By David Hylton
Public Relations Specialist
To kick off this blog series, which will crisscross the globe during the month of October, we start in our own backyard. One of the biggest myths about ChildFund International is that we only help children overseas. That couldn’t be more wrong. We’ve been providing aid to U.S. children for more than 50 years. In fact, our programs in the United States reach some of the poorest counties in Mississippi, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas.
In the U.S., we collaborate with grassroots organizations that have an intimate understanding of the local community and the needs of the children and families. ChildFund and its partners focus on programs such as physical fitness, diabetes prevention, after-school care, computer skills training, youth councils and neighborhood revitalization.
One of our U.S. success stories comes from former sponsored child Joe Brings Plenty in South Dakota. He is now a tribal chairman and a leading advocate for ChildFund’s programs that began in 2008 at the Cheyenne River Reservation.
“I want the youth today to have the experiences that I had,” he says. As evidence, he shows visitors a photo of himself as a boy wearing a red sweater. The photo was taken during his community choir’s visit to a local prison. As a choir performer, he was instructed to wear “something nice.” The red sweater, a gift from his ChildFund sponsor, was the only nice thing he owned. It was also the only Christmas gift he received that year.
Years later, Joe continues to be touched by what the sweater represented to him as a child growing up on a reservation. For him, the sweater is a symbol that people care about Indian issues and that they share the same values of compassion and generosity.
More on the U.S.
Population: 304 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 58,000 children and families
Did You Know?: The first “American Indian Day” was declared by the State of New York in 1916, but a month-long recognition of American Indians was not achieved until 1990. Native American Indian Heritage Month is celebrated in November.
Next in our “31 in 31” series: Meet a kite maker in Indonesia
Shauntay Hinton, who was crowned Miss USA in 2002 and has appeared on TV shows such as “Heroes” and “Criminal Minds,” is a formerly sponsored child through ChildFund International. She was enrolled in the Brickfire Project in Mississippi and attended Brickfire’s after-school program until she completed high school.
Today Shauntay shares her childhood memories with us:
This week I attended a Labor Day barbecue hosted by my management company at a really elegant residence in Pacific Palisades, Calif., a community on the west side of Los Angeles. I looked around at the setting and the other “celebrities” there and felt like I was a really long way from Starkville, Miss.
In fact, when one of the other guests happened to ask me where I grew up, and I told her Mississippi, she responded “Wow! Really? How awful was that?” To which I replied “Not at all. I must have gotten lucky!”
I explained that growing up in Starkville, we had a strong sense of community. For example, when I was very little, I attended a day care center called Project Brickfire. Project Brickfire was a conduit organization for ChildFund International and operated as part day care center/part community center with programs to promote the educational and social development of children.
I went on to give her an earful about how before I even knew who Oprah Winfrey was, when I was about 5 years old, I was cast in a play at Project Brickfire as the host of a talk show who interviewed historical figures including Dr. Martin Luther King and Dr. George Washington Carver regarding their contributions to American History. And boy oh boy, did they create a monster!
I made my mind up to never know a life without being on stage in some capacity. So to make a long story short, I think I got my point across to that other guest – if I hadn’t grown up in small-town Mississippi as a ChildFund sponsored child, I might not have been standing there talking to her at some fancy shindig in lovely Pacific Palisades that afternoon.
With programs emphasizing the arts and creative expression like plays, field trips and guest speakers, even providing a pen pal from across the world, ChildFund International helped me develop self confidence in front of an audience early on. Without question, my start as a sponsored child was essential to shaping my path toward a career in broadcasting because of the encouragement, instruction and support I received from the staff of Project Brickfire.
To read more about Shauntay’s experience with ChildFund International, click here. For more on “The Power to Play,” visit www.ChildFund.org/toys. Are you a formerly sponsored children through ChildFund? If so, and you would like to tell your story, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with your information.