Family Compassion Focus
Five years ago I heard about the earthquake on NPR driving home from kindergarten. The breathless reporter described the crumbled buildings, dazed children alone in the streets, and catastrophic injuries, her boots crunching on broken cement.
When she mentioned the children I looked back at my bundled up kids singing in the minivan and got teary. They asked what was wrong. I told them there was an earthquake in Haiti, where Daddy was two years ago, that lots of people were hurt, and lots of kids needed help. We prayed for them in the car.
Here are pictures from my husband, Chris’s, trip to Haiti in September, 2007.
The kids asked so many questions– What’s an earthquake? Did anyone break their arm? Did babies get hurt? At bedtime, Caleb and Zoë asked about all of it all over again. So we prayed again. Then they declared that we were going to “help Haiti” with “lots of food” and a “program” out of nowhere.
Wow. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t say, “Yes! This is great!” And I didn’t say, “No, kids. I don’t know how to do this stuff. I’m so tired.” Choking back tears for the second time that day, I tucked them in saying, “God, please show us what you’d like us to do to help Haiti.”
I called my husband, Chris, who was traveling for work. He was also surprised by their new desire to help people far away. Our five year olds had ideas and were beginning to think about the world. Would we listen to them? Would we let them try to help? Would we fan these flames?
From his hotel room Chris prayed something like, “God, our kids belong to you. Help us not get in the way. Show us what to do.”
The next day I called our old friend Kent Annan, the co-Director for Haiti Partners, to see what was happening in Haiti and how we could possibly help, besides just sending a general check. Kent is the one Chris went to Haiti with two years before. He said the kind, generous people Chris stayed with, the Auguste Family, lost their house in the earthquake. A basic house cost only $2000 to rebuild.
I really wanted to figure out a way for my kids to help rebuild this house. What could they actually do themselves? They loved helping me bake (I love baking), and they loved making crafts (oh how I hate crafts).
So two days after the earthquake, I asked if they still wanted to do something to help Haiti. They shouted, “Yes!” I asked if they wanted to build a family a new house because their old one got ruined in the earthquake. They giggled and shouted “Yes!” again.
We set a goal of $500 and made little plan to sell cookies and Valentine ornaments to our friends and neighbors. They were so excited. Mama is going to let us use glue and glitter in the house again! And eat cookie dough!
We practiced knocking on doors and talking about Haiti. We printed up pictures of baby girl Jeldwyn, her resourceful grandmother, and their house. Caleb jammed flyers in people’s hands shouting: “Help for Haiti! Someone’s house fell down and we want to help build them a new one!”
Left: Strong matriarch, Dom, who lost her home in the 2010 earthquake. Right: Beautiful baby girl, Jeldwyn. Chris was there when she was baptized.
Orders came in about every 15 minutes on facebook. Neighbors dropped off checks, loaned mixers and offered to help bake. Two different people pledged to match every dollar given.
By Sunday night, 48 hours after the start of our impromptu fundraiser, people had donated $1168! More than double the goal. We reluctantly decided to end the Bake Sale portion of the fundraiser because our little cottage didn’t have an industrial kitchen.
Over the next couple of weeks we baked cookies, rolled bread dough, and glued love onto red felt ornaments. There was happy chaos in the house, a light dusting of flour and glitter over the whole first floor, and a dryer lint trap full of sequins.
This was our family’s first adventure doing compassion together. It wasn’t forced or reactive. It was passionate, responsive, and kid-centric. In three weeks we made 20 dozen peanut butter cookies, 18 dozen snickerdoodles, 25 dozen frosted sugar cookies, 21 loaves of cinnamon swirl bread, and 112 valentine ornaments.
We didn’t know if $500 was a good goal when we set it. And God took our kids’ little dream and catapulted it far past what we could see. Through the messy but earnest sale of cookies, bread, and Valentine ornaments people donated an astounding $7678.31 to Haiti. Are you kidding me? The Augustes got what they needed for their house and the rest went to Haiti Partners to help other families rebuild their lives after the earthquake.
And it kept going.
One day during all this I walked into school at the same time as the PTA President. I asked her, as I asked everybody those days, “Did you hear about the Earthquake?” She wondered aloud if our school could do something to help. She stopped, looked at me and asked, “Could you do it? Could you figure out something for our school to do?” I blinked, so tired and little scared, shifted my toddler on my hip and somehow said “Yes.”
I called Haiti Partners again. I didn’t realize what a perfect fit it would be. Haiti Partners is all about Education and Empowerment. They lost two schools in the earthquake. $1000 could help rebuild one classroom.
After getting the principal’s blessing we got to work on an easy fundraiser. We put shiny aluminum paint cans in every classroom and the front office to collect spare change. We hoped to raise $1000 in two months.
Much to our surprise, we received $1050.83 in five days! The compassion was contagious. More kids were eager to help. Moms would stop me in the hallway, tearfully telling me stories about kids emptying piggy banks, turning drawers upside down, and even withdrawing money from their saving accounts. The grand total received from Longfellow School for Haiti Partners was $2029.44.
In the midst of all this the head of the children’s ministry at our church ordered some cookies and an ornament that said “Haiti.” When I delivered them she invited us to lead a fundraiser at church. It was happening again! It seemed everyone who heard about Haiti wanted to be a part of doing something to help, especially when kids were leading the charge.
That weekend we did a little presentation to our church’s children. Chris showed them pictures of the Auguste family and what a house looks like in Haiti. He talked about what life was like in that faraway place. I showed them some of the ornaments Caleb, Zoë and Greta made. They asked questions and were excited to get to do something.
Later the children created 150 totally unique Valentine ornaments. A friend helped get all the materials ready and wrote a simply elegant prayer for the children to glue on the back:
The Sunday before Valentine’s Day we sold the ornaments. We couldn’t believe the people of Church of the Resurrection gave $893! They learned about Haiti, encouraged our kids, and helped people in crisis. It was a great day.
But of course there’s more.
Every year our church collects a Good Friday Offering for an area of extreme need in the world. The kids’ exuberance at the Valentine Ornament sale brought Haiti to mind as a possible recipient. (I may have fanned those flames with some emails and enthusiastic pestering in the hallways).
We were thrilled when the church chose Haiti to receive the Offering. They asked me to research it, set up an information booth, and be available for questions. At home we made the display for a booth and prayed a lot. To our amazement, people donated $22,881 to Haiti Partners!
What started as two kindergartners worried about babies and broken arms became a bridge for more than $33,000 for the people of Haiti that winter. Our goal was $500. Doesn’t that blow your mind?
And there’s even more!
When we finally put away the sprinkles, glitter, and poster board in 2010, the compassion stayed. The earthquake had changed us. Our kids decided to help other people. We opened our hearts to learning about, working for, and loving new people in new ways. It was contagious.
We try to keep it front and center by picking a Family Compassion Focus each year. So far we’ve focused on Orphans, Clean Water, and Homelessness, to similarly ridiculous results.
This year we voted for Haiti again. We can’t wait to see what happens.
-Aimee Fritz, Family Compassion Focus
Are you are interested in trying compassion as a family? Check back next week for a follow up blog post where I’ll describe exactly how our Family Compassion Focus process works!