Live! Concert Series

Tenor Fernando Varela Lends His Voice to ChildFund

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

At ChildFund, we often talk about children and youth finding their voices and making their needs known to their families and other adults. That’s something new LIVE! artist Fernando Varela knows about.

Fernando Varela

Fernando Varela, in full voice.

“I always sang as a child, but nothing too serious,” he says. When he was about 20, he decided to pursue opera singing, an ambitious goal. Hailing from Puerto Rico, Fernando was considered a late starter in the world of classical singing, but he’s achieved great success in just a few years. He and his tenor singing group Forte (who met in person only days before performing together) were finalists on the show America’s Got Talent in 2013 and are now on a major North America tour.

On the NBC talent show, Fernando and his fellow singers, Sean Panikkar and Josh Page, performed for about 12 million TV viewers each week, which Fernando describes as “an insane number of people.” They sang at Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall, two of the most storied theaters in the country, and were signed by Columbia Records minutes after the show ended. Forte now has a new album, featuring opera classics as well as pop ballads, following their classical crossover approach to music.

In April, Fernando will be supporting ChildFund as a LIVE! artist during four dates in Hot Springs, Ark. Helping children is a major passion in his life; Fernando and his wife started a scholarship fund in their home state of Florida to help children in music, providing others with the help he received as a young man. Early in his career, some friends helped pay for his voice lessons, and others purchased plane tickets so he could fly to auditions.

If I can share with the audience the change that ChildFund creates in children’s lives, I’m not just entertaining. I’m making a difference.

“I had so many people that supported me, especially in the early stages of my development,” Fernando recalls — so working with ChildFund was a natural fit. He found out about our organization through a friend who attends some of his shows, and her brother is a sponsor.

“I think music is such a powerful tool,” Fernando says. “It’s a universal language. People really get to go on a journey and feel a lot of things. I always wanted to have a foundation, to have a cause. We just started now instead of waiting. If I can share with the audience the change that ChildFund creates in children’s lives — through fulfilling basic needs that we take for granted — now I’m not just entertaining, I’m making a difference.”

Celebrate the Season with Donny & Marie and Help Children in Need

The holiday season is all about family. It’s a time when families come together, slow down and enjoy each other.  

DonnyAndMarieLogoThe Donny & Marie Christmas Tour will be an experience — not just a show, but a holiday experience. The brother-and-sister duo has previously performed Christmas events on Broadway, in Chicago and in Los Angeles. This year, the tour is taking them to cities such as Tulsa, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Greensboro, Chicago, Pittsburgh and nine others!

And we’re excited to announce two opportunities for supporters and friends of ChildFund to celebrate the holiday season and help children around the world who have never received a single gift in their entire lives.

Through a special arrangement with Donny & Marie, friends of ChildFund are eligible for a $5 discount on the ticket price, and for every ticket purchased through this offer, Donny and Marie will donate $5 to ChildFund.

Another way to celebrate the spirit of Christmas is to volunteer at a Donny & Marie concert. Volunteers are needed at each city on the tour!

Indonesian child

Help bring joy to a child during the holidays.

As a volunteer, you’ll meet new people who share a love of fun and helping children. At shows like this, dozens of volunteers help bring in hundreds of new sponsors. It will be a huge help to ChildFund and, more importantly, to children in need around the world. Anyone can do it — all you need is a big heart for children in need and a few hours of time.

To learn more about volunteering at this event, please contact Jennifer Hughes at jhughes@childfund.org, or call 804-756-2772.

To obtain the ticket discount and support ChildFund, choose the date and city where you want to attend the concert, and you’ll be linked to a page where you can purchase tickets. On the “Select Ticket Type” menu, be sure to choose “Children’s Charity – ChildFund.” Then type in “ChildFund” in the pop-up box to obtain the $5 discount per ticket.

Enjoy the show, and thank you for helping support ChildFund and our work with children in 30 countries around the world.

An Eye-Opening Visit to Honduras

By Shawn Pennington, Vice-President of Artist Management at BBR Management

Shawn is a child sponsor and the manager of the chart-topping country duo Thompson Square, who partner with ChildFund’s LIVE! program.

75th ChildFund logoI’m embarrassed to admit that my whole adult life I’ve always been “that guy” who would say things like, “Why do we send so much aid overseas? Why do all these celebrities spend so much of their time trying to help those in other countries when we have so much wrong in our own country?” For me, that all changed earlier this year when Thompson Square and I traveled to Lepaterique, Honduras, with ChildFund to visit the children whom we sponsor.

