HENRIETTA — Sitting at the head of a table full of bisque angels and bells, 15-year-old Tasha Perkins paints pink glaze on an angel balanced in between her fingers. When it’s fired, the pink glaze will turn a pearly white.
Tasha may be learning skills she’ll need in the work world, but she’s also acting as a guardian angel for orphans in a country far away. Each year, Tasha and her fellow special-needs students at School of the Holy Childhood are contracted to make and package the Gifts of Love ceramic ornaments.
For 25 years, several local churches have been selling the 3,500 ceramic angels and bells during the Christmas season, and the $6 donation for each ornament benefits Our Little Brothers and Sisters Orphanage in Haiti.
Parishes have the option of designating an additional charity to receive the proceeds, such as Notre Dame Learning Center and Mt. Carmel Hospice in Rochester, said organizer Marcia Mendola, a member of St. Louis Church in Pittsford.
Through the project, students at School of the Holy Childhood learn how to finish a task and what it’s like to do piece work and repetitive tasks, said Michelle Corbett, a ceramics teacher at the school.
However, the students all know that their hard work is going to help an orphanage in Haiti, Corbett said. Work on the Gifts of Love project runs year-round, and the job also helps the school, which makes a small per-ornament fee.
“The money we make goes back into the program to keep our ceramics program going,” Corbett said.
Mendola said the sale aims to raise about $10,000 a year for the orphanage, on top of the nearly $4,000 from a corn sale and a weekend’s tithing at St. Louis Church this summer.
The ornament program started in 1981 upon the urging of Sister Rosemary Statt, a member of Sisters of the Cross and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who was troubled by the hardships Kenyan women faced in getting water. Sister Statt asked Mendola and Dorothy Dispenza, another St. Louis parishioner, to help. That’s when Mendola asked her cousin, Jeff Nicholson, a Rochester art teacher and crafter, to make 100 etched acrylic Christmas ornaments.
“It went from 100 to 200 to 300,” Nicholson said. “Then I had to stop.”
That’s when School of Holy Childhood got involved. Production of the ornaments soon jumped to 1,000. Over the next decade, the group built a pipeline in Kabarnet, Kenya, using proceeds from the ornament sale. When the pipeline was done, the group began to focus on the Haitian orphanage after learning about the work done there by Father Rick Frechette.
The Haiti orphanage is part of the Friends of the Orphans network started in 1954 by Father William Wasson, who became concerned when a hungry homeless boy stole from the poor box of a church in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Other orphanages in the network are in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.
The Haitian orphanage opened in 1987 and serves 506 Haitian children. It includes a primary school, amphitheater, a chapel, farm and the country’s only pediatric hospital, which treats more than 17,000 children and adults annually.
The political conditions in Haiti are tumultuous, Mendola said. So many people are kidnapped there that many non-orphaned children sit on the steps of the orphanage, hoping to be taken in.
“People thank God that we are there, so no matter how bad it gets, we won’t leave,” Mendola said.
Tania Giorgis of Avon, who six years ago worked at an Our Little Brothers and Sisters Orphanage in Honduras while she was learning Spanish, said the kids at the orphanage receive basic services and rarities such as speech therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy.
Most kids at the school have up to six sponsors from throughout the world, Giorgis said. Each month, time is set aside to write to and read translated letters from sponsors, she said.
“You feel like you are at camp,” Giorgis said. “There’s a huge expanse of space, and it’s very safe and very protected.”
Stories such as these get many different groups involved in selling ornaments, Mendola said. For example, the dance team at Rochester’s Nazareth Academy sells 400 ornaments and sponsors an orphan annually, said team member Pamela Schickler.
“We all think it’s great for the students to always help those who are less fortunate,” she said.
Lisa Dunn of Holy Trinity in Webster said her church began participating in the fundraiser 10 years ago after hearing from a local priest who had been to Haiti.
“Every year we seem to be doing better,” Dunn said. “The past few years we have been hard hit with the tsunami and Xerox layoffs, but still there’s a big interest in it.”
Ann and David Beaucage of Walworth say each year they give the ornaments to family and friends.
“They are wonderful and beautiful ornaments,” Ann Beaucage said. “It’s nice to know we are helping a good cause. It’s a win-win situation.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on the orphanage, visit www.friendsoftheor phans.org.
Gifts of Love ornaments available at area stores
Gifts of Love ornaments are available at Oven Door Bakery in Bushnell’s Basin; at Edelweiss Properties and Rockcastle Florist in Canandaigua; at Rockcastle Florist in Greece; and in Perinton at Lu’s Back Door.
In Pittsford, they are available at Beads ‘N Things, Black Sheep, Elaine’s of Pittsford, The Luggage Shop/Shoe Repair, Ewe Too, Hicks and McCarthy, Pittsford Florist, Pittsford Farms Dairy, Echoes in Time, Recovery Caboose and Pendleton Shop.
In Rochester, they are at Wright Photo, Parkleigh, Wisteria Flowers and Gifts, Snips and Benfante Appliance Service; and at Warren Decorating Center, Hegedorns and Chip Arnold Jewelry in Webster.
They are available online at www.st louischurch.org. Large orders may be placed by calling Marcia Mendola at 585/381-6872 or 585/ 586-3771.