What goes around comes around?

This weekend, we took the kids to the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine.  Many months ago, Rob and I sat through a high-pressured vacation club sales pitch in order to get a “free” night at the GWL.  (Let me tell you, it’s not worth it!  Stay away from those things!  Just pay for your visit to the GWL!)  After jumping through a million hoops, we finally cashed in our night last night.

The kids had a blast.  Here are a couple of fun shots from the water park…

The plan was for all of us to spend Saturday night, and then I would stay there with the kids on Sunday.  (Rob works at our church and had to be there for the service this morning.)  Jake has never been on a trip before, and he has always slept in his crib.  The whole “everyone-in-the-same-room-and-Jake-not-in-a-crib” plan did NOT work!  Jake was so wired about the whole thing, that he had zero interest in going to sleep.  At first, he just sang songs in the dark.  We heard several rousing renditions of “R-E-D Red”, “Figaro” and “Deep and Wide,” among others.  Periodically, he would shout out “Good morning!” to us.  At first, it was quite funny.  Rob and I were in fits of giggles on several occasions.  That probably didn’t help with the attempts to get him to sleep!  After a brief moment of silence, he piped up with “I just pooped!” to which I immediately shouted out, “Not it!”  Fits of giggles ensued.  It was funny for a while, but after an hour and 45 minutes of Jake’s singing and running around the room in the dark, we finally gave up.  Rob loaded him up and took him home for the night.  That meant Abby and I had some mother-daughter time at the GWL today.

This leads me to the reason for this post.  For our last activity at the GWL, Abby begged me to let her play games in the arcade.  She only wanted to play games that give you tickets, of course.  She played and played and, since she’s not quite 5, ended up with just a small handful of tickets.  As she stood at the counter checking out the candy and small trinkets trying to see what she could “buy,” one of the ladies that works there pulled us aside.  She handed me four cards and said, “Someone gave me these cards today.  They have 500 tickets on them.  They told me to give the cards to whoever I wanted.  I see you don’t have many tickets, so I want you to have them.”  Let me tell you – Abby had an absolute blast “shopping” with all those tickets!  My favorite part?  She spent a good deal of time (and a lot of those tickets) finding and “buying” some really nice gifts for Jake.  She was so excited to tell him about the tickets and the gifts she bought him when we got home.

It was such fun today to see Abby experience the other side of giving.  It certainly makes it easier to teach her about giving when she sees how great it feels to be the recipient.  I can’t say that I believe in karma or “what goes around comes around” or anything like that.  But, I can say that it feels great every time you realize that there really are good people out there in the world!

My challenge for you this week:  commit one random act of kindness – and be sure your kids are involved.  Be anonymous and have fun with it!  I am 100% going to find something fun to do with Abby to pay it forward after receiving a random act of kindness ourselves.  (If you want some cute ideas for RAKs, check out this website for Guerilla Goodness.  LOVE IT!!!)  And, if you do a RAK this week, please comment below to let us know what it is!

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Thanks from Kenya!

As you probably know, we have connected with a school in Eldoret, Kenya – Fresh Start Academy – who asked for our help in meeting some very basic needs.  Thanks to the generosity of dozens of  you, we were able to send hundreds of toothbrushes and toothpaste and school supplies to the children in Kenya late in the summer.  Below is the message I received back from John, my connection with the Fresh Start Academy:

In behalf of the Fresh Start Academy, I would like to express  our deepest gratitude for your generous donation last month.

The donation you made contributed greatly to the success of our  project.We were able to make 300  children happy that day and we were also able to give them gifts  composed of Toothbrushes and pastes plus the school supplies.The beneficiaries were overjoyed by the activity and are hoping that we will continue supporting these children.

Thank you so much for giving importance to endeavors such as ours.   Bringing smiles to children’s faces is truly a heart-warming way to  share our blessings to others.We hope you continue supporting us in  future activities.

Yours sincerely,

John

He also sent me several pictures of the children with their new goodies that I wanted to share:

Many heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped with these projects!  It’s so exciting to get to see the pictures of the children with our gifts – to know they are really getting to these kids and we are making a difference!

