Posts Tagged ‘ volunteer travel ’

7 Days Left, 10,000+ Stickers, 8 Barbies, and Countless Crayolas

Hello Kitty Sticker Nail Art!

Lots of tiny supplies for mini manicures.

Well the day has almost come and I never expected I would be gluing chunky plastic espadrilles to the bottoms of a Barbie doll’s feet in a frenzy. Thanks to all of the donations, support, and material contributions, I will be toting lots of goodies to La Carpio. Now one of my only worries is actually being able to fit everything. I’d love to give a few very special shouts of gratitude to those who went above and beyond, or gave in a special way (not like you all didn’t).

First and foremost, there are simply no words to express how indebted I feel to all who helped keep me on my feet and stay motivated over the past couple of months. The Lyme has taken a huge toll on my body and being. Without such an amazing supportive network of friends and family, new and old, I probably would have given up the hope to even travel to Costa Rica a long time ago. Thank you to my doctors for putting up with my demands for blood tests and a diagnosis, and for writing letters to the embassy in order to ensure my vitamins would cross the borders with me (fingers still crossed on that one). Thank you to all of my friends for understanding that during this debilitating period of my life, I have not been able to readily commit to plans. Each has been so accommodating by setting aside time for me knowing that I may either be late for lunch or not be able to make it to the movie after all. The little things you have all done, from sending texts to bringing tea, have been sunny reminders of the ridiculously selfless, caring friends I am lucky enough to have in my life.

One of the most difficult parts of this disease had been the day-to-day of not knowing how I will feel when (and if) I wake up. The very busy stylist Alexis Robinson of Vain Salon knew something was up when I was a no-show for an appointment the other evening and promptly had a receptionist call to check on me and squeeze me in the next day. The staff of Vain have been wonderful. Many have made personal donations and have certainly been cheerleaders for this trip in many ways.

I cannot express how grateful I am to my co-workers at League Lab and Underdog Sports Leagues who have quickly become family. Not only have they made generous donations and allowed me to shift my schedule in order to accommodate this trip, but they have allowed me the flexibility to work as my illness will allow as opposed to forcing my body to push itself, in essence making myself much sicker. They have been supportive, concerned, and easy to communicate with about how I am feeling. Without the support they have shown for me in the past few months, I honestly don’t know where I would be with all of this now. It’s a rare and wonderful position to have in a work environment and there is not a day that goes by that I take their trust and moral support for granted.

So what is that photo all about? After raising all of the money for the trip, Trenton and I started putting together toys and little gifts for the children to take away from the experience. We will be hauling down a bag of Barbies, lots of nail polish and glitter for mini-manis, about 25 boxes of Crayolas with quite a few coloring books, a bag of Hot Wheels, and about 400+ packages of laboriously assembled sticker packets. Each packet will contain a small bag full of hand-selected stickers attached to mini handmade matchbook-style sticker notepads. Laborious but worth it, for sure! They are looking great.

Special hugs to:

Dan and Maria Carpenter for their thoughtful donation towards materials.

Elizabeth V. and Ms. SJ Munsson who donated nail polishes and Barbies from a beloved personal collection.

Alexis Robinson for her kind donation towards materials.

Kimberly Ferencz, the human sewing machine, who has assembled the matchbook sticker pads, iPad covers, and big hat for my irregularly enormous head to protect me from the sun.

And of course, Trenton Silva, for trading Honolulu sun for Seattle weather to take care of me this past month and become a sticker cutting pro. ❤

Love you all! Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter (at right) to keep tabs of the trip and see your gifts in action. The first 75 to subscribe will receive personalized packages via snail mail upon my return, and one lucky reader will receive a gift pack full of Costa Rican goodies.

To make a donation via PayPal to help defray my personal costs and/or to buy additional goodies for the children, please click this button:


Sticker Factory


We are madly putting sticker packets and little sticker books to bring for the kiddies! Some of you have inquired about making donations still and/or helping out. You may make a donation directly through my PayPal site in order to help defray these costs and keep piling on the toys! Please click the PayPal button below. As a registered Sole Proprietor in the state of Washington, I can provide you with any necessary documentation. Thanks again for all of your support.

