Past Projects

Parish Support in Mocache

During a week's stay in Nuestra Señora del Carmen parish in Mocache, Ecuador, in January 2018, I provided pastoral and technical support during a crunch time in sacrament season.

  • Offering reflections to adult and youth groups
  • re-creating the ceremony guides / momentos for the First Communion and Confirmations that were coming up. Using Word and coordinating with local print-shops.
  • Transferring the parish calendar into Google Calendar using the parish's current Google account, and teaching the pastor how to use and get the most out of the calendar and cloud capabilities with his smartphone.

Christmas Gifts for Families in Chontal

In December 2017, I initiated a fundraiser to raise money to buy Christmas bags of candies for the children in Chontal on Christmas Eve. We raised more money than anticipated, and the extra money was used to become seed money for a new social outreach ministry for those in need in the parish to which Chontal belongs. Below are the updates included along the way, also included at the link here. Many thanks to everyone who offered the gifts - I hope this new project grows legs and continues!

UPDATE, 1/19/2017:

I've finally had some space with good internet to post the final update on the fundraiser. it went very well, and there's only a bit more to add since the last update after Christmas.

As noted before, we raised $325, and the spending at that time was

  • $200 - navidades for the kids of Chontal
  • $25 - navidades for prizes for the Christmas Carol presentation, plus supplies for the youth to decorate the church

We donated another $12.50 to the cost for the hot chocolate and bread after Christmas Mass.

That left $87.50 for seed money for the spiritual/social outreach program for those in most need. Doing something communally for people most in need was something I was looking for, to make part of the Christmas novena. Then I found out that the priest was interested in starting an outreach program, so one night a few of us hatched the idea of asking the community for non-perishable donations as part of the Christmas Eve Mass. We prepared leaflets and went door-to-door. We received a few donations, which are waiting to be distributed once the new ministry starts to organize and form:

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I gave the seed money to Fr. Marcelo, and we met with 2 people in Chontal to start the ball rolling. It will take some time and a bit of resources. (Very often there are no resources for these things, and what may seem to us to be the simplest first steps stall out because of that. That initial money should be able to "grease the skids" so to speak, eliminate those first obstacles for the program to advance.)

The plan was, starting with Chontal, to join together certain people of faith who are interested in and/or have experience with spiritual and/or social outreach, and form a group ministry. Three people who have experience are willing to form and be a part of it. What I particularly like is that the priest is interested in coordinating both the spiritual and material: one of the woman is very good at visiting and praying with seniors (she has taken up the Divine Mercy devotion full-time), I like her approach to it; while another young woman has a great deal of social experience with seniors; I accompanied her into the mountains visiting seniors a few years ago, she is excellent with the social dimension. The goal is to be a parish program (Chontal is one of 13 communities in the parish), including people from other communities. At first, the focus is to organize and take a first step with the goods that were donated during the Christmas Mass... There is another dimension that is helpful, in that the neighboring parish, Garcia Moreno, has a very developed program that is similar. The reason is that, until 6 years ago, Chontal's parish, Los Manduriacus, was a part of Garcia Moreno. So its structures are just beginning, but it has a form of a model in Garcia Moreno.

So, there is the backing from the priest and me, the desire and capability of several people, an example in the neighboring parish, and some financing. It has potential.

So, thank you again for donating! This will be the last update that I post to the fundraiser. If I have any more news on the new outreach ministry, I will post it on the website here: www.barriers2bridges.org

Have a wonderful year, stay in touch and drop a note anytime, and check out the website where you can sign up at any time for automatic updates.

God bless,

Jerome

UPDATE, 12/27/2017:

We raised $325, after fees. Thanks for so much generosity!