We are going to continue trying to help the children at the Fresh Start Academy as much as we can.  Our next project is to try to provide shoes for the 300 children before Christmas.  Many people have already donated shoes, and I know there are many more coming.  If you have shoes (in good condition) that you would like to send to these children, please let me know!  The biggest issue is going to be shipping the shoes.  If you would like to make a contribution to help ship shoes to these sweet kiddos, you can do so here.  Even $5 or $10 can really help!

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Second Annual National Day of Service Neighborhood Food Drive

As I am sure you are well aware, today is the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks.  Last year, on the tenth anniversary, we were a month into our year of service.  When I learned September 11 had been designated the National Day of Service, I knew we had to do something.  Our service project last year was such a success that we decided to do it again!

I am the “charity” officer for my mom’s club, so I made the National Day of Service into a project for our group.  We met at my house and went door to door in our neighborhood with wagons to collect canned goods for a local food pantry.  We didn’t get the turnout that I had hoped for, but the group we had was great!  We had four moms and four kids participating.  (Me and one other mom decided we’d leave our little ones home to play with my husband.  That was a very good decision.)    Here are the kids at the start…

We spent about an hour going door to door.  Last year, there were a small handful of people who were not interested in helping when we knocked on the door.  (That was hard to explain to the kids.)  I am happy to report that this year every single house (where someone was home) happily donated!  Here are a few shots from our event…

I really, really love this project.  The kids have such a great time with it, and it’s so fun to get the neighbors involved.  After about an hour on the street, we had a big wagon full of food to donate to the local food pantry.

(It’s not an easy task to get six little kids to smile and pose for the camera!)  Here is our whole group…

Last year we had two families participate in this food drive, and this year we had four families participate.  I hope to continue doing this food drive for years to come with more participation each year.  You should consider doing this project in your own neighborhood.  It doesn’t have to be for the National Day of Service.  There is a need year- round!  Consider hosting a food drive at a time of year other than the holidays – when most people aren’t donating as much to local food banks.

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We’re still at it! Homeless kit update and school supply donations

Hello everyone!  I know it’s been a while since my last post – I’ve been taking a little blogging-breather since I wrapped up our year of service.  We definitely haven’t given up on our service, though!  Here is what we have been up to in the past week or so…

Last Sunday after church, Abby, Jake and I were heading home.  When we stopped at a light just outside of the church, there was a man standing there holding a sign that read “Need food.  Please help.  Anything will do.”  I didn’t have any food with me, but I did have the homeless care kit that Abby and I packed a few weeks ago for Project 46.  As I mentioned in that post, I really don’t come across too many homeless people where we live.  I know they’re around, but I generally don’t see them on the street in the places where I go.  I have seen one or two since we made the kit, but it was really important to me that Abby be there to witness it when I gave it out.  Here was our chance!  I quickly grabbed the kit and rolled down my window.  When the guy came over, I held it up and said, “Would this help?  It’s a hygiene kit.”  He lit up with a big smile and said, “Yes, it would!”  He took it, thanked us, and headed off on his way.

As we drove off, Abby started her barrage of questions about the man.  I know that all four-year-olds are full of questions, but Abby really takes it to a whole other level.  She can talk non-stop for a very long period of time without coming up for air!  It was really a challenge to explain homelessness to her.  It was the first time I’ve brought up drugs and alcohol to her.  It was hard to explain that some people are homeless for making really poor choices while others just hit an unfortunate string of bad luck.  At the same time, I wanted her to know she is safe and not at risk of winding up homeless any time soon.

