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Changing children’s lives

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
Special to the Daily The students from Breckenridge Elementary collected school supplies and made a card (pictured) for the children at the Arbol de Vida orphanage in Juarez, Mexico. A group of 19 young adults from Summit County drove down to Juarez to deliver the supplies, build bathrooms and spend time with the children this month.
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SUMMIT COUNTY – Most people travel south of the border for a relaxing vacation, but a group of young adults drove to Mexico to replace leaky toilets and water-damaged walls.

Nineteen locals spent five days tearing out bathrooms and building three new ones at an orphanage in Juarez, Mexico, this month.

The young adults are part of a group, Kairos, that meets twice a week at the Breckenridge Christian Ministry Church with co-directors Kate and Mike Glerup.

One of the members, Monica Mullinnix, traveled to the orphanage two years ago with a group of Denver firefighters who regularly go there. She inspired Kairos to go as a service project. Each person paid $200 for food and gas, and the group raised $2,500 for supplies.

Kathy Seaboldt, a member of the church, organized a school supply drive at Breckenridge Elementary, and within two weeks, parents, teachers and students raised about $300 and collected supplies ranging from jump ropes to paper for 48 children.

Jennifer Swift, the Spanish teacher, helped students make a card to send with the supplies.

The orphanage sits on a cliff overlooking Juarez. An American man opened the center 10 years ago when he met and married a Juarez resident. He and his wife look after 35-45 kids who have been taken away from their parents or whose parents recognize they can’t give them the care they need.

“Part of our goal as a group was to interact with the kids and let them know we were there for them,” said Christina Black, a member of Kairos.

“The children have all experienced so much pain, yet they were immediately receptive to us when we came,” Mullinnix said. “Usually children would be scarred and turn their backs on you, but they were so willing to play and sit on our laps.”

The group transformed a bathroom with a leaky toilet, water damage and drainage problems into a facility with new piping and clean amenities. It also built two additional bathrooms. One of the members, Rob Oderman, plans to return shortly to finish the work.

“The hardest thing physically was the heat,” Kate Glerup said. “It was at least 98-100 degrees. (Emotionally, the hardest thing was that) the children were so emotionally needy that you just wanted to love them. By our standards, (the conditions) would be poverty level, but by their standards, the children were very well fed and had nice beds. But emotionally, they don’t have parents focusing on them.

“We’ve definitely contributed emotionally by giving them attention. And physically, the bathrooms are a huge help because they had one bathroom for the girls, and we put in three.”

The group plans to return this fall.

“For the group, it was a very significant experience,” Mullinnix said. “It didn’t feel like 19 people. It felt like a small group of best friends heading out on a (12-hour) road trip. We were just such a unified group.”

Part of the close feelings came from the kids.

“They force you to open your heart,” Black said. “Talk about unconditional love – these kids will just cling to you. It’s an amazing experience.”

It’s also an experience that’s hard to leave.

“You go to say goodbye to the kids, and their eyes fill up with tears,” Black said.

But the memories remain.

“It’s really not that hard to get up and do something like that, and it’s such a life-changing experience,” Mullinnix said.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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