Reaching a hand out to our poorest neighbors

Courtesy of Kathrene Frautschy

Keely Costello, the daughter of Rob and Lisa Costello of Ignacio, made some new friends during her recent mission trip to Haiti with fellow parishioners from St. Columba Catholic Church. The group distributed food, painted a school and brought money to build a two-bedroom home.

Sitting around the other night, feeling a tad fatigued, I looked at my calendar and emails and realized why. This place is hoppin’ in the best possible way.

Whether it’s helping a friend or neighbor going through a tough time, supporting a favorite cause locally or reaching out a hand to make a difference around the world, La Plata County residents are doing it in spades. (A phrase that apparently comes from bridge, where spades are the most valuable suit. The term coincides with the rising popularity of bridge in the U.S. during the 1920s. Who knew?)

And while I’m not throwing in the towel, I have had to admit that I cannot possibly do justice to all that giving and volunteering. I know mission trips are happening fast and furiously from this area to Africa, to Central and South America and to Asia, from churches, service clubs and individuals who just want to make their travels meaningful.

So I’m picking one mission trip to write about, in part because it came with a great photo, and art counts in the newspaper biz. But also because it reflects many of the facets evident in all of these trips.

This spring, 10 missionaries traveled to Haiti on behalf of St. Columba Catholic Church in association with International Christian Humanitarian Agency Food for the Poor. The group included high school students Keely Costello and Nickie Dinovo along with seminarian Carl Wertin.

We all saw how dire the circumstances are in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, but the truth is, there’s no way to see how poor the Haitians truly are without boots on the ground.Kathrene Frautschy, development director at St. Columba, reminded me of some of the facts. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and the country has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world – nearly 50 percent of the population over the age of 15 cannot read or write. Persistent hunger, virtually no clean water and only a few areas with sewage systems add to the day-to-day misery.

St. Columba Parish also raised $7,000 to provide the building materials for a new two-bedroom cement home, which answered the prayers of a family in great need. The parish also provided a wide array of personal hygiene items (a bar of soap is worth its weight in gold for disease prevention) and toys to be distributed as the missionaries went about their work. They assisted with the distribution of food at orphanages, schools, a center for the handicapped and a community for the elderly. They painted a school and, as Frautschy puts it, were “present to the people as the hands and feet of Christ.”

The group also got a chance to see some of Haiti’s hope for the future, aquaculture projects that have been established so that fishermen, their families and their villages will have sustainable income sources.

And through it all, their most powerful memory wasn’t the poverty, but the people.

“They were welcoming, gracious, thankful and ever joyful,” Frautschy said. (That’s a lesson we could all stand to learn.)

St. Columba has had a long relationship of supporting Santa Maria de Mexicano, a home for children and the elderly in Colón, Mexico, and now parish members are considering a second trip to Haiti.

Whatever happens, trips like these not only help those who are in desperate need, but also those who go to help. They have a clearer understanding of what the needs are, and what devastating poverty looks like. These missionaries of all ages are now Haiti’s ambassadors to the world. Their voices can remind everyone that even though natural disasters continue to wreak incredible damage around the world (Oklahoma’s tornadoes and the Chelyabinsk meteor in Russia are the most recent that come to mind, and that’s just in the last few months), the need continues in other places.

Healing does not happen in a month or a year, or sometimes even in a decade, in places that were already experiencing such poverty before the disaster. We need to extend our attention spans. Significantly.

This is not a guarantee to every local group that goes on humanitarian mission trips that the trip will be in Neighbors. I start adding up the ones I haven’t gotten to, such as the First United Methodists in Kenya, Newman Club to San Diego, Interact in Guatemala and the scores of La Plata County residents who go on some kind of trip to make the world a better place, and my head spins.

But it is important to notice what you have done and thank you for it, so that’s what I’m doing.

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Happy to receive beautiful gifts using their birthstones of pearls, alexandrite and moonstone are Maxine Sproul, Dale Wingeleth, Will Hakes, Ron Wiebel, David Bennett, Ani Gannone, Erin Christiansen, Jade Latham, Sue Marshall, Geri Wilson, Kathy Wallace, Michael Abeyta, Austin Brown, Hans Hartman, Finn McGrath, Cathy Schadt, Phyllis Stone, Larry Turner, Samantha Alvarez, Dorothy Vaccaro, Jan Scott, Bob Pitmon, Barbara Pevny, Brady Sutherland, Tony Santistevan, Casey Carman, Bill Collins, Zoa Huckins, Nancy Furry, Tracy Zellitti, Pat May, John Kirchner, Ron McKay and Amie Hotter.

Belated greetings go to Jordyn Dahl.

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If you’re like me, you see those historical dress-up opportunities such as the Titanic Tea or the Durango Heritage Celebration and think “Wow, it would be fun to get into the spirit, but I don’t have a thing to wear.”

Well, that excuse isn’t just getting a little old, it’s going to be pretty lame after today’s “Costume and Accessories Sale” that’s running from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Animas Museum, located at the intersection of West Second Avenue and 31st Street.

Organized by Rani Holt, the sale will include items culled from the closets of several groups in town who know how to handle the whole corset and top hat fashion statements. Shoppers will find items from the Victorian, Edwardian and Wild West fashion eras.

Hats, belts, shoes, fabric, dresses, shirts, corsets, jewelry, reticules – you name it, everything you need to be stylin’ will be available. And at least 10 percent of all sales will benefit the museum, so it’s a win-win all around.

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The bells are ringing for these June anniversary couples – Michael and Karen Peterson, Carl and Jodell Johnson, Don and Kay Baker, Donovan and Deanna Schardt, Charles and Carol Gordon, Bill and Mary Foreman, Tim and Susan Schaldach, Brian and Nancy Van Mols, David and Diann Wylie, Sue and Chris Hampton, Mark and Donna Bauer, John and Emily TerMaat, Dave and Connie Trautmann, Bruce and Sue Kuhn and Scott and Amy McClellan.

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