Today Abby and I wrapped up two more projects we have been working on for a while.  As I’ve mentioned in several posts, Abby and I are trying to help the Fresh Start Academy in Eldoret, Kenya by providing them with urgently needed items.  Last month we sent hundreds of toothbrushes and toothpaste to the school.  A couple of months ago, I put out the call for school supplies to help the school.  They currently have one pencil for every two students.  Can you imagine?  My friends and my moms’ club really came through!  My moms’ club wanted to help local children with school supplies, as well, so we also collected school supplies for the New Beginnings Center.  The New Beginnings Center is a local charitable organization that helps victims of domestic violence.  Here are all the supplies we collected…

This afternoon, Abby was deeply engrossed in Dora the Explorer.  I asked her if she wanted to help me with this project and figure out which school supplies should go to Kenya and which should go to the New Beginnings Center.  I was pleasantly surprised when she hopped up, turned off Dora, and eagerly began to help.  I really got a kick out of how excited she was to sort the supplies.  She would pick up a supply and say, “Oh, I love this one, it really needs to go to Kenya,” or, “We need to be sure to save some colored pencils for the kids in Garland.”  Sitting at the kitchen table sorting supplies with Abby really made me remember why I love doing our projects together!

We filled a box for Kenya with the supplies I figured they could use the most – mostly pencils, colored pencils, pencil sharpeners, scissors, and a couple of random supplies.  (Abby felt strongly that the Kenyan children needed the one pink flexible ruler that was donated.)  You can fit a surprising amount of pencils into a relatively small box!  We tried to mail it off to Kenya today, but we arrived just as they were locking up the post office.  So, it will go in the mail tomorrow morning.

We also put together five full bags of supplies to take to the New Beginnings Center.

Tonight Abby and I took the bags of supplies over to the New Beginnings Center.  They were very appreciative!  Abby wanted to know who the supplies were going to help.  This was another difficult thing to explain.  I tried my best to explain about domestic violence.  When we got home, I heard her explaining to Rob that we took the supplies to help kids because some kids have mean daddies that hurt them.  Then she said, “But you’re not a mean Daddy.”  Service projects certainly can touch some areas that you otherwise might not bring up with preschoolers!

Next week I am on “mom-duty” all week.  My kids don’t start preschool until September 4, but my husband is already back to work (he’s a teacher) and my go-to-babysitter (my mom) will be on vacation.  So, we have a week full of activities planned.  I will definitely plan one or two projects to go along with it!

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We did it! One full year of service!

In late July or early August of 2011, a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook that included a list of 100 ways your family could make a difference.  (You can check out that original list here.)  As I read through that list, I kept saying to myself, “Oh, that sounds like a good idea.”  After I read the list, thoughts of doing the service projects it contained with my daughter (then 3.5, now 4.5) kept swirling through my mind.  The thoughts were so persistent that I ultimately decided that I would spend the next year committed to service in an effort to begin the process of teaching my children (Abby, now 4.5 and Jake, now 2) to give.  I set the lofty goal of averaging one service project per week for a whole year.  So, that works out to a total of 52 projects.   Believe it or not – we did it!!!  We started with our very first project – taking cookies to the fire station – on August 6, 2011, and we haven’t looked back since!

In an effort to not bore overwhelm you with a summary of all 52 projects, instead I decided to devote this post to my ten favorite projects from the year.  But, as I was typing this, I realized that I couldn’t narrow it down to ten.  There are just too many great ones!  So, instead I am going to narrow it down to the top 13 projects of the year.  These projects will all hold a special place in my heart forever, and Abby played an integral role in each and every one of these projects.  I truly hope they will provide inspiration for you and your family to come up with your own projects and committment to service!

NUMBER 13:  Bake cookies and deliver them to the local fire station (Project 1).  This was the first project we did, and to this day, Abby still talks about it every time we drive by the fire station.  That is probably why it is one of my favorites!  We went to the grocery store, where Abby picked out all the stuff to make cookies and brownies.  She really made some family’s day at the store when she explained to them what we were doing.  We had some great mother-daughter bonding making the treats, and then we took them over to the station hear our house.  Here is Abby mixing the brownies…

And here she is at the fire station:

NUMBER 12:  Hand out glow-in-the-dark bracelets/necklaces on the Fourth of July (Project 47).  As you can probably guess, we did this project on the Fourth of July.  My husband, Rob, had hundreds of glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces leftover from a fundraiser his choir had done a few years before.  We spent the entire time we were at the park before the fireworks handing them out.  Abby had a great time!  It was so fun to see the joy we brought to so many people that day!  It is well worth spending $10 or $20 to buy a bunch of bracelets or necklaces in bulk to do this project.

