"The kids are amazing," said parishioner Donna Clancy of Danville, who just visited the Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos orphanage in Cuernavaca, Mexico. "They're happy, they're loving. They just kind of grab you, physically and emotionally."
She traveled with her husband and five children in July to visit the orphanage for the second time. They stayed onsite in a dorm, with no hot water.
"It's a big deal to accommodate us so we appreciate it," Clancy noted. "There were eight other kids from Danville, and we met up with about 40 people from Arizona."
Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos is headquartered in Chicago with its West Coast office in Arizona, she explained. The organization has grown from an incident in 1954, when a young American priest in a Mexican village caught a little boy stealing money from the poor box. He would not press charges and instead asked for custody of the boy. The judge not only agreed but sent him eight more homeless boys the following week. By the end of the year, the priest was making a home for 32 youngsters, the roots of Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos.
Forty years later, Father Frank Colacicco came to live at St. Isidore's after he retired and attended a conference of Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, he was hooked, and devoted himself to developing support at the Danville parish for the orphanages.
St. Isidore's now sends an average of 16,000 pounds of goods to the orphanages each year, including bicycles, school supplies, food, clothing and sporting goods. And visitors bring more.
"Each person who comes is able to bring a 25-pound box of goods," said Clancy. "We had 53 boxes with us- we were quite a sight. We fly in to Mexico City and pile on school buses from the school. You're in the middle of nowhere. It's a very small town."
This orphanage, which houses 600 children, was a 200-year-old sugar plantation, she said, with 200 acres. It now has a huge greenhouse, chickens, pigs and a tilapia farm, tended to by the orphans and some paid agricultural workers. The site includes an elementary school, dorms, a chapel, dental facilities and an infirmary with a fulltime staff.
"It's a beautiful facility," Clancy said, "all brick and arches and bougainvillea." It is run by a priest, and the staff includes many who grew up at the orphanage. If they work for two years to help raise the little ones, their college expenses will be paid. There are also recent college graduates from countries around the world, who must commit for at least one year before being accepted as volunteers.
"Almost every person I met had extended their stay," said Clancy. "It was hard to leave after a week."
Some youths are taught vocational skills in fields such as auto shop, childcare and the hospitality industry. "They are breaking the cycle of poverty," Clancy said.
The Clancy family sponsors four children, and their stay was spent reconnecting with those they met last year.
"For them to know that someone cares is awesome," she said.
"We take them to pizza, to a water park. We do a bunch of art projects together every day and just hang out with them," she explained. "All of our kids who come down do chores - wash dishes, make tortillas. They grow their own corn and make tortillas for every meal. We experience what they experience."
She said visitors are impressed by the happiness of the children, who have been orphaned or abandoned or taken away from abusive parents. Or sometimes a single parent simply cannot care for them.
"There is a simple joy," she said. "What they have is hundreds of brother and sisters. They are one big, happy family."
About 30 Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos graduates have settled in the Bay Area and help out with the fiesta, said Clancy. Her family and others in the parish will host visitors from El Salvador when they are here Oct. 1-6.
"it's a great mission for our church and has become a great program," she said.
Join the fiesta
What: Father Frank's Fiesta and Auction, with carnival, buffet dinner and more
Special: Ballet Folklórico performed by children from an orphanage in El Salvador
Benefits: Orphanages in Latin America run by Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos
When: Saturday, Oct. 3, after the 4 p.m. Mass
Where: St. Isidore Church, 440 La Gonda, Danville
Cost: $40 per person; $75 per couple; $100 per family