Kids United On a Mission Are a Powerful Force For Change
One year into their partnership with Zoe Empowers, four members of Creekwood United Methodist Church (UMC) in Allen, Texas, decided to take a trip to Chennai, India, to pay a visit to the empowerment group they’d been working hard to support from the other side of the globe.
Through research and information shared by Zoe Empowers, the Creekwood travelers were no stranger to the harsh living conditions and generally dangerous environment for children, especially girls, in the slums of Chennai. They’d heard stories of parents, male siblings and even grandparents selling their daughter, sister or grandchild into India’s monstrous network of slavery. They’d learned, in India, it wasn’t unusual for children as young as seven years old to be forced to work as housemaids for the wealthy or endure 14-hour shifts in poorly ventilated and crammed factories—and this is just what is public knowledge; the extent of abuse stems far beyond comprehension.
With this mental picture at the forefront, the Creekwood travelers traveled to Chennai and were pleasantly surprised to find the members of the empowerment group they funded looking strong, healthy and self-sufficient. The group, comprised of roughly 60 children, smiled and laughed often and willingly shared their stories of transformation, with the help of an English translator, and proudly showed the Texas visitors their businesses.
The effectiveness of the three-year empowerment model was unmistakably clear when the Creekwood travelers also came in contact with five newly-formed empowerment groups in Chennai that were still in need of funding. The Creekwood travelers were moved by how visibly sad and desperate these children seemed—a stark contrast to the group they’d helped to fund. Before leaving India, it was unanimous among the Texans that they wanted to continue fundraising to support another empowerment group when they got home.
Upon their return to Allen, Texas, Kristi Wilbur, a Sunday school teacher who heard about the Zoe Empowers trip had the idea of implementing a summer program in her classroom that would not only raise funds for Zoe Empowers empowerment groups, but also promote goal setting and achievement while instilling in the children the concept of compassion and thinking of others. Her idea was simple: Kids could earn Zoe Empowers donations by doing extra chores in their homes. At the end of the summer, the kids would combine their earnings to make a donation to ZOE. She and her colleagues dubbed the fundraising program Kids on a Mission, and the group began spreading the word throughout the congregation.
What happened next was something Creekwood UMC and Wilbur could’ve never anticipated. Within a matter of weeks, Kids on a Mission spread to other elementary, middle and high school Sunday school groups and organizations throughout the Allen community. Lemonade stands opened, individual fundraiser websites were launched, and bake sales were organized around the city and even trickled into the neighboring communities of Fairview, Lucas and McKinney.
To help the children further understand to whom and where their hard-earned money was going, Sunday school lessons incorporated stories and videos about Zoe Empowers and the culture of Africa and India. Creekwood UMC summer Bible school campers planted a community garden to learn how Zoe Empowers teaches children to grow their own food, and some of the classrooms even made recipes from the countries Zoe Empowers supports.
In just a few short summer months, 91 children from 50 families participated in Kids on a Mission, with one-third of the families being non-Creekwood members from surrounding communities. The collective effort fundraised an impressive $28,125. Then things really got exciting. An anonymous Creekwood UMC family stepped-up to double the donation, bringing the total to $56,300. When another anonymous Zoe Empowers donor agreed to match Creekwood UMC’s total, the group was ecstatic. When all was said and done, the Kids on a Mission fundraiser contributed $112,600 to Zoe Empowers, which not only funded one empowerment group, their original goal, but a total of five new groups: one in Zimbabwe and four in India.
“What began as a simple lesson teaching kids they’re never too small to make a difference, ended with an entire community coming together.” explained Lyndsey Lessner, a member of Creekwood UMC’s mission team.
Beyond impacting the lives of hundreds of orphans and vulnerable children, Kids on a Mission left a powerful impression on dozens of children in central Texas. “I learned that if we help people then, the people that we helped, they help other people. And other people help other people, and it keeps going on and on. So, we could help the whole entire world.” said 7-year-old Creekwood UMC member, Finley.
While fundraising may not give kids the instant gratification that attending a summer sports camp or music lesson would, these communities in Texas proved its possible to make generosity both fun and educational for all ages. “There’s no age requirement to be generous,” said Wilbur. “While I’m proud of the success of Kids on a Mission, I’m even more proud to have instilled in these kids the importance of thinking of others at a young age. That, to me, is priceless.”
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