Human Nature will Never Fail to Surprise

PEACE: Sign in Fremont, Seattle, WA

And That's What It's All About

And That’s What It’s All About

Most obvious statement of the decade? The economy sucks.

We have all been affected by it in some way — whether we’ve lost job(s), taken pay cuts, or dealt with the stress of a pink slip hanging over your head as you watched your co-workers clean out their desks one-by-one.

But in the midst of all of our hard financial woes, something still burns inside of each of us. We have witnessed it many times. Easiest and most obvious example to relate to? 9/11. If only for a few hours, we all stood together. And I don’t mean in the patriotic sense. Sure we all heard the anthems, saw the flag until it no longer held meaning, and were saddened every time we lost a friend, brother, or community member who volunteered to ‘fight for freedom’, but the entire world screeched to a halt for a second. Any human with an ounce of a conscience stopped and reflected. Strangers smiled at each other and struck up conversations. Estranged parents and children picked up phones. Some people sat solitary, quietly mourning the atrocity of pure evil that was simply too difficult to even begin to comprehend. But one thing unified us all that day, if even for a brief subconscious moment. We all felt vulnerable, helpless, and inconsolable. We all wanted to do something to help.

9/11 is an extreme example that affected the entire world and changed the course of history, but we all experience things in our lives that have similar effects. We get a phone call. A father has cancer and suddenly we feel guilty for getting angry that we [insert trivial daily life episode here].

During Hurricane Katrina most of us had those same feelings. How could so many lives be lost on American soil? Where was FEMA? Why didn’t the government offer more protection? Our safe American cocoons that took so long to spin again in a post 9/11 society suddenly started to unravel.We slowed down again. Maybe this time we were a bit more numb and used to such large-scale heartbreak. Some gave blood, emptied closets to fill bag after bag of clothes for the victims, while others gave money. Some simply sat and had quiet moments of reflection in honor of the victims, while others swapped vacations in Europe to go to New Orleans and help rebuild. But one thing rang true once again — the majority of us wanted to do something to help.

Wayne Elsey, founder of Soles4Souls, Inc. had these same feelings, first after the tsunami struck Southeast Asia and next when he sat and watched the tragedy of Katrina unfold before his eyes. Although he had helped coordinate about a quarter of a million shoes be delivered to the victims of the tsunami, he felt compelled to keep helping those who faced such sudden tragedy. Through the help of some colleagues and the support of many, Wayne has helped send over a million pairs of shoes to the victims of Katrina. Seeing the impact of the efforts, Wayne started Soles4Souls, Inc. a year later. It has been growing stronger ever since.

When I decided to sign up to travel to Costa Rica with Soles4Souls, I did what I usually do when it comes to matters of the heart. I didn’t think twice. As I actually started to try to raise funds, while juggling my complicated work-fueled life, I became worried. How the hell I would get enough people to hand me money in a time of widespread financial crisis? There were factors working both for and against me. As an Art Director, I worked with teams of brilliant problem solvers at places like Microsoft and Razorfish. I had soaked up enough information about social strategy and using digital media for good. I knew I could apply those skills to help raise awareness and drive donations. I had (and still have) to put in a great deal of my money for things like the initial trip deposit, domestic RT air fare to Miami, as well as lodging, etc. I opened a second savings account early on and made sure I put aside enough weekly to at least cover payment milestones should donations not cut it. I figured I could buy some time at very least.

Then my life rapidly began to change. I went through two layoffs and began dealing with a series of unexplained illnesses. Over the span of three months, I went to 30 medical appointments. My symptoms ranged from debilitating fatigue and intense all-over pain to daily migraines and flu-like symptoms. After being tossed from specialist to specialist and eradicating scary diagnoses one-by-one (MS, lupus, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer again…), my docs finally settled on Fibromyalgia. Although skeptical, I swallowed the diagnosis and began treating the symptoms of this mysterious illness with vitamins, supplements, and a complete overhaul of lifestyle and diet. No more late nights. No more having “a couple of beers” to watch the game. No more dairy. No more gluten. And the worse part? All of my money and energy went to treating this disease so I could continue to live as normal of a life as possible. These changes were a hard pill to swallow for a woman whom, just six months earlier, was at the top of her game in digi-mobile-touch-dev-design media space. Hop a red-eye to Atlanta for a brainstorming session? Right. I was too tired to get up and drive down the street for gas.