The first $200 went to buy 200 Navidades, which were delivered already made several days before Christmas:

We handed out over half on Christmas Eve at the Mass, as it was delayed for over an hour (Mass began at 11pm, after the evening began at 6:30pm with the novena). The next day, Christmas Day, which is a low-key day here unlike in the States, I went and delivered more to others in the village, including some to the folks who had spent a lot of volunteer time during advent and coming up to Christmas. There are still a lot more to give away, and so the plan is to bring them to some of the kids up higher in the mountain who would not have received anything on Christmas - Chontal Alto and Magdalena Alto.

Of the remaining $125, we spent $25 on more smaller Navidades for prizes in the Christmas Caroling presentation (a number of families got up to sing carols and received a bag of goodies), plus supplies for the youth to decorate the church:

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One of the families singing Christmas carols in the presentation before Mass. Each family who sang got a bag of goodies thanks to your donations. We had a packed house over 100 people! 

The youth were working with Veronica, a talented mother who does a lot with arts and crafts, to prepare decorations for the church. It turned out great!

The balance of $100 is currently being worked on. Part of it covered bread and hot chocolate for after the Mass. Christmas bread and hot chocolate is traditionally served after Christmas Mass at the church in Ecuador. Part of it was funded by collections taken each night in the novena, but the accounting isn't done.

What remains afterwards will be contributed to support the new social works project that the priest is initiating. In a conversation with Veronica, who previously worked for the local government in service to remote seniors in the parish area, we decided to start a donation effort for non-perishable foods and personal care items for seniors. Some people brought their donations for the Christmas Mass. My idea was to take whatever money we have leftover and let it be "seed money" for that project, to get it going. Money is needed to travel and reach seniors, to start fundraisers, etc. I will let you know how that accounting works out financially hopefully before I leave Chontal after the New Year.

As you can see, I try to get good value from every donation you make, so that as many people as possible get a sense of being valued.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and thanks for being a part of making this Christmas - as some have told me afterwards - one of the best that Chontal has ever had!

Jerome

 

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Kids and adults alike in poorer rural places here like Chontal typically get one of these bags of candies & cookies - "Navidades" - from local institutions, like the public school or the local governments. It is a Christmas tradition throughout the country, that has lasted for many years. And for many families, those are the only gifts that they will pass hands for Christmas.

The church here rarely has resources to provide Navidades, and this year especially. I'm looking for people who want to be a part of providing these simple, inexpensive gifts to the local people at the end of the Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve.

$200 should cover about 150 Navidades. (If expenses come in under $200, I'll use the extra money for other aspects of the Christmas celebrations.) A few of us will drive an hour and a half (each way!) to go and buy the candies, cookies, and bags. After we get back, a group of us will take about 3 or 4 hours to put the bags together to be ready to be handed out on Christmas Eve. It's something I did in collaboration last year in San Isidro, on the coast.

I'd love to have you involved, and thank you for considering being a "star" and shining a light for all us here!

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Bridging Lawrence to Alao for Christmas

In Lawrence, MA, there is a sizable indigenous Ecuadorian community from the two small adjacent communities of Alao and San Antonio de Alao, in the County of Riobamba, in Chimborazo. We've been discussing for a while how I might make a connection with their villages back home when I go back to Ecuador. Here we were meeting during the novena that the community has been holding in preparation for Christmas, and we are taking steps to do a project that would bring Christmas gifts to the children and seniors of their villages back home, including a special day celebration when I go.

As there is widespread poverty in Alao, children - or anyone - there don't typically receive Christmas gifts, and seniors don't have retirement funds to cushion their later years. Please pray for this effort, I just think it would be a wonderful experience for everyone involved, as the community has never come together like this to do something to this scale for their families back in Riobamba!

As update, come and check out the summary of my visit in early January 2017! What a special time, and a great success for the people!

Christmas Gifts for Special Kids in Ecuador

Sr. Meir Montiel of my friends the Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph asked if there was any way we could get gifts for a number of children with disabilities who she works with in Quito. We were able to put together enough to be able to buy therapeutic gifts for 9 children, including a baby carriage for one, and another 25 small gifts for other children. The people are grateful as you can see from the pictures below.

