December 22, 2011
By Mike Killeen
Courtney Kelley has heard the classic Christmas saying, "It's better to give than to receive."
Little did she know how true that would turn out to be.
Kelley, with the help of a $1,000 donation from her family, bought toys, puzzles and gift cards for Hogar Niño Amor, an orphanage in Vina del Mar, Chile. She volunteered there during fall semester while studying abroad through the Office for Education Abroad at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University.
"Everyone in our group was required to complete a total of 25 hours of service throughout the semester," said Kelley, a CSB communication major from Minnetonka, Minn. "I helped at St. Peter's School (a private elementary school also located in Vina del Mar) and Hogar Niño Amor."
She and her fellow students found "sweet kids" whose "smiles warmed my heart - and their goodbye kisses on the cheek made it hard to leave."
In the past, Kelley's extended family has donated to "a place or a cause for the sake of the Christmas spirit," Kelley said. "When someone brought the idea of donating again through a family email, I immediately thought of Hogar and sent out the suggestion."
"Courtney threw the idea out, and everyone thought it was perfect," said Nancy Kelley, Courtney's mom.
Working quickly, the family raised $100. Then $300. Before long, they had gathered $1,000.
"I am very proud of my family for raising so much for these kids," Courtney Kelley said. "I thought it was just going to be a small donation when I first started thinking about the idea, but it turned out to be a huge success due to their generosity, kindness and organization."
Kelley and the other CSB and SJU students took the money to a local store, where they purchased the gifts and gift cards, and delivered the gifts to the orphanage.
"The kids were very excited and curious as to what we had in our hands as we walked in the door," Kelley said. "Seeing their faces light up as they opened everything was very rewarding.
"Honestly, the gifts and the donation mean a lot, but what matters more was that we got the opportunity to connect with these kids and give them the attention that they deserve while we were there," Kelley said. "I am very humbled by my whole group who spent time at different volunteer organizations because it is the human interaction and ways we can help each other that are going to be the most valuable."
Kelley said the time spent at Hogar and the donation process was a highlight of her experience in Chile.
"I think all of my group that volunteered at Hogar would say that the kids brightened our days just as much - or more - than we brightened theirs. My whole time in Chile, I was treated with generosity and open arms, so this experience at Hogar and this donation were great ways to give back to the community as a whole," she said.