NUMBER 11:  Send toothbrushes and toothpaste to children in Kenya (Project 51).  This project found us.  John, a minister who runs a school in Eldoret, Kenya, contacted me through the Teaching to Give Facebook Page.  John saw what we were doing and asked if we could help by providing toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children at the school.  Without hesitation, I said yes!  I put the word out, and donations flooded in.  Our dentist and a friend who is a pediatric dentist donated boxes full of toothbrushes and toothpaste.  The biggest donation came from another attorney who I happened to mention the project to one day at court.  She sent 250 toothbrushes and 144 boxes of toothpaste for the cause!  Several people stepped up to help with the high shipping costs, too.  My favorite thing about this project was seeing how giving people from all walks of my life were.  Donations came from some of the most unexpected places!  I have truly loved whenever a project has served as a reminder of the truly good people in the world.

NUMBER 10:  Send a care package to a soldier (Project 8).  Abby and I decided to adopt a solider through anysoldier.com and send her a care package.  This project provided an interesting and complicated opportunity to discuss soldiers and war with Abby.  She was not even four at the time we did this project, and I had to carefully walk the line between scaring her and making her appreciate what soldiers do for us every day.  We picked a female soldier, and Abby and I went shopping for goodies.  Abby insisted that goldfish be included with the snacks!  We bought a variety of snacks and personal items to send to our soldier.

The best part of this project was that we actually got a response from our soldier!  She sent us a lovely, handwritten letter thanking Abby and telling her how wonderful she thought our projects are.  She even sent us a picture of her unit.  (Our soldier is the female on the bottom right of the picture.)

NUMBER 9:  Sponsor a child through World Vision (Project 39).  When we first started this year-long project, the original list repeatedly encouraged us to “sponsor a child.”  I sort of shrugged this idea off for a long time.  Then, I was introduced to World Vision through my running friends.  After learning quite a bit about the organization, I decided that sponsoring a child was, in fact, a fantastic idea!  You can search through tons of children to pick just the one you want.  Abby insisted on a four-year-old girl with cute hair.  So, we ended up choosing Belinda, a little girl from the Congo.  Through the program, we have been able to develop a relationship with Belinda.  Abby has made cards for her and sent her small items, such as a bracelet and pencils.  (Unfortunately, you can’t mail more than a large padded envelope to the Congo, or we would have sent her more!)  Over the years, we will be updated on Belinda’s progress in school, and we will send her letters, pictures, etc.  Abby talks about Belinda often, and we pray for her regularly.  This is a fantastic project to do with your children.  For the low cost of $35 per month, your child can really learn about the sponsored child, pray for her, send her things, and keep giving at the forefront of your child’s mind.

NUMBER 8:  Donate hair to Beautiful Lengths (or Locks of Love) (Project 41).  This project was definitely one of the most emotional for me!  Abby has always had beautiful, long hair.  Unfortunately, beautiful, long hair requires brushing, and we had many a spat over her hair at our house.  For a long time, Abby begged me to let her cut her hair.  I suggested that if she really wanted to cut it short, she should wait until it was long enough to donate.  She agreed.  So, for months we would get out the ruler and measure her hair to see if it was long enough.  Eventually, it was.  Abby was so excited she could hardly stand it!  We went to Sweet & Sassy, where her hair was put into a ponytail and chopped off.

I confess.  I shed a few tears over the chop.  But, it turned out super cute!  The hair was donated to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths, which uses the hair to make wigs for women with cancer.  For the record, the spats are much fewer and far between at hair-fixing time at our house now that the long hair is gone.  It was definitely a good decision!

NUMBER 7:  Fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child (Project 20).  This was the first time I had been introduced to the wonderful project of Operation Christmas Child.  It is a program run through Samaritan’s Purse, and they provide shoeboxes full of gifts to poor children all over the world.  Abby and I enjoyed picking out treats to fill the box.  When you send a box, you can register it online and track where it winds up.  Our box was sent to a child in Haiti.  We will definitely do this project year after year at our house!