Sr. Meir noted at the beginning of the meeting that the gifts were donated by generous people from Boston. Hopefully one say they can come and visit!


***UPDATEOur goal of $275 has been reached, and then some: $457A great big thanks from me and Sr. Meir and everyone at Fe y Alegría! We're now able to also get a small Christmas gift for the other 25 children in the program, so thanks so much for your generosity and being a part of lifting the kids up. These children have a whole array of disabilities that include Cerebral Palsy, epilepsy, Down's Syndrome, paraplegia, among others. But as I like to say, they have "Dios"abilities! ... And you would always be invited to come some day and meet them, so they can lift you up, too ...  I will have an update soon.


Join with me in helping Fe y Alegría (Faith and Joy) in Quito, Ecuador to give badly needed therapeutic Christmas gifts to 9 kids with disabilities in their inclusion program. With your gift, you join hands with their families and the staff in their daily care of lifting up some very special children!

Sr. Meir Montiel of the Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph is a good friend who works with children with disabilities at Fe y Alegría in Quito, Ecuador. This organization works to advance integrated education that includes students who normally are marginalized or left out, including children with disabilities. The kids that Sr. Meir works with have a range of disabilities, especially cerebral palsy and epilepsy and different degrees of physical paralysis. There's a great need for therapeutic tools, and this Christmas is an opportunity to be a part of the love and care that these children are receiving for their development.

Santa Comes to Town

In 2014, for the first time, I received a donation to buy a Santa outfit and arrived in Chontal to visit the children in the school.  When I asked a girl in the village beforehand if Santa was coming this year, this looked down and said, "Santa never comes here."  It was the first ever visit from Santa, and gave the children an experiences of being valued like other children. I also bring fake powdered snow that turns into snow with water, and that's a favorite with the adults as well! Each visit comes with a spiritual message that is relevant to the year that the people have had.

I returned in 2015 again, and this time encountered a school suffering the effects of 4 suicides in the previous 2 months. With the snow and the Santa outfit, I was able to honor the memory and the continued presence of the children lost, and joy sprouted for a day.

In 2016, I visited a gathering of about 40 children in Quito who were receiving gifts from a donor:

And on Christmas day in 2016, I came as Santa to the children of San Isidro for the very first time, in the first Christmas since the earthquake of April. We made 150 caramelos for Santa to give out, along with a whole bunch of snow to make.

Christmas Bracelets for the Schoolkids of Chontal

After sharing a presentation on Barriers To Bridges and its history with several members of the hispanic community at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, several wanted to participate by making hand-made crafts for the kids in Chontal. After several trips shopping and buying supplies, we set to making almost 200 bracelets by hand for me to bring at Christmas time. They include colorful plastic beads and Marian medals for the girls, and wooded beads and crosses for the boys. On the last day, Fr. Carlos Suarez happened to be present for the Mass and he helped by blessing the bracelets.

Not only was it a good experience for everyone chipping in and forming community together, but we all learned how to make bracelets by hand. An activity like this - scaled down a bit - could be a part of a great spiritual workshop someday.

On December 9, I arrived at the school in Chontal to give out the bracelets, and later on the kids from the youth group met and I gave them the earrings and other bracelets for the boys. The kids were really happy with their Christmas presents!

Earthquake Disaster Relief for San Isidro

After the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador in April 2016, I was able to be a lead in organizing two relief trips to one of the most affected areas. Joining with many generous friends and the Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph, the parishes of St. Mary of the Assumption, Milford, MA, St. Monica and Lucy's parishes of Methuen, MA, and the Archdiocese of Portoviejo, we were able to bring over $10,000 worth of food and goods to the people of San Isidro, who had already had been living a challenging life affected by poverty.

Check out the presentations below to find out more.

St Mary of the Assumption, MIlford, has since given another $3K, and I'm continuing to facilitate bridges for more funding. A local parish with an Ecuadorian has over $10K of funding that is likely to go there, and through that parish, there is the possibility of a much larger follow-on project.