Honduras family

Shawn Pennington, Thompson Square’s manager, visits with a family in Honduras.

As many know, over the last couple of years, Keifer and Shawna Thompson of Thompson Square have proudly used their celebrity voice in all forms of media, and at every show they help bring awareness and attention to ChildFund International’s efforts to help children all over the world. In 2012, we made great strides in getting more children sponsored, but at the end of the year, as we began preparing for the current tour, we really felt that we needed to take the message up a notch. The only way to do that was to go into the field ourselves and see with our own eyes what these children are dealing with.  

Due to an always insane travel schedule that Thompson Square keeps, it can be really hard to find a free week to fly around the world and back, so we chose to sponsor children in Lepaterique, which is only a two-and–a-half-hour flight from Atlanta.

What would come in the next few days would be life-changing. Cliché-sounding, I know, but it’s true. It’s one of those things that you can never really describe to someone and expect them to fully “get it” without experiencing it.

As we traveled from the city of Tegucigalpa towards Lepaterique, it became quickly apparent that we were about to see poverty that many people believe only exists in movies.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a one-room “house” with a family of five and one bed among them. The only way to bathe is a dip in a lake or a stream, the same water in which you wash your clothes, and the same water that is so polluted that you wouldn’t dare try and drink it.

Imagine being pregnant and having to spend four hours or more walking one way to get to the nearest doctor, just to wait in line and maybe not get to see the doctor (because there aren’t nearly enough of them), and thus have to turn around and walk back home. The government provides vaccinations for children but doesn’t have sufficient doctors to administer the shots.

Shawn and Danni

Shawn meets 4-year-old Danni for the first time.

My family signed up to sponsor a 4-year-old boy named Danni. Prior to the trip, I went shopping to buy Danni a few gifts. You cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it is to decide what to buy. There are so many factors that come into play. Some things seem so simple and easy to “fix” to those of us who are much more fortunate. But that is where ChildFund comes into play. They have programs in place to gradually improve the quality of life for these children and their families with a balanced approach.

The interesting thing about the people of Lepaterique is that they appear to be some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.  Even in the shadow of everything that challenges them in their daily lives, only two things matter to them – God and family. Visiting them was quite a lesson in life for all of us on the trip.  We should be ashamed of ourselves for complaining about anything!

Thompson Square in Honduras

Keifer and Shawna with children in a new computer lab in Lepaterique.

While we were there in January, an outgoing little boy at the school we visited slipped a note to Shawna that said (in Spanish) “Please help us get computers for our school so that we can learn better.” Through some great efforts from our team, we were able to work with an office supply company to get computers donated, and in July we traveled to Lepaterique once again to personally deliver them! Words cannot express the depth of gratitude that they showed us, or the feeling of knowing that our team made a dent, if only a small dent, in improving the quality of life for these children.

Keifer and Shawna were able to visit their sponsored child Emerson again while we were there, and I got to see Danni and meet his entire family! We were all sad to leave. We can honestly say that we have friends there now that look forward to seeing us as much as we do them. I hope that we will return again soon.

Girls of Grace Team Visits ChildFund Projects in Brazil

By Tassia Duarte, ChildFund Brazil

Fifteen-year-old singer-songwriter Gracie Schram, along with the team from ChildFund LIVE! partner Girls of Grace, made a visit this month to visit ChildFund’s programs in Brazil, where Gracie sponsors a 1-year-old girl.

girls making crafts

Gracie makes crafts with girls at ASCOMED, ChildFund’s partner in Medina, while a film crew captures footage.

Gracie and representatives from Girls of Grace, which holds conferences across the United States aimed at teen girls, went to our programs in Vale do Jequitinhonha and Belo Horizonte in mid-June. They captured footage for a video to use at their conferences to promote sponsorship through ChildFund, which supports the events.

In Medina, children welcomed their visitors with posters and songs, and everyone participated in a traditional round dance. Gracie played with the children and then met Jovelina, her sponsored child.

“I was actually happy, even though it’s such a hard thing to see,” says Gracie. “But it’s really cool that I’m going to be able to be a part of her future and allow her to have a better life that she wouldn’t have without sponsorship.”

In Medina, while visiting ASCOMED, ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Gracie

two girls

Gracie and Jovelina.

and a few Brazilian teenage girls made crafts, and she also sang for the children. The visiting team learned more about the activities children participate in that help them develop socially, and they saw a room specially designed for the children to write letters to sponsors.

