By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — For more than two decades, Catholics across the country have seen and heard speakers from Christian Foundation for Children and Aging talk about sponsoring children in poor areas of the world. Photographs of tentatively smiling little ones attract many families and individuals to sponsorship. It’s a win-win situation for both the children and the sponsors.
But what about the other half of the foundation’s name? The aging and the disabled? Sponsorship of an older child or adult, or of a person with a disability helps ease the strain on their families.
Ken and Kathy O’Renick have sponsored Jose since 1994. The young Guatemalan they saw in a photograph touched their hearts in a way they hadn’t expected.
He sat in a wheelchair, a hopeful but uncertain expression on his face. “We made the decision to sponsor Jose because of his disability,” Ken said. “He might not have been chosen.”
Jose has had several corrective surgeries but remains severely disabled, Kathy said. She isn’t certain what his actual condition is but thinks spina bifida is a possibility.
Ken and Kathy are members of St. Thomas More Parish. Kathy served on the Justice Ministry team and the group had had several conversations with CFCA.
On a Sponsorship Sunday back in 1994, fellow parishioners Jim McGilley and his wife Tatiana spoke after a Mass about sponsoring children from Guatemala. Interested, the O’Renicks flipped through photos of children needing sponsorship. Their response to Jose’s photograph was emotional, Ken said, and their sponsorship of the young teen began that December.
The O’Renicks never looked back. “Sponsoring children makes me feel connected to another part of the world,” Kathy said. “We’re all brothers and sisters.”
Ken agreed. “Sponsorship connects us to the real world,” he said, “a world full of poverty. The families in these communities don’t have a fraction of what we have both as a community and individually. Yet, they are clean, happy. They have their faith, their relationship to God, and their families.”
Kathy nodded. “Sponsorship is grounded in reality. And it starts with only $30 a month per child. You can raise the amount if you want to. We send $35 per child each month. Financially, it’s very minimal.”
Ken said, “You can’t believe what it does to change you.”
“Oh yeah,” Kathy agreed.
The couple has sponsored three other children along with Jose —Jackeline, now 8 years old (sponsored since January, 2010), and two other girls — Flor de Maria, who finished school, grew up and married, and one who didn’t stay in the program.
Ken and Kathy have children of their own and grandchildren, but Ken said, “We will do this, sponsoring children or people with disabilities through CFCA, until we draw our last breath. It’s a commitment!”
The sponsors are not the only ones to make the commitment. “The commitment of the child’s or adult’s family is required,” Kathy said. “They have to commit to keeping their child in school, for one thing, and to make an effort to access medical care and food for them.” CFCA determines the family’s needs and provides their basic life necessities while empowering them to become self-sustaining through education, skills training, livelihood programs, including chicken farming, and activities to build community.
Sponsors and children, youth and the aging, get to know each other through letters and photographs and some sponsors travel on CFCA hosted mission trips to meet their sponsored friends.
The O’Renicks have boxes and manila envelopes of photographs, letters and drawings they have received over the years from their sponsored children and adult. The English is a bit stilted in translation, but the messages of affection and gratitude come through clearly.
Kathy and two granddaughters, Rachael and Allison Ungashick, traveled to San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala, on a CFCA/St. Thomas More parish-sponsored mission trip in July 2010 and had the opportunity to meet both Jose and Jackeline and their families.
Jose, the uncertain teenager they had seen in a photograph in 1994 had grown into a smiling young man who works for a wheelchair assembly company. Jose is now 31.
Jackeline and her little sister Daisy shared hugs with Kathy and her granddaughters. Rachael and Allison also helped build cook stoves inside huts, and Kathy worked on a water filtering treatment in the convent. The local fire department sells the clean water and uses the money to purchase fire fighting equipment.
When Kathy returned to Kansas City, she related the sights and sounds of San Andreas Itzapa and its people to Ken. “Most of the people don’t have cars. The roads are unpaved dirt with rocks and roots that can trip a walker. And they are always walking, walking, walking, everywhere they go. They have the barest of necessities, but are determined to keep going. If you’ve never had something, you don’t miss it. The people don’t have anything, but their God, their families, and joy!”
She told him the “huts of the poorest of the poor are built on the hillsides, wall of sticks tied together around dirt floors. Roofs are big pieces of corrugated tin held down by rocks. But they are kept so clean and neat, it’s amazing and eye-opening.”
CFCA was founded in 1981 by Bob, Bud and Jim Hentzen, their sister Nadine Pearce and Jerry Tolle, a long time friend. Bob Hentzen, a former Christian Brother, and Tolle, a former Jesuit priest, had worked in Central and South America for many years. The five Kansas Citians developed the sponsorship program to help people in need and build friendships across borders, economic situations and cultures. The organization is located at 1 Elmwood Avenue, Kansas City, Kan., just a block from Kansas City, Mo.
The O’Renicks have met Bob Hentzen and Jerry Tolle, and know some of the CFCA staff members. “It’s neat to be involved with a local, amazing organization,” Kathy said.
To learn more about Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, visit www.hopeforafamily.org or contact CFCA (913) 384-6500.