NUMBER 6:  Collect pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House (Project 32).  This project was definitely one of my favorites because we got so many people involved!  Early in the year, I learned of the tragic passing of an old friend’s little boy (Liam) from leukemia.  When I learned what happened, my immediate reaction was to find something we could do to help.  I knew we couldn’t help Liam, but maybe we could help someone else in his situation.  Liam’s family had stayed at the Ronald McDonald House during his treatment, so we decided to help them.

Ronald McDonald House collects soda can pop tabs, which are recycled to provide money for the day-to-day operations of the house.  Abby got her preschool involved, and it was so fun to watch all of the children bringing their pop tabs into school every day!  Abby made big jugs for each class, and the classes spent the whole semester filling them up.  We collected a LOT of pop tabs!

After collecting all the pop tabs, my mom, Abby and I delivered them to the Ronald McDonald House.  While there, we took a tour and saw all of the amazing work that goes on there.

NUMBER 5:  Hold a stuffed animal drive and donate to the homeless (Project 15).  Every child (and everyone who used to be a child) knows the importance of having a beloved stuffed animal.  Many of our children – mine included – have been abundantly blessed in the stuffed animal department, so much so that many of them sit on a shelf un-loved.  So, Abby and I decided to collect pre-loved stuffed animals to donate to children who weren’t so lucky.

Once we collected all the stuffed animals, we delivered them to a homeless shelter in Dallas that helps families with children.  A friend of mine and two of her boys went along to help deliver the goodies.  While there, we got to take a tour of the facility and see where our donations would be going.

NUMBER 3:  Go Reverse Trick-or-Treating (Project 18).  I have now participated in this project with my child(ren) several times, and I absolutely love it!  We assembled a group of children to go to a local assisted living facility.  First, we made goodie bags filled with a variety of goodies sure to please the residents – cookies, candy, playing cards, Halloween trinkets, travel-sized kleenex and lotions, etc.  Then, we all headed to the assisted living facility and the children delivered all of the goodies.  This project is such a great opportunity to get some more use out of those expensive Halloween costumes!  The residents all loved getting to see the children, but I think the kids got just as much out of it as the elderly folks did.  I highly, highly recommend starting this project with your church group, school group, moms’ group, or a random group of your friends!

Another great thing about this project?  Even the littlest of kiddos can participate!  I loved that both Jake and Abby could do this project.

NUMBER 2:  Hold a neighborhood door-to-door food drive (Project 9).  This project is another one of my absolute favorites!  For the National Day of Service (September 11), we gathered a small group and went door-to-door in our neighborhood collecting canned goods for the local food pantry.  The children really enjoyed this one!  Abby memorized her little speech and loved asking each person, “Today is the National Day of Service.  Would you like to donate any cans for the food pantry?”   We collected a LOT of canned goods!  Almost all of the neighbors were extremely generous.  This is another project that I highly recommend doing with a group of your own.  The next National Day of Service is only a short month away – this is a good, easy way to make a difference in your town!

NUMBER 1:  Host a birthday party for the Boys and Girls’ Club (Project 6).  By far my favorite project of the year was when we hosted a birthday party at the local Boys & Girls’ Club.  This project involved a lot of time and preparation, and I enjoyed every minute of it!  Abby and I started by buying party supplies.  We then met up with two cake-decorating friends – Jenny and Becky – who helped us decorate a cake and some cupcakes for the celebration.

On the day of the party, I picked Abby up early from preschool and we headed to the Boys & Girls’ Club.  We decorated the party room and welcomed over a dozen children who were celebrating birthdays.  We lit candles on their cupcakes, sang happy birthday, and enjoyed a wonderful celebration.  I wasn’t sure how appreciative the kids would be.  Would they think this was dumb?  Would they be “too cool” for our little birthday party?  I was so pleasantly surprised.  They LOVED it!  Even the oldest teenagers really loved it.  It was obvious these children were not used to birthday parties, and it was such a life-changing experience for me to help them celebrate.  If you live anywhere near a local Boys & Girls Club, please contact them and see if you can throw a birthday party sometime this year.  I promise, it will be worth every penny you spend and every minute of your time!