I went to San Isidro in December to live there until the new year, doing pastoral ministry and projects and facilitating bridges.

 

Book Published: Luz en las Tinieblas

In October, I finally had printed a shortened version in Spanish of Flowers In Winter, a collection of meditations from my blog A Living Monstrance that I self-published on Lulu.com in 2010. This shortened version, Luz en las Tinieblas, or Light in the Darkness, contains 20 of the 150 reflections from the original, translated into Spanish by a good friend. It was a long process of over a year, with selecting reflections, having them translated, formatting, getting the publishing process moving, etc. - all slowed down because of all of the other activities going on! But it is done. Click on the image below to find it on Lulu.com. I hoping to distribute it among Spanish speakers, so please feel free to pass the word!

Assisting Welcoming Milford with Bridging to Ecuador

As part of the relief effort for the victims of the earthquake in April 2016, a friend, Fr. Dario, organized assistance in his parish St. Mary of the Assumption in Milford, MA. There is a sizable community of indigenous Ecuadorians there from the sierran province of Cañar. At the follow-up presentation in the parish in June, a member of the organization Welcoming Milford was in attendance and wanted to explore furthering the relationship between Milford and the people of Ecuador. Through a few meetings and offering my own experience and perspective, Welcoming Milford was able to resolve initial plans for beginning a sister-like twinning relationship between Milford and the local home community of the immigrants from Cañar.

Poverty Relief for the Bazurto Family

For a month in 2015 I lived next door to my friends the Bazurto family, a household of 13 (several of whom have severe physical disabilities) in a tiny wooden house in Puerto Quito.  One day, the grandmother of the house Rosa approached me and asked me for $10 for food. The next day, I brought them a roasted chicken, and was invited to eat with them - the whole household would have had only rice to eat that night.

Over the days, I continued to bring them food and other household items like lightbulbs, mosquito nets, etc. Basically, if I got it for myself, I got it for them too. The kids needed eyeglasses, and I got some funding and brought them to the city to get eye exams and new glasses. Other funding was dedicated to more food support. And in 2016 after the earthquake drove them out of their home, we funded the updating of the house's support posts, which badly needed reinforcements.

Here is a presentation on the recent hose reinforcement, and enjoy the house party below!

 

I had a housewarming party in the new cement house I was staying in next door. I had a number of guests, and the Bazurtos were a little shy with other people around. But after everyone left and it got late, they brought their own music and had a dance party!

Computer Training for Carolina

Carolina was affected by the landslides that occurred in Chontal in 2014, as her house was on the side of the mountain and the family had a horrific experience when a landslide knocked down a whole side of their house in the middle of the night. Her family received a part of the support that we were able to put together, and we've become friends.

She has very low computer skills, and once a week I would spend an hour with her learning the basics of how to use a computer. She was able to put together simple Powerpoint pictures to send to her penpal Charlotte back in Boston.

Penpals: Boston to Chontal

In March 2015, the daughters of two friends began writing to each other as penpals. Carolina in Chontal, Ecuador and Charlotte in Quincy, MA started sharing handwritten letters sent electronically. With help translating between the two languages, each was able to understand the other and a friendship has begun.

Carolina was affected by the landslides that occurred in Chontal in 2014, as her house was on the side of the mountain and the family had a horrific experience when a landslide knocked down a whole side of their house in the middle of the night. Her family received a part of the support that we were able to put together, and we've become friends.

Vacation English Class in Chontal

As school vacation started in the middle of February 2016, I began an English class in Chontal, first buying a bunch of English books in Quito and selling them at a discount to kids between 9 and 13 years old. The local school had been starting English with 7th graders, so I started this summer vacation class (theirs is in February to April) for kids the years preceding 7th grade. Not only did we get about 12 kids each time, they wanted more than the 2 hours we did each week! I used a combination of the book with videos and music and other tools.  We started off the class with a little warmup dance each time that the younger kids loved (Check out the video below). It did also challenge my classroom management skills!