In the rural outskirts of Medina, the team learned about conditions that were disturbing: families struggling to survive in houses with no bathroom or running water, living far from the closest bus station and with poor access to education and health care. “Being so close to the poverty makes it really real, and it forces you to really think about where and who you are,” Gracie says. “And to think that people need so many things like clean water and health care, it’s really hard to see that.”

In the region of Comercinho, the team met families that have benefited from ChildFund’s assistance. Water is scarce there because of drought conditions, and the little water available has not been healthy to drink.

ChildFund has worked to protect the nearby river, so animals don’t have access to the springs, which leads to pollution. Families are now able to channel clean water to their homes. Trained “water watchers” monitor the water quality and act to preserve it, a sustainable practice that will help their children’s futures, as will sponsors like Gracie.

Gracie playing guitar

Gracie sings for an audience of children in Medina.

ChildFund Volunteers Make the World a Better Place

By Kate Nare, ChildFund Marketing Specialist

This week is National Volunteer Week and we would like to thank ALL of ChildFund’s amazing volunteers! Whether it’s participating at our LIVE! concert events, sharing our organization’s mission through social media, speaking at a local Rotary club or attending fundraising luncheons, ChildFund volunteers are getting the word out about children who live in poverty and are in desperate need of a sponsor.

Every day ChildFund supporters make a difference in the lives of the children they sponsor. Through monthly sponsorship donations and staying in touch through cards, photos and letters, ChildFund sponsors provide support, encouragement and empowerment to a child. Some sponsors go one step further by also giving their time to find other sponsors for children who are struggling to survive.

Christine Lin and Marilyn Warner are good friends and ChildFund sponsors who go above and beyond to help children. Recently, the duo volunteered at an event in Newport Beach, Calif. This luncheon and fan mixer, billed as “The Sounds of David,” honored recording artist and American Idol Season 7 runner-up David Archuleta by raising funds for his favorite charities.

Archuleta sponsors a child and kicked off ChildFund’s LIVE! concert series in December 2011, garnering child sponsorships during his “My Kind of Christmas Tour.” He was unable to attend the event since he is currently on a mission trip in South America. However, 85 of his biggest fans were there to participate in silent and live auctions to raise money for ChildFund and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

Two friends at table

Volunteers Christine and Marilyn get ready to share their sponsorship stories at the ChildFund table.

Marilyn and Christine greeted guests who stopped by the ChildFund table, providing information about sponsorship and ChildFund’s mission. They brought letters and photos from their own sponsored children, bringing their sponsorship experience to life and sharing how much it has meant to them. The display featured child packets, photos of Archuleta during his visit to ChildFund’s programs in the Philippines, as well as an iPad with rotating images of children.

Performer David Archuleta talks with children in Philippines.

David Archuleta visited ChildFund programs in the Philippines last year.

“Christine did an awesome job handling all the paperwork and creating receipts for the sponsorships and donations,” Marilyn noted.

Christine added, “Marilyn did an excellent job making people feel welcome to our table, encouraging others about sponsorship and explaining to them what ChildFund is all about and showing her folders of her kids, so people can see the blessings from it.”

woman holding up photo of child

Robin Gantz signs up to sponsor a child in Zambia.

The two friends made a great team, raising several hundred dollars for ChildFund and signing up two new sponsors.

But Marilyn and Christine didn’t stop there. They divided the remaining child packets from the event and are now asking their friends and co-workers to sponsor these children.

Thank you Christine and Marilyn for giving your time to ensure a successful event! Because of your efforts, and the work of other volunteers like you, children living in poverty will have new opportunities to reach their full potential.

If you would like to volunteer with ChildFund at a LIVE! event, or in another way, please email volunteers@ChildFund.org or call our toll-free number at 800-458-0555, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET.

Audio Adrenaline Joins ChildFund LIVE! Team

By Kate Andrews

men in a band


Audio Adrenaline

ChildFund is getting a shot of adrenaline — Audio Adrenaline, that is. The upbeat Christian rock band, which has two Grammys and multiple Dove awards under its belt, is ChildFund’s newest LIVE! partner.

The band is coming off a seven-year hiatus with a new lead singer and starts its latest tour March 1 in Morganton, N.C. The tour is in support of the band’s new album, Kings & Queens, which features former dc Talk member Kevin Max on lead vocals.

logo for LIVE!At each Audio Adrenaline concert, ChildFund will have booths staffed with volunteers. That’s where you come in; we’d like your help to answer questions about how child sponsorship works and help people sign up to begin their sponsorships. A ChildFund representative will be on hand to answer questions and give direction to volunteers. Check the tour schedule to see if Audio Adrenaline is playing near you.