This happened over the course of six months or so. I was doing okay, until recently I started feeling unbearably ill. Told it was the flu and I was going through a Fibro flare, I decided to finally listen to my gut and demand a Lyme test. I had acute Lyme once, while living in Massachusetts at the age of 25. My body has never been the same since. I went through shorter episodes of similar symptoms that I am having now. They are all the telltale symptoms of Chronic Lyme Disease, a much more serious disease that most of the medical community refuses to acknowledge as real. More on all this in what is sure to evolve as a new blog, Why did you become a doctor if you don’t want to help people?

My tests have come back positive. I am waiting for next steps, which are almost impossible to get as most doctors will not treat chronic Lyme due to its controversial nature.

So why bring this all up? We all suffer in some way or another. However, through it all, you came through. You not only came through for me, but for a small population of children in Costa Rica who suffer daily in ways unimaginable to any of us. Every time you made a donation, it warmed my heart and gave me the incentives I needed to push on. Amongst the generous donations of my close friends, there were donations from people I have never met, some that I haven’t seen since fourth grade, and some that I haven’t even heard from since high school.

Despite all the hardships we have experienced, you came through. And I cannot begin to explain to you what that means to me. Every time I place a new pair of shoes on the foot of a child, you will all be there in spirit. Know you made a difference. Know that you may have saved a life.

I am humbled and wish peace and good karma to you all.

More to follow soon…

Jamie Lynn Despres

To make a donation via PayPal to help defray my personal costs and/or to purchase additional goodies for the children, please click this button:

The Final Countdown: A few more Dollars and a Double Dollop of Shampoo!

iSafety First

I worked with Kimberly Ferencz, who constructed this conspicuously adorable iPad cover for the trip.

** Update: As of 6:00 on June 24th, the travel fundraising goal of $1750 has been achieved (and even topped; impressive) by the League Lab Crew! Holla at your leagues. More info to follow. Still seeking other donations listed below and will be collecting and purchasing small toys to give to the children as well. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post! THANK YOU RADICAL PEOPLE! ***



To all who have made donations, provided words of encouragement, or who have been a positive force in my life at one time or another, I would like to extend a huge THANK YOU. I have less than 2 days to reach my goal of $1750, which leaves only $173! And now for the please part…

If you have not donated yet, please consider doing so today! Your gift is tax-deductible, and no gift is too small. $1 puts one pair of shoes on a child from La Carpio, a sewage ridden slum on the outskirts of San José. Without proper shoes, children can easily catch debilitating diseases. No shoes means no school. No school means no education. Unfortunately, for the children of La Carpio, these factors inevitably lead to dead ends. If he/she lives through adulthood, there is a high chance of becoming a drug dealer, prostitute, and/or victim of violence.

This is TRULY a case of $1 making a difference. You may help me hit my goal of $1750 by viewing my profile where you will find more info about why I am making this journey. I will be updating this blog as regularly as wi-fi allows on the trip, and will be loading it with all sorts of wonderful stories and photos upon my return. All current donors and sponsors appear in the right column. PLEASE if you would like your name to link to a site (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blog, etc.), let me know! All businesses who make a donation of $30 or more may send along their logo and I will include a direct link to your site. Soles4Souls will be Tweeting my blog posts from their account. That’s a large reach. Be sure to subscribe (sign-up is in right column) to this blog to follow the journey and see the difference YOU helped make.

Can’t make a monetary donation at this time? Please spread the word over the world-wide web’s fancy sharing services.

Want to help in other ways? Because of my recent medical misfortune of the diagnosis of an auto-immune disease, I will be traveling to Costa Rica with a ton of meds/vitamins. To keep things light, I am looking for donations of small trial size samples (foil packets, wipes, small bottles or tubes) of hair, face, body, and other health products. Sephora, Duque Salon of Ballard, and many friends have kindly donated. These samples are easy to transport and throw away but impossible to buy from the shelves. If you have any hanging around, I would appreciate ANY item or brand that you could send my way. Please email me jamielynndespres[at]gmail[dot]com to arrange a drop off/pick up or please mail them directly to my apartment by July 21st. Just shoot me a message if you need my mailing address.

