People often underestimate the impact that college kids can make! This blog post, written by a college freshmen proves there’s more to them than people give them credit for!!
James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Three years ago, I had no idea that there was a place called “Latvia” on the planet Earth. Don’t get me wrong, I loved maps, geography, and history. Even so, I didn’t even know it existed. Wow, how things have changed! After a long process, my family adopted my brother, Vitalijs, a then 14 (now 15) year old boy from Riga, the capital city. He’s been living permanently with us for about a year now, and it’s been quite the experience!
I’ve always been one for service, extending a helping hand to help those who are less fortunate. So when my mom said we were going to host a kid (and I noticed how intent she was…) I hopped aboard. I’ll admit I wasn’t totally comfortable with it. But I figured, I’d been loved plenty, so it wouldn’t be that hard to love on a kid for a while, right? It’ll only be a few weeks, right? Yeah…….
Originally I thought that hosting and adoption was all about giving. But what I didn’t anticipate was all the blessings that would come from Vitalijs joining our family. V (creative nickname huh?) has a great ability to make other people happy. It doesn’t take too much for him to get me to smile anymore. Seeing his astounding growth in every aspect of life has been SO rewarding. I’m blown away by something V does almost every day. Equally as mind blowing has been how willing everyone is to welcome him. All of my friends, my family, my high school and my church have made the transition so much easier for him and even for me. Little things like having him as the water boy for our lacrosse team. Amazing… It’s been such an encouragement to see everyone seize the opportunity to love on someone. I’ve seen V bring out the good in others, and grow SO much himself, from a trouble making kiddo who lived in a Latvian orphanage to one of my favorite people to be around. It’s hard to describe the feeling this whole experience has been, but I guess the word is joy. Deep joy.
Two summers ago, maybe ten days into our family’s first hosting experience with V, something happened that has hung around in my head. Our whole family was prepping to head over to the pool. V was looking for his swim trunks and had a bit of a dilemma. He couldn’t find them anywhere! From the living room, I hear V yell at the top of his lungs “Dad! Where are you!?! Help me! DAD?!” … complete silence. It hit me hard. I went into my room crying, thinking about how many kids cry out that same call every day, with silence on the other end… every single time.
I want others to experience the blessing that comes from hosting and adopting a kid. I also realized the need for these orphans to have love and attention, someone to answer their calls. I guess you could say I developed a heart for orphans. But hey, I’m a teenager, so what can I do? I didn’t have a clue what God would have in store for me, but I figured I’d keep my eyes open for an opportunity.
I’m a freshman at the University of Maryland, where I was accepted into something called the Scholars program. Within Scholars, there are a number of different areas of focus. I chose to be a part of the Public Leadership (PL) program. For students who are a part of this program, a few things are required: enrolling in certain courses, living in dorms with other PL people and completing a project. When the project was announced, it drew out the typical reaction. Wonderful. A project. Except this one’s for an entire year?!?!??
It was called a Community Based Learning (CBL) project. The intention is for students to work with an organization in the community to help make a difference. I thought that was pretty cool. Much cooler than some of the book reports I’ve stayed up faaaar too late writing. All 90 of us students would get to choose the organization we wanted to work with, and a group of five would be assigned to working with each one. The organizations all sounded great and awesome for the community, but I kept thinking that it would be tough for me to be really passionate about working with them because I didn’t really have a personal connection. But I started to tune in when I heard that people could create their own projects with a partner organization. HELLO, OPPORTUNITY! I called up my mom, wondering if there was a way that I could do a project for orphans. She was so ecstatic, and connected me with LeAnn Dakake and New Horizons for Children. So I went to the professors of my class and asked if I could create this project. To be honest, I thought it was a long shot. A faith-based organization? Working with people on another continent? Well… they accepted it! And when the time came for everyone to choose what CBL they wanted to be a part of, there was some serious interest in working with New Horizons. To be honest, that was all I could’ve wished for: some people to realize there was a need, and work alongside myself and New Horizons to try our best to address it.
A few weeks later, we were put into our groups. I was in a group with Stephen, Sabrina, Joe and Audrey. I was friends with them, but was really unsure how we’d work as a group. One of our first tasks was coming up with a good team name. So of course we went to Google Translate. We found that the word Community in Latvian was KOPIENA. V says he’s never heard the word before, but we overlooked that 😛 it sounded cool, so we went with it! We had our name, but in the first couple meetings, we struggled with what our PURPOSE was. I tried to keep it simple: we wanted to help Latvian orphans in one way or another. At the time, I’d had very little contact with LeAnn. Looking back, I really can’t imagine what she was thinking! I was a college student with passion, but little to no game plan. She was extremely flexible with us, hearing what our purpose was and helping us brainstorm some ideas of how we could see that through. Together, we determined we wanted to raise money, but also a tangible object. We honed in on something simple, yet practical. Chapstick. We heard it was a real need, and also something so unique that we could distinguish our efforts from all the other ones on campus. So we’d have a drive to collect Chapstick. But how on Earth would we raise money??? We thought up a few ideas, but most of them fell through. Well, we’d heard of a pancake dinner that was pretty successful, and thought it just might work for us. We had no expectations, but we went forward with a name, a purpose, and knowing that we’d be working with Chapstick and Pancakes.
