The Road to Immokalee: Eyes Opened
When World Vision brings assistance to a community it is done carefully and with the support of those who will benefit. This is the case for a new US Programs World Vision project in Immokalee Florida, an impoverished community of migrant farmworkers. Over the past year the Southwest Florida Chapter has focused their service and fundraising to help young girls who are living without hope. In Part 1 of our series “The Road to Immokalee”, we learned about how the WOV partners decided to create a WOV Girls Club in the Immokalee community. Here’s what happened…
by Billie Jauss, WOV Southwest FL chapter
Praying for girls to come to a Saturday morning program was the focus of our team along with building trust from the parents and girls, many of whom were undocumented. Before our first Saturday Girls Club we gathered as a group of women the Wednesday before praying that God would bring the girls that needed to know His love and plan for their lives, and for parents to trust us with their girls. We were grateful to the Bethel Assembly of God Spanish church for hosting us.
That first Saturday morning twelve girls came and how blessed our time was together! Even though they would only give us their first names they participated in our activities teaching on our theme of Fruits of the Spirit. The girls began the morning coloring pictures related to the two Fruits of the Spirit we would learn that day. We sang a Fruit of the Spirit song together; actually we tried but those of us women there who can’t really carry a tune caused more laughter than melody! We made a craft and learned life lessons related to love and joy. Also provided were a few snacks like pretzels and gummy bears.
One of the things we noticed about the girls was the lack of eye contact and how they stuck together in groups. We weren’t sure if this was a cultural habit or one of not knowing us too well. When we were done each girl received a notebook with handouts of all we had learned that morning. The packet would be added to each month with more scripture and life lessons.
We remembered the words of Andrea, an Immokalee High school student we met who urged us to commit to the project once we started. We assured the twelve girls who came that we would return the next month. We told the girls we hoped they would return because each of us would be there and we didn’t want to be alone, they had to come back and bring a friend! It was amazing the questions they asked over and over about if we were really going to return. The more they asked the more we reassured them, with jokes of having to spend time only with ‘these’ women, help us please don’t leave us here alone! We prayed for their return with friends in hand!
After that first month the women of Bethel Church, offered their encouragement with how impressed they were that we were so loving, encouraging and supportive of the girls of Immokalee. What an amazing feeling to know the women of the area believed that God was working through us to love and mentor these girls. The women of the church had volunteered to drive a church van around the neighborhoods picking up girls each Saturday for Girls Club. This proved to be essential to the attendance of the girls.
We also learned things about the girls we weren’t expecting. Some of the girls asked for more snacks the first month, not eating them but putting them in their pockets. When the girls were asked about this they told us they had siblings at home who had not eaten that day so they would take them home and share. This information brought up the concern of some of the girls not having food before Girls Club so we planned to bring in breakfast for them to start their day with a meal. This proved to be a highlight for the girls; it helped them focus better on learning and gave them more energy to participate. Some days we questioned if we had done the right thing increasing their energy!
We saw the number of girls fluctuate over the 9 months. No matter the number of girls, there were amazing experiences every month. By January we had grown to 54 girls and by the time we finished in May the original twelve girls were still in attendance!
We grew too. One of the ladies expressed concern that we weren’t reaching the poor girls of the community because they came clean and well dressed. Many times we judge what we see and don’t search for the factual information. The ladies were encouraged to get in the van at the end of the day and ride with the ladies of the church into the community to return the girls home. These ladies came back changed. They saw living conditions that were poorer than anything they had ever seen or believed were possible in the United States.
The poverty and living conditions were a shock to most of these women who live in upper middle class neighborhoods just 45 minutes away. Naples, Florida is a mostly upper income area where the people are very generous to Goodwill and other organizations that sell clothes in Immokalee very inexpensively. The clothes that the children of Immokalee purchase are mostly donated by families in Naples. Knowing that these kind, loving, well dressed girls, who are our neighbors, were living in such conditions ignited a passion to serve in a deeper way for these women. The compassion in their tear-filled eyes was proof to the experience they had on that trip in that van.
We learned a great deal this first year of Girls Club and are planning for our second wonderful year. We continue to pray for the girls and for the wonderful women who helped and encouraged us. We pray that God continues to use us to teach these girls about His endless love and to seek Him and the plans he has for them. God has called us to serve these girls of Immokalee the poor in means and the poor in Spirit. And in return we are seeing the Fruit of God’s Spirit in each of these girls and in our lives also.
Don’t miss part 3 of this story when the WOV Southwest FL chapter takes a Vision Trip to Immokalee!