I happily plan on staying involved with Soles4Souls after the trip. In the Ballard hood of Seattle, an event to feature a shoe drive is already on the table.

Thanks so much for your incredible show of support. I am scared, nervous, but very excited. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog for updates! I promise these photos and smiles will warm your heart, as your kindness and generosity have warmed mine.

Once the goal of $1750 is reached, if interested in making a donation to help defray my personal costs for the trip, please either use PayPal (below) or send a check via old-skool mail. This would be of great help, as all domestic travel, immunizations, domestic lodging, and the bevy of special travel items that a Fibro/Lyme patient must have on hand, have started draining the piggy quickly. I am registered as a Sole Proprietor in the state of WA and will gladly send you any documentation you require. You will certainly still be included on my blog, and the inclusion of links and logos is highly encouraged.

To make a donation via PayPal to help defray my personal costs, please click this button:

Muchas gracias!
Jamie Lynn Despres

Special Guest Entry: Katie Lentile talks about Haiti


Katie and her "little buddy Job" in Haiti.

Katie Lentile is a busy woman. With all of the responsibilities that come with being the Soles4Souls Experiential Manager, Katie still manages to keep in constant communication with volunteers, show gratitude and respect by responding quickly to e-mails and messages, all while juggling plane tickets, organizing trips, setting up the logistics of international distributions, and keeping a personal blog of her journeys. I managed to catch up with Katie quickly via e-mail today as she prepares for back to back trips with Soles4Souls. Here is an excerpt from Katie’s personal blog posted March 19, 2011. Thanks for letting me share your story Katie! I look forward to meeting you in Costa Rica.

Thoughts from Haiti

When I stepped off the plane in Haiti last May I was excited, nervous and a little scared. It had been 5 months since the earthquake and I was anxious to witness first-hand how these people were living and surviving. It is hard for me to put into words my thoughts as we arrived in the airport and then drove down the road past miles and miles of tent cities. I have seen poverty before in developing nations, poverty actually worse than Haiti, but there was a difference in understanding what this country had to overcome.

Since last May I have been to Haiti 6 times. I often am asked about my personal opinion in regards to the progression and recovery from the earthquake. Before my trip last week I had not been in Haiti since October. Last summer and fall I did back to back trips each month and definitely witnessed progression, but never had a long enough time span without visiting to realize how much it truly had changed.

Anyone who has been on one of the Soles4Souls trips will tell you that Haitians are remarkably resilient. As I stepped off the plane last week and drove through the streets, I thought about my very first trip last May. As we drove down streets people were in tents outside of their houses (regardless if they had been destroyed or still standing). They were fighting for survival and a sense of panic lingered in the air. At that time I remember thinking how impressed I was with their ability to move forward despite the loss of family members, friends, houses, jobs, schools, and in their eyes their own government. They had hope.

Last week there were still tents cities on every corner and rubble for miles. However, compared to the first trip, these people are no longer living in fear. Most everyone is still fighting for survival, but they are out and about in the streets, rebuilding their houses, and together are working to rebuild their nation.

Soles4Souls partners with HOM and our team stays at their compound in PAP. Last week as I led a team of 5 (smallest group ever) we spent time together each night on the rooftop eating dinner, playing games, and becoming great friends. Every single night the choir from the church spent hours singing and praising in worship. For me personally as a Christian, I was in awe of their faith. God never promises us that life is going to be easy or that horrible tragedies will not occur, but He did give us His Son, who suffered and died for all of us–so that we can trust in Him during the good and bad.

