — are receiving basic needs throughout the school year.

During their meeting, Jenny explained to Renée that because Boyd County is located in a very rural and beautiful part of the country, Catlettsburg has become a popular place for middle and upper-class families to build homes. Jenny feels that because of this migration, the student population is divided more conspicuously into the “haves and have nots.”

Although the children may come from strikingly different economic backgrounds, that doesn’t change how they interact with one other.

While the administration, faculty and staff of the schools may know which families struggle and which do not, Jenny says the students are very close and treat each other with kindness and respect.

Additionally, as a tight-knit group, the children are more than willing to come together to help other students in need — even those that are far away.

Additionally, as a tight-knit group, the children are more than willing to come together to help other students in need — even those that are far away.

Rising to a challenge

Before their meeting ended, Jenny told Renée a story expressing how much pride she had in her students.

In 2018, the deadly Camp Fire burned down much of the town of Paradise, California — including a school also named Ponderosa Elementary School. Not long after the fire, the principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Catlettsburg was informed about a nationwide fundraiser through another Ponderosa Elementary School in Oregon.

The fundraiser, deemed “Pennies for Ponderosa Initiative” requested that the eleven schools named Ponderosa Elementary School in the United States collect donations for the rebuilding of the California school.

The children at Jenny’s school stepped up to the challenge. They not only raised money to help students on the other side of the country, but also sent video messages of hope and encouragement as they and their families worked to rebuild their lives.

Whether coming from an impoverished background or not, children at Ponderosa Elementary School showed that they were willing to do anything they could to help others in need — and that is something to be proud of.

***

HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN KENTUCKY?

 You can sponsor a child in Kentucky in one of two ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members, or email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org.