- People We Love
I grew up in a rough neighborhood known for its street gangs, substance abuse and homelessness. At home, my siblings and I were raised in a household where fear and violence prevailed.
My haven was school. There, I let my imagination wander through the pages of storybooks. There, I could fill my mind with knowledge. Contrary to the times of my life when I felt lost and helpless, school gave me a sense of direction and purpose.
What I was learning wasn't only useful in the classroom. I was being equipped with qualities and skills that would be practical for the rest of my life, such as patience, determination and perseverance.
As a teen, I had the privilege of being taught French and history by a remarkable woman. Much like Erin Gruwell, whose real-life experience at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School inspired the dramatic film “Freedom Writers,” Mrs. Quenneville made a lasting impact on her students. To me and just about every one of my peers, she was more than just a teacher. She was my mentor throughout high school. For some of us, she was the first person who we felt really believed in us. Hers was the classroom decked out in motivational posters. Her door was always open. She was kind, caring, giving, sincere and approachable.
In the ninth grade, my classmates and I threw her a baby shower. She was leaving the job she was passionate about, as well as her beloved pupils, to adopt a baby in Africa. It was a bittersweet moment for all of us. There wasn't a dry eye in the room.
It had been my teacher's lifelong dream to visit the continent. She's always felt it to be her calling to help those in need. Through letters exchanged with the orphanage, photos of the young infant and our teacher's enthusiasm, we, too, came to love the child. But, this voyage wasn't one without danger. The country was in the middle of a civil war. Fortunately, Mrs. Quenneville was able to meet her adoptive son and return back home with him safely.
I will always remember her words about her experience:
As overjoyed as she was about being able to save him, she wondered how the orphans left behind would fare.
What made her choose to adopt this baby and not another? She wished she could do more to help them — and every other suffering child on this Earth. Yet, she knew that she was making a difference in the life of one child. She helped contribute to the change she wanted to see in the world by being a part of that change, both in her community and abroad.
For her adoptive son, that meant growing up in a loving family and safe environment. He'd be given the chance to have a good childhood, go to school and be somebody she'd be proud of one day. For her students, that meant gathering the courage to step out of our comfort zone to truly grow and finally discover the potential she saw shine in us.
From a shy, insecure adolescent, I began to join extracurricular activities, gain confidence and believe in myself, too. I was surrounded by supportive, positive people. I grew from someone in survival mode to someone who set goals for things I wanted to achieve. Today, I am 20 years old and sponsor two little sisters, Tania (18) and Elizabeth (5)!
That is why I'm so proud to support Children International. This organization's staff and volunteers, as well as sponsors and sponsored kids, have rippling effects all over the world through their movement to unleash the power of (every)ONE.
Our sponsored kids are also growing up in dangerous environments or harsh living conditions.
They, too, need to know their self-worth, to be reassured that a brilliant future does await them, to be cheered on not to give up, and to be cared for and loved.
They, too, need to be given the chance to get an education so they can break free from the cycle of poverty.
They, too, must be given the opportunity to participate in activities or programs that will bring out the best in them and teach them important life skills.
They, too, can benefit from the safe havens that are CI's community centers to feel safe and happy.
They, too, need good examples to look up to — such as the volunteers, tutors and other role models (like sponsors!) in their lives.
They, too, can benefit from all of this and, in turn, grow up to become world-changers and empower others.
And YOU are the start of each child's success story. Never underestimate the power that your words and actions can have on the people you meet.
Even something small like a drop of rain can be a part of something much bigger — like a roaring waterfall or a crashing tidal wave.
Cynthia Sappracone is a young Italian Canadian and proud sponsor of two girls. She likes to travel, learn about different cultures and help others. When not at work at a local coffee shop, Cynthia spends her time reading, writing, riding her bike or indulging herself with sweet maple syrup.