Over the course of the year, we completed thirty-nine other projects.  Each was special in its own way, and each has changed me for the better.  (To see the complete list of projects and to find a link to any project that interests you, visit the Project List page.)

Many times during the course of this year, I have been overwhelmed by the need in the world.  There are far more children out there than I can ever throw a birthday party for or send toothbrushes and toothpaste to.  Our little projects barely register as a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.  But, whenever I have started to get overcome by these thoughts, my mind always returns to a story told one day in a church sermon by our youth minister, Harold, that goes something like this:

A young boy was walking along the beach.  Thousands of sand dollars lined the beach.  He knew that the sand dollars would die if they were not returned to the water.  He spent the morning throwing sand dollars back into the water.  Someone asked him, “Why are you doing that?  There are so many sand dollars, you can’t possibly make a difference.”  As the boy threw another one in the water, he replied, “I just made a difference for that one.”

I know that Abby and I did not change the world over the course of the past year.  But, we definitely changed my life, and we hopefully changed the course of hers.  Further, I believe we made a difference to hundreds of “sand dollars” along the way.

If one person or one family can make a difference in the lives of a few sand dollars, think about how many could be saved if everyone chipped in?  I know that most people are not going to make the kind of committment I made.  But really, our service projects took very little time or money.  All  it took was some planning.  Every family plans activities.  Why not plan activities that will make a difference and teach your children to be givers?

Our “year of service” may be over, but our committment to service has just begun.  I plan to do everything I can to set the example of giving for Abby and Jake and to include them in service at every opportunity.

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Project 52: Take a refugee family clothes shopping

Project 52!  Yay!  We did it!  This is the last project to wrap up our “year of service.”  Unfortunately, Abby left this morning to go to Nebraska and visit her Gram, so she wasn’t able to help me with this one.  I will definitely share it with her, though!

Our church (King of Glory Lutheran in Dallas) participates in a refugee resettlement ministry.  For quite a while, I have been on the list for the ministry, but before today I hadn’t yet made it out to help with one of the families.  Our church gets paired up with refugee families, and we help with such things as furnishing an apartment, welcoming the family at the airport, and taking them grocery shopping.  Today we were tasked with purchasing some clothes for the family.

The family we are helping is the Yuang family.  They are from Burma/Myanmar.  The family was expelled from their home under the threat of death due to their ethnicity, and they spent the past 13 years in a refugee camp in the remote jungles of Thailand.  Below are some examples of the villages in Thailand…

The family consists of the mother and father, a thirteen year old boy, a nine (or maybe ten) year old girl, a six-year-old girl, and a one year old girl.  It’s remarkable to realize that none of those children ever experienced anything beyond the refugee camp before coming to America.

My friend Petrina (who has helped with this family before) and I met the family at their little apartment in Dallas.  No one in the family speaks English, but they are already starting to pick up a few words.  The 9/10-year-old girl really stood out to me.  She was just beautiful and so friendly and sweet.   When they opened the door for me, she was standing there ready to shake my hand and said “Good morning!”  (Granted, it was 2 pm, but I happily said “Good morning!” back to her.)  We did a little inventory of the clothes the family already had (not much), and we set out to shop.

Our experience today was probably one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had.  It was truly a lesson in realizing how much I take for granted some of the little luxuries in life.  I took the mother and the two youngest girls in my car, since I already had the car seats.  It blew me away how the mother really did not understand the most basic parts of the car.  I opened the back door to buckle in the baby in the back, and she climbed into the middle of the back seat between the car seats.  (There is not much room there.)  I motioned that she should sit in the front seat.  So, she crawled up between the seats.  At first, I figured she just thought that was easier than getting out and walking around.  After getting in and out of the car a couple of times, I realized that she did not know how to open the car door – from the inside or the outside.  I had to show her a couple of times how to pull the handle and then push the door out.  I also motioned to her that she should put her seat belt on.  Such a simple thing – and she really did not know what to do.  She managed to put it on with most of it behind her.  Eventually, we got it figured out.

