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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Kansas City: A High School Reunion and an Extraordinary Charity

We know we owe you some comments about the government shutdown mess, and we will offer those in a few days.  But more immediately, good friend Chris and I are just back in Brooklyn from a visit to Kansas City, my hometown, and we are anxious to share a couple of special stories.  We attended my high school class 50th anniversary reunion (!), and we had occasion to get acquainted with an extraordinary charity headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas.

Christian Foundation for Children and Aging
Located in an unobtrusive warehouse building in an industrial district, the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging – CFCA – serves 300,000 children and elderly adults in 21 countries, mostly in Central and South America and also in Africa, India and the Philippines.  Maybe you know this group or even serve among its 250,000 sponsors, but it was new to us.  The organization was founded by five Roman Catholic lay people in the Kansas City area in 1981 and has grown to be the largest non-profit in the state of Kansas and among the 200 largest non-profits in the country, according to Chronicle of Philanthropy tabulations of donor-raised funds.  Along with my long-time Kansas City friend Chari, an Episcopal deacon, we were shown around their offices by one of the managers and we met staff and volunteers.

Aid from the donor-sponsors is directed to individual children and elderly family members; they receive nutrition assistance, clothing, health care and, for the children, assistance in staying in school.  The whole family is involved.  Mothers often participate in support groups, which may well represent their first interactions in a peer group and first efforts at teamwork.  The mothers' programming can include microloans for local business efforts, and CFCA also helps the men find jobs.

CFCA's location in a simple warehouse headquarters keeps down its overhead, and other expense controls and accountability measures mean their operating costs are quite modest.  The share of revenue thus available to go directly to programming in 2012 was 93.6%, a very large amount for any charity.

The group currently conducts its fundraising mainly through outreach by priests and lay people to individual parishes, where they recruit new sponsors.  We know one of those priests personally in Brooklyn, which is how we came to visit the Kansas City headquarters.  The foundation is seeking to attract a broader Christian coalition, both in outreach and in sponsorship, and is wanting to expand its effort in this area.  Our own visit with their leadership and hearing the success stories of some of the children made it easy to write to you about them.

We direct you to to learn more about the group and about sponsoring a child or senior citizen.  One of their current themes is about dreams, and around their office walls are a collection of "Hello!  My Name Is ______!" cards that say instead "Hello!  My Dream Is . . . . to teach school . . . . to learn to dance . . . . to make clothes . . . . to play the drums . . . . and so on".  A video available through the website shows a group of the children in a band playing a concert, feeling fulfilled and happy at the respect they sense through their achievement.

The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, 1 Elmwood Avenue, Kansas City, KS 66103.  (800) 875-6564.

The Shawnee Mission North Class of 1963 Parties Again!
The reunion event was a lovely experience, which, interestingly, also involved young people.  Our class had numbered about 450 and some 95 of us gathered on October 12 for dinner at a hotel near the school.  We were genuinely happy to see each other.  I had not been in touch and didn't know whether anyone would even remember me.  But many called out my name right away.  A reunion website contained profiles for those coming, so we were at least somewhat prepared about whom to watch out for.  I also had not considered it before, but a high school reunion is also an elementary school reunion, and there were five or six of us who had started out in kindergarten together in 1950!  Seeing those "kids" again was especially sweet.

People traveled to Kansas City from New York (me), California, Oregon, Utah, Florida and Texas, among other locales.  The class president is a doctor at the medical school of the University of Indiana.  Another of us had counted up from our profiles an estimate that about 15% of us have doctorate or professional degrees.  That particular guy always loved baseball; he became a lawyer in Houston and started a firm that manages major league baseball players' business affairs.  We had a fine conversation with one of us who is a social worker; our AFS exchange student from Sweden is a dentist – yes, she came from Sweden for the event – and someone else is retired as an accountant for TWA, the company my own father had worked for during all of my childhood.  The person seated next to me at dinner is a retired nurse who sings in a San Francisco choral group that is about to go on tour to Europe.  There are numerous stay-at-home moms with many kids and many spoiled grandchildren.

One of the points the CFCA official made to us on our tour there was how important it is to create opportunities for the kids to give back.  At the reunion we had seen this too from kids in a much more comfortable economic setting.  We were entertained during dinner by the Shawnee Mission North Strolling Strings.  When I saw the announcement that they would provide the dinner music, I expected half-a-dozen or so violins wandering among the tables.  But there were at least 50 teen-age musicians.  Four or five string basses were stationed around the perimeter of the ballroom, while violins, violas and even cellos circulated throughout the room, playing as they moved.  Andrew Lloyd Weber and similar selections filled the space with warm, flowing tones.  The kids came right up to us, smiling broadly as they serenaded each person.  They did a couple of 1950s swing tunes, and a few of the girls picked dance partners from among us 68-year-olds.  It means so much when, seemingly, the only times you hear about kids these days are when they do bad things, not lovely things like this.

Late in the evening, I ran into one of the professional photographers, also a young woman, outside the dining room, and I asked her if she was having a good time.  "Oh, yes," she replied, "I'm really enjoying you all enjoying each other!" Absolutely!

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