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Last July, doctors told longtime sponsor Linda Firman that she had an untreatable form of pancreatic cancer. They gave her fewer than six months to live.
Soon after her diagnosis, her mind turned to the fate of her sponsored kids. At the time, Linda sponsored 41 children from all over the globe. She knew she wouldn’t be able to continue the level of sponsorship she had been providing her kids and asked CI to start looking for new sponsors for them right away.
She requested that we tell her sponsored kids the reason for discontinuing. “She didn’t want the kids to think it was their fault that she was leaving,” recalls her daughter, Tammy Munsey.
Linda was introduced to sponsorship through her mother. Linda took on two sponsorships in 1997 when her mom, who also suffered from pancreatic cancer, passed away. As Linda got more involved with CI, she began sponsoring more kids.
“She got to know the kids and the program and wanted to help more,” Tammy says. “She would monitor new kids, but she had a special soft spot for kids who had been on the waiting list for a while.” All told, Linda touched the lives of about 60 kids during her 18 years of sponsorship.
Child sponsorship was the perfect outlet for Linda to invest her time and energy in. She had been a stay-at-home mom while raising Tammy, an only child, in Florida. But when Tammy moved out — and, eventually, across the country for work — Linda began searching for something new to fill her time.
Sponsoring kids became “an everyday passion” for her mother, Tammy says. Linda went well beyond writing a check. She made it a point to get to know every single child. And she did a TON of letter-writing.
But while writing letters to her 41 kids helped fill Linda’s time, receiving the messages from her sponsored kids was the true highlight of her day.
“She got great joy from their letters and hearing how well they were doing,” Tammy says. “They were the sweetest letters, saying things like, ‘I keep your letters with me; I read them every night’ and ‘I have your picture in my school backpack so I can see you every day.’”
A month after her diagnosis, CI had found new sponsors for all but seven of Linda’s sponsorships. Linda felt especially close to those seven children and asked her daughter to continue their sponsorships.
Six of the seven kids Linda couldn’t bear to give up came from one family in the Bicol region of the Philippines. (See their pictures above.) Over the years, she had formed a close bond through letter-writing with all six kids and their mother.
“She found Soledad, the mother, to be incredibly inspirational,” Tammy explains. Because Soledad’s husband had recently passed away, she was left to raise nine kids on her own. “She was in this very difficult situation and yet she was always positive. Soledad did the best for her kids, and that impressed my mom.”
The seventh child sponsorship Linda chose to keep was her most recent addition. “This 16-year-old girl had been on the waiting list for a long time,” Tammy says. “My mom just couldn’t bear the thought of Jessa Mae losing her new sponsor so soon.”
Linda agonized over these kids and wanted to ensure that her daughter would continue sponsoring them. “It was very important that they be taken care of,” Tammy says. “Despite everything she was facing, her main concern was the kids.”
As soon as CI learned Linda’s news, staffers started working on a special project to show Linda how much her dedication to her kids was appreciated.
The result? A 15-minute video of 38 of Linda’s 41 sponsored kids telling Linda “thank you” for the years of support. The video arrived just in time for Tammy’s visit with her mom on Labor Day weekend.
“She joked before watching the video that she hoped it was just pictures of her kids,” Tammy shares. “Because, she said, if they actually spoke to her, she would probably lose it. And she did, as you can imagine."
“It was incredibly moving for her to see these children she’d been exchanging letters with for so long actually speak to her and thank her by name,” Tammy continues. “I think, in a way, that video was really the first time she saw the full impact she had.”
Tammy says her mom watched the video repeatedly until she passed away in mid-October.
Today, Tammy is working hard to fulfill her mother’s wishes of going all-in on the seven sponsorships she inherited.
“I have written to the kids, but it is such a tough act to follow,” she shares. “I got some letters from the kids recently and one of the girls said, ‘You know, I really miss your mom.’ And I’m sure they do, because she gave them so much encouragement and support. She brought such a level to sponsorship that I’m trying to live up to.”
Already, though, Tammy has realized how fulfilling sponsorship can be. “It doesn’t require that much energy or effort on your part, but it makes a tremendous impact on kids’ lives,” she says.
“I think you’ll find over time that, in a way, the kids help you as much as you’re helping them.”