The group has a history of charitable work, and we’re pleased that they are joining the ChildFund LIVE! team, which includes Thompson Square, Girls of Grace, Mary Mary, Jake Shimabukuro and others.

Come rock out — and along the way, help children in need.

Thompson Square “Totally Changed” by Visit to Honduras

By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager

Children listen to a song.

Keifer and Shawna share a song with the children.

Country music duo Thompson Square visited Honduras last week to meet Emerson, a 4-year-old boy they recently sponsored through ChildFund International. Keifer and Shawna Thompson, who also are husband and wife, say that they are “totally changed” by the visit, which allowed them to see how children and their families survive on few resources and yet have much love and joy to give.

The pair, who promote ChildFund’s child development work through ChildFund’s LIVE! artist program, traveled to Honduras to meet Emerson and his family and also took the opportunity to shoot a video for their recent hit single, “Glass.”

After almost two hours of bumpy back-road travel through the beautiful green mountains, Keifer and Shawna reached Emerson’s house near the town of Lepaterique in the central Honduran province of Francisco Morazán.

two boys with Thompson Square guests

Emerson and Christian show off their playhouse.

Shawna and Keifer, joined by a film crew and ChildFund staff members, received a warm greeting from Emerson’s family. Soon, they were playing soccer with Emerson and his brother, Christian; learning how to make corn tortillas with the mother, Ana; and singing songs for the family. The children proudly showed their visitors a little playhouse they had built in their backyard with sticks and stones.

“You honor us with your visit to our humble home,” said the great-grandfather of the family, 93-year-old Maximino. “We are poor, and your coming here means a lot to us. May God bless you in your way.”

“There’s no feeling in the world like this,” Shawna said after meeting Emerson and his family. The experience, she added, “definitely makes you realize what is important in life, and it’s pretty obvious that it’s family.”

“This has been one of the most amazing days we have ever had,” Keifer added.

children and adults in classroom

Learning about ChildFund programs in Honduras.

In addition to visiting Emerson, Keifer and Shawna had the opportunity to see ChildFund programs in action while visiting the local school. There they observed children, ages 8 to 10, tutoring their peers and sharing stories and drawings. The duo’s acoustic performance of “Glass” delighted the students.

After visiting other families in the community and handing out toys and candy to children along the way, Shawna and Keifer received a Honduran farewell on the edge of a beautiful lake. Following a meal of traditional food, it was the couple’s turn to be entertained with music and dance performed by children and youth participating in ChildFund programs that focus on strengthening self-esteem, leadership skills and cultural identity.

The reigning CMA Vocal Duo of the Year is now back on tour, with a schedule that includes concerts in more than 100 U.S. cities. They will continue sharing with their fans the life-changing experience of sponsoring a child through ChildFund, inviting them to say “yes” to a child like Emerson.

Volunteer opportunities are available at Thompson Square concerts. Visit ChildFund’s website to learn more about how you can help spread the word about child sponsorship.

ChildFund Partners With Thompson Square

by Virginia Sowers, Community Manager

Shawna and Keifer Thompson

ChildFund’s Live! concert series picks up in March with Thompson Square, the husband-and-wife duo of Shawna and Keifer Thompson.

Working with various performing artists, our LIVE! concert series seeks to introduce new audiences to ChildFund’s work in 31 countries and the life-changing impact of child sponsorship.

Soon after their 2010 signing with Stoney Creek Records, Thompson Square, also known as T2, released their self-titled debut album, which included the platinum-selling, Billboard number 1 country single “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” a triple winner at the 2011 American Country Awards.

With two GRAMMY nominations and a growing fan base, Thompson Square is fast on the rise. Throughout the coming months, Thompson Square will perform nationwide,  including many appearances with Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker on Lady A’s “Own the Night” tour.

With their wide appeal, T2 is sure to reach diverse audiences, presenting a great opportunity to share the message and experience of sponsoring a child.

At each concert, Thompson Square will be telling fans about ChildFund’s mission. ChildFund is also seeking current ChildFund sponsors to volunteer at the concert venues. See the tour schedule for a concert near you. Volunteers will be asked to share their own experiences of sponsoring a child and assist with signing up new sponsors at the events.

Volunteers are needed over the next several months. Learn more by downloading the LIVE! Volunteer FAQs. To volunteer, call 800-458-0555 or send email to Questions@ChildFund.org.

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