Soles4Souls is an organization that is open to all religions, beliefs, etc. When working in developing nations most partnering organizations that are on ground are religious organizations. As we have all learned the 2 things never to discuss in groups (esp. with people you just met and have to live with them for a week) are: religion and politics. The last thing I would ever want is for someone to feel uncomfortable or not welcome during one of our trips. Our partnering organizations fully understand that we have volunteers from all walks of life and are extremely respectful and welcoming. It is my job to make sure the trip participants are respectful to each other – which has only proven to be a bit tricky a time or two…because obviously people have strong opinions. I am writing about all of this to brag on my last group. There were 5 women and I am 100% certain would have never met under any other circumstances. Leaf is a Unitarian Universal Pastor from New Hampshire-studied at Harvard Divinity school, Erin is in pharm. sales – lives in New Jersey with her husband and their pet birds (and is an exceptional photographer), Lynne is married with two kids – attorney from L.A., Sari-lives in NYC-from South America-studied shoe design and could possibly like Gossip Girl just as much as me, Jeanne, a returnee from my August trip that lives in Illinois and helped us with the distribution as she was visiting her boyfriend who is working in Haiti, and myself-born and raised in the south and thankfully have been able to experience other cultures enough to build my own personal thoughts, opinions, and beliefs – while learning and being respectful of others. This team obviously included some strong personalities and opinions, but I was so impressed as everyone shared, learned and respected each other, but more importantly respected the Haitians for their resilience, hope and faith.

As I woke up Friday morning (when the roosters started crowing at 2:00am) I checked my phone and read about the earthquake in Japan. During high school I had the opportunity to travel to Japan for a cultural exchange program. I immediately emailed my host family and friends to make sure they were okay and to see how we could help (I heard back yesterday and they are all okay – and sent shoes to them through a connection that is sending aid via air on Monday.) Like most people, devastation and loss has a way of hitting me hard and consuming my thoughts. My prayer is that the Japanese people are able to have hope and faith just as the Haitians. I am encouraged by the Haitians and their faith, just as I am encouraged by each individual who steps out of their own personal comfort zone and has a desire to help others.

I am heading out in the morning for PERU!! So have no fear, there will be lots of posts this week. I’ll even take the flip cam!

Oh yea – pictures from this trip were posted on the Soles4Souls Facebook page!


Katie Lentile

Intelligence Before Courage

Dr. Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Maya Angelou speak to a sold out crowd at The Paramount Theater in Seattle. At 82 years of age, the Dr. is as wild and inspiring as ever. She shared short snippets of some of her life experiences, mostly funny anecdotes peppered with her unparalleled storytelling style. Graceful, charming, and honest, Dr. Angelou is living proof of the immense impact that one person can have on the world.

I remember being a young teenage girl, coming in to my own, gangly and unsure of my prospects in life. My friend Kerri gave me a handwritten copy of Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman“. These were in the times before you could send links via email to your friends. Those were hard times. I remember reading it over and over, keeping it folded and tucked neatly in to my own poetry journal, rank with teenage angst and unimportant scribblings about boys who broke my heart by simply looking in my direction. Like every teenage girl at some point in their lives, I was lost and scared at what the world had to offer me as I entered womanhood. Would I have the strength to meander through a world that seemed completely ruled by men and the media telling me what I should look and act like? I was never a girly girl. I grew up in a home with Rock and Roll parents. I was never taught how to properly apply make-up, nor was I pushed to wear fluffy pink dresses on Easter. While all of the girls in my second grade photo rocked pigtails and braids, I rocked feathered hair, courtesy of my mother.

“Phenomenal Woman” changed my life, in a way. At the very least it was comforting and veered me in the right direction…

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Reading that poem made me feel like I could do anything — be whomever I wanted. Dr. Angelou made a difference in my life, without her knowing my name or the impact that she was having. She leads by example and inspired me to do the same.

If every person in the world led by example, answered the call of duty when it was not asked of them, the world would obviously be a better place. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives, the eco-system of the worlds that we have created for ourselves, that we forget to take off the blinders. The world is a vast place. It is a beautiful place. It is not perfect, but we all have a duty to try to make it that way. Sometimes the solutions are easy. Smile at someone who is walking by you, hold the door open for the person behind you, show gratitude. Say “Thank You.” Sometimes there are opportunities to do more. There is always someone less fortunate than you. There is always a person in need of help. It is our job to keep our ears and eyes open and offer it when we can.

Lonely Planet, Happy Woman


Traveling without a Lonely Planet guidebook is like running through a minefield blindfolded. These are simply the most content rich, honestly written travel guides available. Look what came in the mail today! I am already immersed. Check out Lonely Planet’s images of Costa Rica. Drool.

What is a Soles4Souls Shoe Distribution?

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