Ven Comes Back to Life

In 2016, I started to take care of a stray dog that was left for dead in Chontal. I named her Ven, which means "come" in Spanish, because that is how I called her. I fed her and she got over her skin-and-bones appearance, but she had scabies. I got some medication from her in Quito, but it didn't work. Finally, I got one of the neighbors to give her an injection of what they use on their animals in their farm, and after a week or so, it worked! Ven found a permanent home in the village next door and currently lives there.

Fire Disaster Relief for the Chiluisa Family

Don Segundo Chiluisa is a widow who has 4 young children in Chontal. His wooden house burned down in 2014, and the people of were able to give him a part of the donations we put together for those most affected by the landslides of Mother's Day 2014. As there is no insurance or government assistance, he was able to buy the cinder blocks he needed to start to rebuild a home, with the help of his young daughters. The house remains unfinished. He continues to plant a number of different things in the small property he has, including beans and cocoa and aloe, hoping to make some income. But being older, he can't work like he used to.

In January 2016, I was able to give him some more donated money to help him pay off some debt that he has. There are a number of families who are just eking out an existence, and facing tragedies along the way ...

Language Group at St. Anthony Shrine

From September to December 2015, I facilitated an interactive English Class at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. We had members from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. The emphasis was on forming a support group where people could come to resolve their English experiences from each week and find their growing points. The idea is that we learn a second language just like our first: from everything. The teacher is God. So, the goal of the group is to accompany and assist the members in growing as learners from all their experiences in the culture (including dedicated classes), while untying the knots that result along the way.

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Rebuild the Schoolteachers' Housing

In March 2015, the teachers at the local elementary/middle school in Chontal asked me if I could find a way to help them rebuild a part of their teacher's residence. Most of the teachers commute from cities about 4 to 5 hours away, and so they stay overnight during the week. There is a small residence on the site between classrooms where two of the teachers stay, and the wood construction was rotting. Coupled with the entrance of rodents, the teachers didn't feel safe. They asked for $200 to provide the cinder blocks to rebuild the housing as best they could.

A few friends and I raised the money, and after the blocks were bought, a few of the local people donated some of their time to rebuild the house. And just in time, as one of the teachers had just come back from maternity leave with a new little one in tow!

Medical Costs for Scarlet

The family of Scarlet Bosmediano in Chontal was in need of financial help to pay for her medical bills. Scarlet was born with a dislocated hip, and the free medical attention they received didn't work. They decided to go to a paid physician, which put them in debt. They began a fundraising effort in Chontal but were not making much headway. We were able to join in the community fundraiser and raise $800 of the $1000 they were looking for to pay off the debt for Scarlet's care.

Scarlet has had a great recovery so far, and after crawling for some time, she is now walking and running normally. Whether it's chicks or footballs, she's a sweet and friendly girl!

Scarlet with her Mom, Ines. She had a complete body cast around her hips that prevented hip movement.

Scarlet with her Mom, Ines. She had a complete body cast around her hips that prevented hip movement.

Landslide Disaster Relief for Chontal

Don Ramiro, Sra. Shisela, and representatives of the families that received relief funds.

Don Ramiro, Sra. Shisela, and representatives of the families that received relief funds.

On Mother's Day 2014, I was visiting Chontal to prepare for my stay to begin a mission near the city of Santo Domingo. That night, the rains caused severe landslides on the mountains that resulted in a national disaster. Fortunately, no one was killed or severely injured. But among many traumatic stories were the loss of several homes and extensive property damage. I opened a gofundme and over 35 of us from the States contributed a total of $14,000 to aid in the recovery. With the money, those most affected by the disaster were able to build new homes, rebuild the ones they had, or invest in new property.

Original video looking for relief funds

Victims thanking the donors

Follow-up video