Saturday, September 3, 2011

Middle School Difference-Makers!

OUR SCHOOL'S "spiritual emphasis theme" this year is "Put Your Faith in Motion." This is SO up my alley I can barely speak! We have many cool things planned.

2nd Baptist dances their shoes off.
The first is Wednesday, Sept 28. We are going to have a Denver Christian "Dance Your Shoes Off" event. The idea came from this video of 2nd Baptist church in Houston. They donated thousands of pairs of new shoes to people who needed them. If all of our kids participate, that will be about 300 pairs of shoes.

We will be donating the shoes to Soles4Souls, an awesome nonprofit that collects and distributes shoes worldwide. If you are in the Denver area, come dance with our kids--and donate some shoes!

As it turns out, an organization called Sevenly is running a drive (2 days left) in which for every "Give Shoes" t-shirt you buy from them, they donate $7.00 to Soles4Souls! How awesome is that!?

I am most excited about my students' year-long project--the "Faith in Motion Performance." Each middle school class (there are five) will be choosing a cause/problem to work on. They will become experts in that issue, creating a Wiki page as they go. Then they will design a 15-minute performance to educate, entertain, and motivate their audience about their particular issue. These could involve singing, drama, videos, art--whatever the students come up with.

April 12 is the date--it is currently scheduled for a morning performance, but if it turns out as cool as I think it will, I might push for an evening show as well.

If you are reading this, would you please pray for these kids as they research and prepare? I am sure I will blog more about this, because it is SO near and dear to my heart, so check back for updates. I can't wait to see what they choose as their causes!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


AFTER A LONG Letter Drought, I received letters from EIGHT of our sponsored kids in the last 2 days. What fun!

By far my favorite was from our newest addition, little Agartha in Ghana. Agartha is 6, and cute as a button. Adding her to our "family" was a total leap of faith and probably an unwise financial decision, but she has touched my heart in such a big way. (And, coincidentally, my freelance work seemed to "magically" increase as soon as I took her on. God is funny.)

Every letter I have received from Agartha gives me something to ponder, or even worry about. She is intriguing.

The initial letter mentioned that she was glad to be sponsored because she has "no good caretakers." The information from Compassion says that her mother died, and she lives with her father and grandmother. I wonder if the phrase "no good caretakers" was Agartha's, or if the caseworker doing the writing was letting me know something...

The next letter said Agartha was "proud, because now she can walk to the Center all by herself."

When my daughter was six, I didn't really let her out of my sight! I wonder how far little Agartha is walking by herself, and whether it's safe for her to do so?

This letter raised even more questions about my little girl. It was a thank you letter for birthday money I sent to her. The letter says she bought "a traveling bag, drinks, and biscuits." It also said that it "helped her father to save money for other family members." Hmmmm....

But here's my favorite (besides the picture of this little peanut with a suitcase big enough to hold her!): "She says the traveling bag will help her convey her clothes and other things when she wants to travel."

Awwwww... So, I know that the Compassion people help the kids pick out things to buy with their gift money. I'm picturing them trying to steer Agartha toward clothes, or toys, or blankets--things that would be actually useful to a child who may never get the chance to travel. I picture Agartha insisting that this is what she wants, and she IS going to travel!

My job? To absolutely encourage her in this dream. I'm thinking of putting together little booklets about various places she could travel to. Maps, photos, interesting facts... It could be fun! And she could start a little library of her plans and dreams to be a traveling kinda girl.

If anyone would like to contribute information or pictures about the place you live, I will absolutely pass them on to this sweet girl. It would be so neat to make Agartha feel that there are a whole collection of people in the world who support her dream of traveling! If you leave a comment saying you will help, I will send my snail mail address... or we can work entirely by email--I'm flexible!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Taking that first step.

I'VE BEEN THINKING about the day I jumped (crawled hesitatingly, really) onto the sponsorship wagon. And, to be trite and cliche-ish, my life changed forever.

