Her big, brown eyes smiled and the flowers in her hair danced across her head as she ran full speed ahead. Everywhere she went she left a giggle wafting in the air. Soon to be three, this little girl was bigger than her slight stature as the room illuminated around her. Arms held high, her eyes commissioned me – “please hold me.” She felt immediate comfort as her head fell to the nape of my neck. Her beautiful dark mocha skin glowed like the tiny grin on her face. So beautiful. I will and can not forget her. This was one of the children at the “I Can Foundation.” So full of joy, abundance, and life. Her essence was contagious for everyone who volunteered with her on this beautiful day in June (my Father, Aunt, Husband, Daughter, and myself). A child who immediately grabbed your heart before you even knew it was missing. A true blessing to get to know this little one and the other 22 children who were currently residing at the “I Can Foundation”.
Unfortunately, at the Foundation, every face has a smile but not every story has as much hope as the little 3 year old girl I described or her sister (who has physical and mental challenges). These two little girls (soon to be 2 and 3), get to go home to their mother every evening, but for the majority of the children, as we would discover, at the “I Can Foundation” – they have not seen their biological parents for years and they live on this same 13 mile long island in the middle of the Caribbean. The sad part is these children come to live at the residence in Saint Maarten due to court orders of abuse or neglect, but the good part is Cassandra Gibbs and her team are there to welcome the children as soon as they arrive. As one of God’s angels, Cassandra had it placed on her heart 20 years ago to welcome these children, love on them, and provide them a sense of family and home as much as she could. For many of the children, Cassandra becomes their mother figure. When Cassandra began her mission years ago, she opened up her own house, but unfortunately due to a fire the original house burnt down. However, with a strong vision and a lot of help, the” I Can” house got rebuilt and now Cassandra continues to work on rebuilding lives. For the little time we got to meet this incredible woman with a big heart, we got to understand her job was not easy molding and protecting little hearts, but could tell Cassandra would not choose to do anything else. Her days are spent filling in the gaps from building life memory books, breaking down barriers with the system and the schools, and being a Mom to 23 children from birth to when they graduate. Amazingly, the children have rough starts to life, but believe their smiles and “good afternoon’s” are due to a God given resilience but also Cassandra’s ability to build trust and a new sense of belonging. With very little funds at hand and a small staff, Cassandra makes sure the children eat and dress properly, they learn to have an “I Can” attitude, and they have a colorful life with 2 dogs, goats, chickens, and what my daughter gets excited about which is a pet snail. They also have painted walls of characters such as Snoopy and Spider-Man with powerful “I Can” quotes such as “Every Hero Has a Choice” depicting good and evil. If you didn’t know it, as my Aunt whispered to me, you’d think you were touring through a family house; which is the goal of the Foundation.
With a short timetable from the cruise, we spent our time touring the house, watching the children get off the bus from school and observing their routine of checking every school bag before entering the house, praying with the children, sitting and talking with the staff and children as they ate lunch, smelling the sweet scent of banana bread cooking in the kitchen, and reading my first book to the youngest crowd. Like every other child I’ve had the opportunity to read my book to, these little ones enjoyed finding and pointing to Watts, the infamous firefly. They also laughed every moment doing it. For a split second, we were not in a foster home reading a book, but we were like any other group of kids and adults enjoying time together. It was cool!! What made this special experience even more special is we were able to remind ourselves of the old adage we are more alike then we’re different. My daughter gasped as she said….”Mom, they recited the same prayer I use to say at Primrose School.” We also smirked as a little one gave a thumb’s down to not liking the mashed corn dish being served. A common antic from children around the world.
In the end, we didn’t have time to throw the ball or make jewelry from the jewelry kit we brought, but know these items will go to good use. What we did get to do – is we got to spend time together as a family (My Dad, Aunt, Husband, Daughter, and myself) spreading our love across seas. A memorable experience as we live several States apart from my Dad and Aunt. We also got to see my typical 6 yr. old daughter who is not always focused on helping others connect with the children and ask what she could do to help even asking if she could help set the table for lunch. (Maybe something she will spend more time doing at home…lol). We got to meet children who lived in a different place, but didn’t live in a different place heart-wise or love-wise. We got to meet a woman who said “I Can” make a difference in children’s lives and she is doing it. Many say one woman can’t make a difference, but this was a volunteer experience that proved one person can make a difference. Thank you the “I Can Foundation” for your hospitality, for truly living out your name-sake, and for making a 50 year anniversary celebration for my parents that much more memorable as we got the experience to not only celebrate love, but a chance to give love back. Thank You Again!!