Friends of the Poor in La Jolla will serve up spaghetti … and compassion
By Kirby Brooks
Friends of the Poor co-founder and president Jean Colarusso will host an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner at Mary Star of the Sea Church on Friday, Feb. 25, where for a mere $20 (wine is an additional $1), those in attendance will help raise funds for the group whose motto is “material and spiritual partnership with those most in need.”
Diners will also feast on photos from Jean’s latest visit to Nigeria and hear about the Friends’ goals and success stories.
When Jean went on her first trip to Nigeria in 2002, she told her family it would be her only trip, but the La Jolla resident just completed her 13th. “I absolutely fell in love with the people and their spirituality,” Jean said, “I truly believe God sent us to answer their prayers.”
Jean’s friend, the late Dr. Anita Figueredo (the first female surgeon in San Diego) formed Children of the Poor in 1998. When Figueredo passed away last February at age 93, her daughter, Teresa Doyle, Ph.D. joined forces with Jean to continue the work of Friends of the Poor. The Friends team includes vice-president Carmina Morfin and secretary Xavier Wiechers.
“One of the most beautiful parts of Friends of the Poor is that we all work from home,” Jean said. “None of us draw a salary or get paid, so 98 percent of each dollar raised goes to the work we do. We buy our own plane tickets and so do those who accompany us to Nigeria. We really think God honors hard work and feel that He has blessed our mission because of how our organization is run.”
Jean makes a yearly pilgrimage to check up on her various projects in Minna, located two hours from the Nigerian capital of Abuja, and the rural Idha, eight hours away. “I have never been disappointed,” Jean said proudly of the progress she views.
On her most recent two-week visit, Jean was thrilled to see the advancement of an ambitious water project. Finding that the city water was too expensive and not clean, Friends of the Poor set about creating a six-well system to provide their compound with clean, fresh water that will eventually be bottled.
One of the reasons the compound was in dire need of clean water is that it’s home to a first class hospital — complete with a full laboratory, wards with new bedding, a birthing room, and a pharmacy.
“Nigeria has one of the highest mother and child mortality rates in the world and many mothers are HIV-positive. We have had 500 births in our hospital with no deaths — and no children born there have been born with the disease,” Jean said triumphant.
The Idha compound also includes a teen center to educate the youth about how HIV is spread and prevented. Despite its somber mission, the center boasts a computer room, sewing machines and other tools to provide teens with opportunities to advance. There are also ping-pong tables and plays are frequently staged.
One of Jean’s biggest undertakings is an academy for girls. Spanning 93 acres, the land was a gift from 20 local chiefs — half Christian and half Muslim. The school will eventually accommodate 400 students.
“In Nigeria the girls leave school after sixth grade to work in the fields or gather water,” Jean explained. “We offer scholarships and our school educates girls from wealthy families, too. Not only do they help with funding, but they bridge the gap between the poor and the rich.”
The compound’s bakery specializes in whole grain treats and the constantly overflowing church displays an 8- by 7-foot crucifix with an African likeness of Jesus.
Despite the compound’s many merits, it is the people who perpetually amaze Jean. Her face glows when talking about David, who is deaf, and his wife Elizabeth, who has polio. Jean helped David open his own business fixing mopeds (a lucrative career that has helped many Nigerian men advance) and Elizabeth now has help caring for their sons. Friday, the prideful owner of a T-shirt stand, is another one of Jean’s success stories.
If you go
What: Spaghetti dinner benefit
When: 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25
Where: Mary Star of the Sea Church, 7669 Girard
Tickets: At the door $20
Details: Homemade sauce, salads and dessert
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