Those of us who are Sponsorship Fiends often try to convince others by touting what we know: You will feel differently about yourself and your life, and even the world around us, when you are intimately connected with a little stranger in another country.

There's even research supporting this now: neuroscientists are discovering that the human brain is wired to make you feel good when you help someone else.

That's really amazing to me! Not only did God tell us to care for one another, he fixed it so that we'd feel really good when we did so!

I knew none of that when I signed on to sponsor Estefani. My focus was mostly on how my family was barely getting by, living as we are in an area of the country that is far too expensive for our income. I thought that people who went on mission trips were crazy people, and giving money for any sort of charity was only for people with "extra" money, whatever that was.

But I had been praying for God to "use me." That is a very dangerous prayer! It occurred to me that God often calls us out of our weakness: Moses the stutterer asked to speak for a nation; David the little kid asked to defeat the giant--over and over God shows that he is not intimidated by our lack. "So," I thought, "if I have a lack, it is financial. God must want me to give!"

The "little voice in my head" said to do it, and I knew better than to ignore it.

Estefani's information was there on the table. She was the same age as my youngest daughter, with almost the same name as my oldest daughter. I picked her card up, and was instantly in love. The compassion part of my brain must have started firing on all cylinders!

Looking back, a series of miracles occurred that kept us afloat and able to keep sponsoring. God was clearly involved in this mission of ours.

My Darlings!
We still struggle to pay the bills some months. We are paying off some debts much more slowly than I'd like. But we are rich beyond measure with our "extended family" of sponsored kids/women. If I get depressed or anxious, I've learned to simply think about them and pray for them--the best mood-enhancing activity I know!

To read more about the neurology of compassion, read The Compassion Instinct by Dacher Keltner. It's a series of papers about the human brain and compassion, forgiveness, kindness, empathy, and so forth. Easy reading, and exciting stuff!

If you have not sponsored a child, I urge you to take the leap. Listen to that little voice in your head (or in this blog), and click on the Compassion banner here... If you are already a sponsor, tell people how it makes you feel! (It's science!)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Paper Bracelets!

SO MAYBE YOU READ the last post and are thinking, "But I sponsor older kids. My teenaged kids wouldn't want finger puppets!" Most of my sponsored kids are in the 14-15 age group as well, and it did feel a lot easier to send things when they were younger!
I don't think I ever made one THIS long...
So I went searching, and, as it turns out, on a walk down memory lane! Anyone remember making chains from gum wrappers? This was a Big Deal in about 6th grade (OK, maybe even later than that.). I remember my friends and me trying to see how long we could make our chains. The boys in class would donate gum wrappers to whichever girl they liked at the time (in 6th grade, everything is a popularity contest.). When I could talk my mom into buying me a giant pack of Wrigley's Doublemint, it was like Christmas!--a treasure trove of materials for my chain! (Remember when they stopped including colored paper wrappers in the big packs of gum and used plain white ones instead? Boo!)

This site will show you how to make the good ol' gum wrapper type bracelet....

But I found this website, with instructions for slightly more complicated chains, made with paper of your choice. I won't repeat the instructions here, because they are very good on the website, but I think these made a great option for sending to my sponsored teenagers!

First, the paper. We found this beautiful tiny origami paper at Michael's:

Michaels has all kinds of amazing papers... Wrapping paper would also be an option--I'm imagining some really cute Christmas bracelets!

Cut the paper into strips (they need to be in a 1:4 ratio):

Follow the instructions at "Inna's Creations" and start creating!

Lilia has now been inducted into the Secret Society of Gum-Wrapper Folders. It's quite an honor.

The finished bracelets are really quite pretty!
We started with the more muted papers.
And then progressed to the brighter colors!
The finished bracelets seem quite forgiving (ie, you could squash them flat to mail to Compassion, and they won't be worse for the wear). Voila! It's flat... it's paper... but it's a way to send jewelry to your sponsored kids!

Try it: Click on this picture to get to Inna's blog, and create away!
Now... What to send to sponsored BOYS?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Things to make for sponsored kids!

