Staff, volunteers and supporters of the COAR Peace Mission gathered on March 23 at the Center for Pastoral Leadership in Wickliffe for the annual benefit that helps fund the work of the Community of Oscar A. Romero in El Salvador. This was the 39th year for the COAR benefit.
The organization is named after Archbishop Romero, who was canonized last year by Pope Francis. It is the oldest organization to bear his name. St. Oscar Romero was the archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until his murder in 1980. His feast day was observed this year on March 24 for the first time.
COAR supports the COAR Children’s Village so it can provide foster care for 50-100 vulnerable children; medical care for 50-75 families per week and an education for 1,000 students in grades pre-kindergarten to 12 in impoverished Zaragoza, El Salvador.
Benefit organizers said the event helps to raise the $450,000 necessary annually to provide food, medicine, shelter, special services, house mothers, teachers and other things that are needed to raise children to become peaceful, joyful and productive adults and parents in El Salvador.
The event began with Mass at 5 p.m. in Resurrection Chapel celebrated by Father Michael Stalla, a former member of the diocesan mission team in El Salvador. Father Stalla is pastor of SS. Cosmas and Damian Parish in Twinsburg.
After Mass, attendees moved to the Founder’s Room for a reception. COAR board president Melanie Reda greeted the group and Mary Stevenson, COAR executive director, provided an introduction and update on the nonprofit’s work. She also introduced the evening’s honorees, many of whom have helped translate letters from COAR children to their benefactors in Cleveland.
Honorees included Brother Tom Carroll. OFM, vice principal, director of financial aid, International and Foreign Exchange Program and a Spanish teacher at Padua Franciscan High School; Lisa Hardin, St. Edward High School; and Tonya Barba, Spanish teacher at Strongsville High School who also helps to translate all activities of St. Joseph Parish, Strongsville’s El Salvador Partnership Committee.
The Spanish teachers from 20 high schools and colleges and 14,000 student translators who helped with the scholarship program also were honored. Schools receiving the St. Romero Solidarity Award were Padua, Beaumont School; St. Edward, St. Ignatius, Strongsville, Hudson and Trinity high schools; Gilmour and St. Joseph academies; Brunswick High School; Baldwin Wallace University; Solon, Villa Angela-St. Joseph, Norton, Barberton, Archbishop Hoban and Magnificat high schools; Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin; University School and John Carroll University.
“Sponsorship is the essence of solidarity between vulnerable children in El Salvador and kind and caring people throughout North America and the world who wish to support them,” said Stevenson. “It surrounds the children with a home, a family, health, education, love and safety. It puts a name and face and a relationship at the center of that generosity. This year, we honor the schools and the Spanish teachers that have built this bridge of solidarity between the COAR children and their sponsors.”
Stevenson said sponsors can provide tuition for one child for a year for a $180 contribution and provide living costs for a child for $300. Sponsor levels begin at $15, but donations of any amount are appreciated, she added. Sponsors receive a letter and a picture from a child at COAR twice a year.
Stevenson said the work behind the sponsorship program is daunting because it involves translating 1,000 letters per year from Spanish into English and a few hundred more from English into Spanish. More than 14,000 students from at least 20 high schools and colleges have translated approximately 17,000 letters since 2004, she said. Each letter represents a child saved from poverty.
COAR Peace Mission provides full financial support for the COAR Children’s Village and other projects committed to assisting Salvadoran children who are displaced or victims of poverty, drugs and gang violence, Stevenson said.
“Generations of children have gone on from COAR to form stable, loving families. With the support of these schools and our sponsors and patrons, we are able to continue the tradition exemplified by St. Romero,” she added.
The benefit also included a wine pull, raffle baskets, a silent auction and a sale of Salvadoran crafts.
For more information on COAR, visit coarpeacemission.org.