How a spelling bee made me a better sponsor

Headshot of sponsor Cynthia Sappracone

Cynthia Sappracone has been a sponsor since 2013.

In the sixth grade, my peers gave me a nickname that stuck until graduation: “Dictionary.” It all started the day my teacher announced a national spelling bee competition. I very much wanted to win.

So determined was I to know how to spell every word in the English language that I opened a small, thick book to the first page and read the first word on the page. I did the same with every other letter, in alphabetical order. Yes, I was reading the dictionary.

At first, I read mostly at home. But as the class spelling bee approached, I realized I hadn’t even read a quarter of all the words in my Merriam-Webster Dictionary. In a desperate attempt to memorize the most words possible, I began reading on the school bus and at recess.

On the day of the spelling bee, I misspelled one word. My anguish over this defeat was so great that — to this day — I remember the word: “graffiti.” However, not succeeding in something I invested so much time and effort in only strengthened my resolve to study harder.

Letters, words, books … All of these are the building blocks of a child’s mind as she receives an education.

As luck would have it, my school was participating in a French dictation competition hosted by a nonprofit organization that gives kids in poverty access to an education.

For every word written correctly, sponsors would vouch anywhere from a few cents to a couple of dollars. Those sponsors were my family, my neighbors and other adults who believed in the good cause I was preparing for.

On the day of the competition, I scored the highest in my school! I felt so proud for having reached my goal. That joy was doubled because I knew my victory was also helping children just like me learn to read and write.

The contest continued to the semifinals at the local college, where I competed with students across the province. To my delight, I again made it to the top of the winners’ list. More money had been fundraised for the organization, and the ripple effect continued.

Nabbing one of the top spots in the semifinals secured me a place at finals. In addition to the actual competition, finals included a few days of leadership activities where other youth and I learned how to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. It was a lot of fun and inspiring to meet my peers from all parts of the Earth, some of whom directly benefited from the host organization.

Youth leader Arling mentors younger kids in Colombia

Arling G. uses the leadership skills he’s learned in CI’s Youth Health Corps to mentor younger kids in his Barranquilla, Colombia, community.

In the competition itself, I took fifth place. Although it wasn’t the top three I had aspired for, it was mighty close! I received educational software for my computer that proved to be useful throughout my studies. Plus, I acquired skills that I’d use for the rest of my life, such as perseverance, teamwork, critical thinking and more.

Letters, words, books … All of these are the building blocks of a child’s mind as she receives an education. Going to school is an essential step to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Older teen boy helps younger kids with homework at Colombia community center.

Teens often tutor younger kids in CI community centers.

Children International recognizes this in its efforts to give every sponsored child the opportunity to go to school. Sponsors support the students, who in turn, take advantage of the services made available to them to thrive and grow — services like nutrition programs, tutoring, the integration of technology, new books and a safe environment in which to learn.

The sponsored teens who apply themselves in their studies are part of a ripple effect, as their progress makes them role models to their younger siblings and neighbors. The teens graduate high school and go on to college or vocational training to get a job that will allow them to support themselves and, eventually, their families.

Former sponsored child provides hairstyling services at her beauty salon in the Dominican Republic.

A CI graduate says the skills she learned in the youth programs have served her well in her career. She owns her own beauty salon in the Dominican Republic.

Some even become child sponsors themselves. All of these efforts support the idea of the power of (every)ONE. So, whether you are generating change for yourself or for others, you never know what can be the catalyst of a brilliant future. Sometimes, that catalyst can be as simple as a book.

Learn how CI helps poor kids get an education


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