IT WAS TIME to write to my sponsored kids again (with 10 sponsored and one correspondent child, I've decided I need to take two weekends for letter-writing!).

With Agartha and Maria, I have little girls to write to for the first time in a while. It is always frustrating looking at the lists of things we can't send--when I really want to send dresses, and dolls, and art supplies, and books, and hair bows, and...

So, anyway, I found this GREAT site, where you can print out toys that you make out of paper! They are so cute! This weekend I went with ... finger puppets (As anyone who knows me will attest to, I am a sucker for puppets.).

Lilia helped, of course. Here's what we did:
The finger puppets are printed out on a sheet with instructions. Since I didn't know whether Agartha or Maria would have access to scissors and glue (and Agartha is only in Kindergarten and probably not all that skilled with scissors yet!), I decided to do most of the "assembly" for them.

These scrapbooking glue thingies were perfect, since I could leave the little non-sticky paper on them, and it even has a little tab the girls can peel off.

I decided to package the finger puppets in the plastic envelope that a set of notecards came in; that way, the girls had something to keep them in, and I included simple instructions (with pictures of Lilia) in the plastic pouch. It even has a little sticky seal to keep it closed!

I added a card with a handwritten note, and -- voila!

So... if you want to check out some really really neat printable toys for your sponsored children (or your own children), check out The Toymaker site! I'm thinking paper dolls next...

Monday, June 20, 2011

I am angry.

As I've written before, I sponsor a woman in the Congo through Women for Women International. I have written letters to Sifa, but I haven't received any. Today I found out why: Sifa is completely illiterate. She only has "some primary" education. So she is completely unable to write, or to read.

But that's not why I'm angry.

I found this out through a questionnaire that Sifa filled out on attending her first class with Women for Women. The questionnaire gives a picture of a life that is probably all too common across the world, and one that appears destined to be repeated by Sifa's children. That should make everyone angry.

Here are the answers to Sifa's questionnaire:

She has three children, two boys and a girl.
Are they school-aged? Yes
Are they in school? No
If not in school, why not? No money

What education level have you attained? Some primary
Can you read more than your name? No
Can you write more than your name? No

Does your dwelling have electricity? No
What is the main source of lighting? Kerosene
Source of water? Public standpipe

Are you working? Yes (She didn't answer the question about type of work.)
General health of your family? Poor
Have you lost any family members from war, violence, poverty, illness, or political oppression? Yes

What would you like to achieve by participating in this program? (She didn't answer.)

I am so angry.

WHY am I complaining this morning about the internet not working in our house?
Why am I looking around at all the things I need to get rid of to clean our house for my parents' visit next week?
Why do I have so much--so much stuff, so many choices, so many dreams, so much health, so much education--and she has nothing?

Why aren't more people more angry?

Bob and I have been talking about my passion for sponsorship, and how to convince more people to get on board. Why don't we feel an urgent need to take care of Sifa and her children? There are means available. Why aren't more of us doing more?

I dream about a world in which we feel as responsible for Sifa's children as we do our own. It doesn't just take a village; it takes a globe. Imagine a world in which we all "adopted" each other, fed each other, clothed each other, educated each other. Surely that's what God intends.

Meanwhile, NPR did another story about Somalia, and the famine, poverty, and violence going on there, which the world appears to be ignoring. The reporter interviewed a young mother there and asked her how they survive.

"We don't survive," she answered, "We exist."

Shouldn't we all be angry?

If you're angry, please PLEASE go to Women for Women and sponsor a woman like Sifa. Or come volunteer at the Run for Congo Women July 31 in Denver. Please?

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Look at the super-sweet lace on this one!
Lilia and I spent the better part of Friday and Saturday working on pillowcase dresses to give to our friend Tammy Fairweather. Tammy and her husband Jack live in the Philippines, where they minister to street kids, and they were looking for donations of clothing. Seemed like a great opportunity for Lilia to learn how to sew!