Our first stop was at Goodwill.  Petrina thought it would be a good idea to take the family there to teach them how to shop “thrifty,” since they are supposed to be self-sufficient within 6 months under the program.  I had never been to Goodwill before, other than to drop off donations outside.  I learned a few things:  (1) the standards for what they will put on the shelves at Goodwill are very low, and (2) the things they put out are unlabeled and very unorganized.  It was quite a challenge to find clothes for people when you have no idea what size they are or where to find that size!  (For example, there was a rack of probably 100 pairs of girls’ jeans.  None of them had a tag showing the size, and they were not organized by size.  The only way to find the size was to take it off the hanger and look inside.

Once inside Goodwill, I took the three older kids and Petrina took the parents and the baby so we could find a few pieces of clothing for each person.  It didn’t take long before the kids caught on and were able to show me what they wanted.  I was quite surprised that they expressed their opinions as to what they did or did not want.  I fully expected them to feel they could not say no to anything I suggested, but I was definitely wrong!  They knew what they wanted.  I can’t say I ever really figured that out, but I think they were happy with the selections.  Here are a few shots of the kids shopping…

Here are Petrina, the mother and the baby…

The clothes are basically organized by color, so I more or less got the kids to show me which color they wanted.  I was surprised to see so many vacation t-shirts, kids’ soccer jerseys, high school t-shirts, and other random, very personal t-shirts.  (I always just throw my old ones away – but apparently some people may like them.)  The boy randomly picked out a Mavericks shirt, and I told him that was a great choice!  (I did steer him away from all the Aggie clothes I saw, though ;)).  Here is a shot of the whole family at Goodwill:

After we finished at Goodwill, we went to this discount store near the apartment.  It reminded me of Ross or TJ Maxx, only cheaper.  We went there to buy underwear for everyone.   This was another example of how this family made me realize how much I take for granted some of the little things in life – like underwear.  Before our purchases, this family had never had any underwear.  Petrina had to try to explain underwear to them, which is a little difficult with the language barrier!

While we were at the store, the six-year-old turned to her mother and said something.  Then the mother said, “Toilet” and pointed to the little girl.  I took the little girl by the hand and off we went to find the bathroom.  Not-too-surprisingly, the low-cost discount store refused to let us use the bathroom.  We had to run next door into the grocery store to find one.  When we got there, it became obvious that this poor little girl must not have been feeling very well.  Let’s just say we were in there for quite a while.  I was stunned at the fact that she never once complained and never once let on that she wasn’t feeling so good.   She just suffered in complete silence.  Every little kid (and frankly probably every adult) I know would have been obvious in their misery.  Not this sweet little girl.  It really made me sad to think about the kind of life she must have lived to react the way she did.  When we headed back to the store, it was obvious she was feeling better, as she gave me a huge smile and started skipping off back to the discount store.

After we finished our shopping trip, we took the family back to the apartment and sorted out the clothes for them.  When we left, they were so gracious.  The oldest girl was trying her best to learn our names.  They all knew the word “Thank You” and shook our hands.

In a few weeks, I’ll be going back to see the family again and take them grocery shopping.  I am really looking forward to it!  I bet they will have picked up even more English by that time – especially the children.  (If you would like to read more about this family and our refugee ministry, you can visit that blog here.)

Well, that wraps up the last project of the year!  Watch for a year-end summary post in the coming days to wrap everything up.  Not to worry – we will definitely be continuing with our projects in the future!

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Project 51: Send toothbrushes and toothpaste to children in Kenya

About a month ago, I was contacted through my Teaching to Give Facebook Page  by a minister named John in Kenya.  John runs the Fresh Start Academy, which is a school with approximately 300 children in Eldoret, Kenya.  Many (or maybe even all) of the children come from very poor backgrounds.  Here are some of the children at the school…

John saw what we were doing and asked if we could help by providing toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children at his school.  Without hesitating (and without giving any thought to the cost involved), I said yes.