Thanks to the other Public Leadership students and Maryland Cru, the campus ministry I’m a part of, we saw some success with the Chapstick fundraiser. We had about a 100 Chapsticks before Winter Break! We were really happy with it, and decided we should have it be ongoing. So we shifted our focus to the Pancake Dinner. It wasn’t going to be a big fundraiser, but hopefully we’d make a profit and give that money in the form of scholarships to New Horizons.
Having experienced success with our Chapstick fundraiser, along with having support from LeAnn, Cru, the Public Leadership staff and our families, we decided to go all out. We figured, why not! So we started thinking big for the pancake dinner. Just in time, we heard the Public Leadership had an account of money designated to reimbursing students for their projects. We applied for $250, and got that accepted. We figured $250 would cover us for two pancake nights. By the time it was accepted, we had ONE WEEK until the Pancake Night, March 8th. With one week to go, it was officially crunch time. We had to get everything together. Of course it wasn’t all smooth sailing, in the week prior we definitely hit turbulence. I had some communication issues with the University about where our fundraiser would be taking place. We had Sabrina come down with strep throat. My grandmother passed away and I spent the first half of crunch time week devastated. Even worse, I was trying to run the group from Pennsylvania, but we didn’t have really any Internet access. Stephen and Joe really stepped up and made our orders for the materials. They ordered us 170 dollars’ worth of pancake mix. Read that again! We also ordered 12 bottles of syrup, 8 pounds of chocolate chips and a few pounds of blueberries. When I returned from Pennsylvania, we were in full gear. Our group worked so well under pressure, I was so proud. In the two days before the event we:
- Rented three griddles
- Made a Facebook event
- Created and distributed 500 flyers
- Actually planned the event
- Set everything up
- Got change for the event
- Picked up utensils, napkins, plates and soda
- Set up two speaker systems
It was surreal. We were having a real event. I looked over to Stephen a few times, smiled, laughed a little then said “This is happening!” a number of times in those last two days. We really had no idea how the turnout would be. We just figured we’d do what we could, and trust that whatever needed to happen would happen. We would be happy with 20 people or up to 75 people. Thanks to that reimbursement money, everything we earned was profit! We had 45 people who were ‘attending’ on Facebook, which gave us a ballpark estimate that we were so happy with!!
The night came. The whole day was a rush. I don’t think there was a minute of relaxing. The fields were prepared… we waited for the rain. It poured! Thirty minutes into the four hour long event, we had to find more seating. The line was about 35 people thick, and there were around 40 people sitting down. I was running around thanking people for coming, making sure everything was running smoothly and picking up necessities at the inconvenience store. I had to pull myself out of the situation, just stand in awe and have a huge thank you prayer moment! I couldn’t believe it. We worked our butts off for the next three hours, and had a blast doing it. It was hard to find a moment where Kopiena weren’t smiling. It was an all you can eat pancake night, so you better believe our guests were smiling too!
We wrapped up the night having raised $605 and 45 more Chapsticks, giving us a total of 200. I still shake my head and have to praise God for that last sentence. Cru had an amazing showing, as did Public Leadership and even a bunch of strangers! The generosity and heart of these college kids….
We told LeAnn the good news, and she helped us with how we could place our scholarship. We browsed over the New Horizons page and made our selection. I wanted this to be a team decision. I wanted my teammates to have the experience of changing a kid’s life. My mom gave a few suggestions, and we looked into a number of people. It was a really tough decision! It was made easier as a few of the people on our list ended up getting hosted (yahoo for that!!!). We all were pretty passionate about sponsoring Aleksejs and Nikita (seen below). My mom had been praying for Nikita for so long, so she was jumping for joy when she heard we’d made our decision. It was a phenomenal experience, getting the blessing of being able to sponsor these kids. Aleksejs (gray sweatshirt) now has $155 in his scholarship fund and Nikita (green collared shirt) now has $700, he’s been offered several time and never chosen, we’re hoping this money helps him stand out to potential families!
What’s next for Kopiena?! Well… Like I said, we’re going to maintain the Chapstick drive. We’re also planning on doing another Pancake Night in late April. We’re working on getting MORE pancake mix, as we used up three fourths of our original stash. We’re also planning on throwing together a bake sale before the end of the year. We’re hoping to be able to sponsor a few more kiddos! A few of my teammates even said they want to support and sponsor kids post-college. J
Oh, how sweet it is when there’s so much success that you can’t take a bit of credit for it. How sweet it is when you see God open doors. How sweet it is seeing Christians AND non-Christians work together to live out James 1:27.