Off we went to Goodwill, where we found lots of pillowcases that would make pretty, pretty dresses for little girls (OK, and a few that definitely would not. But we didn't buy those.). Then a trip to Joanne's for double-fold bias tape, elastic, thread, and ric-rac and other decorative trims, and we were up and running.

We got our directions from this site. I have looked and looked for good directions for pillowcase dresses, and these are definitely the best!

We managed to knock out six little dresses! Here they are posing attractively on our driveway. (Sorry, it's the only place the light was good.) I think we did pretty well! Lilia is now quite the seamstress.

We made several different sizes, depending on the size of the pillowcase and, well, our moods.

I love the colors on this one--especially the pastel mutli-colored ric-rac that Lilia found!

We still have pillowcases to work on! 

If you want to try your hand at some of these, check out the directions at 402 Center Street Designs--super easy, and funny too! A really great way to teach your daughter (or son!) All About Sewing Machines.

There are several organizations looking for pillowcase dresses. 

This site recommends Little Dresses for Africa.  Looks cool--maybe I'll send our next batch there. We've got some really pretty pillowcases still . . .

Monday, June 6, 2011

Run for Congo Women July 31!!

OK, Denverites...

Non-athlete that I am, I am helping with the 2011 Run for Congo Women. Here is my call to you: Sign up to run or walk, or to VOLUNTEER!

Why Congo Women? I've written before about Women for Women International, and how I am sponsoring my dear sister Sifa as she benefits from financial support, job training, and counseling.

The women in Congo are living a total hell every day. By participating in RFCW, you can help, in a real, tangible way--proceeds from the race go to sponsor other women through Women for Women International.

If you need any more convincing, read this article about last year's race.

Sign up to run or to volunteer!
Run for Congo Women
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Race start: 8:30 a.m.
Wash Park
Denver, CO
5K Run/Walk

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wise-Abe: Buy a bag, help a student

Today I found a company, Wise-Abe, that makes and sells messenger bags made of recycled coffee bags. A portion of their proceeds goes to Compassion International's Leadership Development program, which helps students in poverty actually attend college. The bags are really cool-looking! And... if you visit their blog here and leave a comment, you will be entered in a drawing to win a free bag! Win, win, win!
I want this one!

The company was started by Kristi Hayes after she visited her sponsored child in Guatemala and was moved to do something more. You can read her story here, on the Compassion blog.

I've been challenging my students to think about what unique gifts and talents they have that they could use to impact the world. Kristi apparently doesn't even sew! But she has a friend who does, and so they are partnering in this venture.

On another note, Craft Hope has posted a new project: handmade bracelets for orphans in Russia! They are asking for bracelets, lots of them. The only requirement: That they are handmade. I love this! It may not seem like much, but imagine a child who is basically alone in the world, feeling like they are not even on the world's radar screen, being given a bracelet that someone made for them, intentionally, to say "I care."

Here are some instructions for making friendship bracelets with embroidery floss. Make some and send them to
Carin Vogelzang
630 Griswold SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49507

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Sponsored Child Writing Group

Here is the cover of the book I made for Agartha.
We had our first get-together today, and although only one family came, we did make really COOL books for our sponsored children. Rosie, an avid crafter, came and taught us how to make them. She promises more cool crafts for future months!

I made a book for Agartha in Ghana. And the timing was perfect, as I got her info packet in the mail today!

Drew shows the book he is making

Rosie with her cool dye-cutting machine

The books are made from small paper lunch bags. That means each page is a pocket that can hold a tabbed card with a secret message!

And the secret message...

From here on, I'll show the pages with the secret message pulled out. This was SO fun!

Bob accuses me of being a tree-hugger. Guess I proved it here.

Sticker daffodils plus photo of my real daffodils...

Love the "bubble" stickers!

I was glad I got Agartha's packet today, so I could scan her photo and add it to this page!

The end!
So... I'll pack this with a letter to Agartha, and hope she gets it! The FAQ page at Compassion says you can no longer send books or booklets, but right under that it gives instructions for making a small photo album to send, so maybe this is still OK...