I immediately put out the word to friends and told anyone I met who I thought might be interested in what we were doing.  The support for this project has been simply overwhelming.  One of the most heartwarming things about this project has been to see how many people – some who I barely know at all – opened up their hearts and their wallets to help.  The very first day I posted about this project, a friend showed up with her children and a big gift bag full of toothbrushes and toothpaste.   When Abby and I went to her dentist appointment, we told them about the project and asked if they had anything to contribute.  They gave us two boxes of toothpaste and a giant bag of toothbrushes to send.  (Thanks G Family Dentistry!)  I mentioned the project to another friend who is a pediatric dentist in Frisco, and she graciously donated several more boxes of toothbrushes and toothpaste.  (Thanks Frisco Dentistry for Kids!)

The largest and most surprising donation came from someone who I simply told about the project one day.  I am an attorney and was at the courthouse for a hearing.  Six attorneys were supposed to attend, but only a couple of us were actually there.  So, I sat next to opposing counsel for about an hour and chatted while we waited to see if the others would show up.  Somehow, our conversation steered itself to this project.  The next thing I knew, that attorney had 250 toothbrushes and 144 boxes of toothpaste sent to my office!  I am so overwhelmed by her generosity!  Look at all the toothbrushes and toothpaste we collected….

When I first started looking in to shipping donations to Kenya, I went to the USPS website.  It told me I could ship a “large” flat rate box to Kenya for $60.  Great.   That was better than I thought.  So, I hopped over to the post office to pick up a few boxes.  Unfortunately, “large” flat rate boxes are anything but large!  They’re actually quite small.  I decided to try packing all the toothbrushes and toothpaste into two larger boxes to see if it would be a cheaper option.

WRONG!  Thankfully, we live in a time when you can figure out your shipping costs online.  So, I measured and weighed the boxes to figure out just how much it would cost to ship.  (I didn’t want to have a heart attack at the post office when they told me the cost!)  First, I tried UPS.  Total cost to ship ONE of these boxes?  $845!   Sheesh!  Next stop, the post office.  Total cost to ship both costs $440.  Ouch.   So, back to the drawing board I went.  It turns out toothpaste is extremely heavy, so I took out all the toothpaste and loaded that into flat rate boxes.  I put all the toothbrushes into a big box, since they’re light.  Thankfully, it brought the total down significantly.

Total cost to ship?  $275.  This morning, I took all of the boxes to the post office, filled out the custom forms, and sent them off to Kenya.  I certainly did my part today to keep the USPS in business!

It really makes me sad how expensive it is to ship things over there.  Everyone has such big hearts and I know we could get an endless supply of donations for these kiddos, but shipping the items over there is pretty cost prohibitive.

I put out a call to friends for donations to help with shipping costs, and again, my heart melted seeing the generosity of so many.  Friends I haven’t seen or spoken to in years sent me checks.  One of the most amazing things about all of our projects has been watching the generosity of others.  It rarely comes from those you would expect it to come from.  You just never know who is going to be touched by a particular cause!  All of the wonderful donations (both in toothbrushes and toothpaste and in money to cover shipping charges) have been such a great reminder to me of the goodness in people.

Abby and I are continuing to collect items for Kenya.  We plan to send school supplies (and a few other miscellaneous items) at the end of August.  (John told me that the school currently has one pencil for every two students.)  We are also collecting used shoes to send before Christmas.  (John said that many of the students walk to school barefoot.)  At least two of my friends are diligently collecting shoes, and I think we are up to about 100 total collected between the three of us.  My goal is to send over 300 pairs of shoes.  Unfortunately, the cost of shipping 300 pairs of shoes is going to be astronomical.  It may easily cost $1,000 or more to ship them.  For now, I am trying not to worry about that.  Generous givers came through for the first round of shipping, and I am very hopeful that the same will happy for the second and third rounds.  If you are interested in contributing to the shipping costs, please visit our donation site.

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