Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Coffee and Conversation with our International Volunteers!

Stacie Henrickson, Office Administrator/Volunteer Coordinator in the Northwest Region of Friends of the Orphans shares about their recent “Coffee and Conversation” event, held quarterly and featuring a different topic each time. This quarter’s topic was the International Volunteer Program.

One of my favorite aspects of Friends of the Orphans is our International Volunteer Program. I love being able to travel and experience the NPH homes vicariously through our 60 amazing international volunteers. Each week I take time to read a few of their blog updates and step directly into NPH and all the adventures and challenges they are facing. One of my favorite blogs is Carrie Daut’s - technically, she was a volunteer and is now an employee, but she still counts in my book. 

So, when I found out the topic for our last quarterly “Coffee and Conversation” event of 2011 would be the International Volunteer Program (bonus: the event was at Starbucks Headquarters with free coffee), I marked my calendar right away.

About 20 Friends of the Orphans supporters gathered to hear from a panel of four former international volunteers:

Jim Hall, NPH Honduras (2002-2003) – Jim lived in Honduras with his wife Chris and son Isaac. He is now on our Regional Board of Directors and a child sponsor. Jim recently launched his own photography and video business.

Joe Cotton, NPH Nicaragua (2005-2006) – Joe served as President of our Regional Board of Directors and is also a child sponsor. Currently, he is enrolled in the Masters Program at the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry. He is also an experienced youth minister who works with the King County Detention Program.

Angela Klaassen, NPH Honduras (2008-2010) – Angela graduated from the University of Portland and now lives and works in Seattle. She is a child sponsor and will be helping to launch our Associate Board for young professionals who want to support Friends of the Orphans.

Malia Cranmer, NPH Guatemala (2000-2001) – Malia is now a pediatrician and is also a child sponsor. She recently hosted our annual former volunteer gathering and also brought a table of guests to Faces of Hope this past spring.

It was so wonderful to hear from such a varied group of former volunteers – they served in different homes, held different positions, some returned several years ago and others more recently, and they have followed very different career paths. Even with these differences, they all shared some of the same joys (being part of a big family and spending quality time with the kids) and frustrations (language barriers and culture shock when coming home). It was also enlightening to hear the unique experiences of each volunteer – for example, Jim built relationships with the maintenance team and still sends money each month to help support one team member’s children through school. And we’re pretty sure Joe is the only volunteer who has ever opened a locker and found a live owl! He had some of the older boys to thank for that one.

The audience also asked a few challenging questions, for example, is there a negative impact on the kids from having volunteers come in and out of their lives? The panel agreed that the kids are happy to have attention for any length of time, and the kids also feel volunteers are part of a big family and know that when one family member leaves, another will come to spend time with them. In addition, all of the panelists keep in touch with children and/or staff at the homes and sponsor a child, and some have even been able to return to visit.

Guest pequeño Emir Ricaño, in Seattle for a year participating in the International Leadership Program, was able to share what international volunteers have meant to him at NPH Mexico – that an additional person cares about him and takes an interest in his life – and really reinforced how impactful and important this program is.

I believe everyone, myself included, walked away from this event feeling warm and fuzzy thinking about the kids at NPH and how great it is that people will volunteer for a year to help others feel cared for and important. 

If you are in the Seattle-Bellevue area, we encourage you to keep an eye on our Northwest page for upcoming events, including our quarterly Coffee and Conversation events next year, and events featuring the International Leadership Program Participants.

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