Number of Participants: 17
Hours Donated: 5
Value of Time Served: $718
Event Type: Children & Youth
Sport: Girls Soccer
Date: December 6, 2019
5300 Jamesville Rd
Syracuse, NY 13214
I’ve copied in a letter that Oscar Vergara, whose passion project this is, wrote to me explaining the origins of his work on Project Smiles. This message is from 7 or 8 years ago, but it should give you a sense of the project as a whole. Oscar just retired from a 43 year coaching career at Bishop Ludden (boys soccer). He has run a summer league in Dewitt for a long time, and my team has played in that league. Oscar used to referee the games, and it was at one of those games that he first spoke to me and my team about Project Smiles. The girls were hooked!
MPH girls soccer has taken part for at least 10 years (I can’t remember exactly how long). The 17 members of the team made announcements at school, put up posters, donated items themselves, and helped organize and pack bags as gifts for the 85 girls and young women living at the Hogar Jaramillo. We began collecting at the end of October and just sent the packages off with Mr. Vergara yesterday to be shipped from New York today.
PROJECT SMILES – HOW IT GOT STARTED!!
In December of 2001, my daughter Andrea and I traveled to Medellin, Colombia where I was born and raised. The purpose of our visit was for me to show my daughter where my family grew up, where I attended high school as a youngster. During the visit I was shocked to find out that my old high school was now an orphanage (we call them Homes) for children of displaced families (those who had left their villages running away from violence or just children that had been abandoned by the parents.
It was then that I had the opportunity to meet young Luis Fernanda Echeverria Agudelo, a very nice 8 year old, who had been taken away from her mom, as she could not raise her or the other three children she had. Luisa Fernanda was placed at the Hogar Santa Clara and on December 25th, she along with other girls from the Home were taken to the village park so they could spend the money they had just received for Christmas. They all received a crispy $2,000 pesos bill, the equivalent of $0.82 cents in America. She was determined to buy a bracelet to reflect her being a fan of one of the local soccer teams, however the bracelet cost was $3,000 pesos. When I saw her crying because she was not able to buy the bracelet, I approached the nun in charge of the group, and asked her if I could buy the bracelet for this child as well as offer something to the other 12 children in the group. I explained to her that I was visiting from New York and that I wanted that to be my present to myself, to be able to purchase the items for the children.
Subsequently I was invited to meet all the children at the Home and actually brought a soccer jersey for Luisa Fernanda, the jersey of her favorite soccer team, which also happens to be my team of choice!!!.
I had lunch at the Hogar Santa Clara and remember being asked by Luisa Fernanda why I was doing this for her and the other children. I told her that first of all, I just wanted them to be happy and also that she resembled my own daughter Andrea, when she was that age. I proceeded to show Luisa Fernanda a picture of my daughter and when she looked at it, she said to me with this very shy look on her face: oh no Mr. Oscar, that is a beautiful girl and I am an ugly child!!!
I decided then and there that I would bring my daughter to meet Luisa Fernanda on my next visit and upon visiting the Home, my daughter said to me: I don’t know how you are going to do it pops, but you have to help these children. Look at those happy faces, those beautiful smiles just because you gave them a lollipop!. Thus the concept of The Projecto Sonrisas, (Project Smiles) was born!!! and every year, for the last nine years, I set out to bring smiles to these children who are a lot less fortunate than our own children.
I now travel to five different Homes, housing just over 400 disadvantaged children, who marveled at the chance of getting even a pair of sandals, a blouse, a pair of jeans and/or even better yet, a stuffed animal which they have never owned one before!. Many of these children are giving an opportunity to attend school and try to get a high school diploma and while some do get it, many are unable to achieve this as they are already way behind on their socio-academic development.
The Homes that have received sponsorship in these past years are:
Hogar Santa Clara – Girardota, Colombia (girls only)
Hogar Judith Jaramillo – Bello, Colombia (girls only)
Hogar Sagrado Corazon – Sopetran, Colombia (girls only)
Hogar Divina Providencia, Medellin, Colombia ** a Home you young moms. ages 13 and up.
Granjas Infantiles – Girardota, Colombia (boys and girls)
These five Homes are just a small percentage of the number of Homes throughout the cities in Colombia. They try to do their best to prepare these girls, so that when they have to move out at the age of 18 and face the world, they can be somewhat prepared for it. Unfortunally and with such a high unemployment rate, almost at 22%, and with the level of poverty that exists in many of their neighborhoods, it becomes a very difficult task. Buy providing item such as clothing, shoes, stuffed animals, toys, personal toiletries to them, we can at least be sure that those smiles will be present on their faces when they receive a gift.
I thank you and the members of the MPH studnet body for your interst in supporting this project. By donating items to the Projecto Sonrisas, or by contributing monetarily to help ship the boxes to them, we are making sure these kids will have a happier holiday season. and I know that they tryly appreciate receiving your gifts.
I thank you all in advance for your assistance… the girls thank you as well and send their smiles!!!”