La Jolla volunteers bring love, laughter to children in Mexico as part of Unity 4 Orphans group

Just 20 miles away from our Jewel by the Sea, children across the border face devastating poverty. Many are abandoned — left on the street or in hospitals — by their parents who can no longer afford to take care of them. The nonprofit Unity 4 Orphans is making an impact on the sad scenario through the volunteer efforts of businesses and individuals, many of them from La Jolla.

Bird Rock Baby recently donated 30 pairs of moccasins for infants in Mexican orphanages. Other La Jolla volunteers make trips across the border to spend time with the children. Still others provide diapers, food, school supplies and clothing. It’s a community effort that makes a huge difference in the lives of children who’ve been forgotten by their families.

Unity 4 Orphans was founded in 2010, and has helped more than 2,000 orphans thus far. Up to 25 volunteers cross the border twice a month to bring supplies and hugs to these children.

Joe Brandi said he started Unity 4 Orphans after a prompting from his best friend, who worked for another nonprofit. “He asked me how many orphans there were in the world and I literally had no idea,” Brandi explained. “He challenged me to learn more. Shortly after that, I saw the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ where I was brought face-to-face with the stories of three orphaned children and what happens if they are not protected and loved. I was undone.”

Brandi’s newfound awareness drew him to Kenya on a humanitarian mission where the movie was brought to life before his eyes. “I entered a large slum where more than 100,000 people lived. I met real orphans with real names and was gripped to give my life to help them in any way I could. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, leader and networker, so I used all of those talents to start Unity 4 Orphans.”

La Jolla volunteer Sissy MacAllister said she gets great satisfaction from her trips to the orphanage, adding that her role is “just to show up and love on the kids. Simple things that most of us take for granted — like a smile and a hug — mean so much to these children.”

MacAllister remembered one day when she spent most of her time holding a little girl who was 12 months old, but so underdeveloped physically that MacAllister thought she was only 6 months old. The child lived in the orphanage all her life and didn’t have access to nutrition nor exercise to develop at a normal rate. “Many of the children spend most of their time in cribs, chairs or just on the floor alone. This child had almost no movement in her legs and even her upper body movement was limited. She was not as active as she should be for her age.”

La Jolla volunteer Lori Abnos said she’s been to the orphanage twice. On one visit, she played basketball with one of the older kids who had been there since he was five. Now, he was getting ready to graduate high school. “I was so impressed with his maturity, his intelligence, and his hope for the future,” Abnos recalled. “Although he had a hard life, he had come a long way. I was able to encourage him and tell him how proud of him I was. Loving and encouraging a child can truly change their life and give them hope. I’m all in for that!”

Brandi said his ultimate goal is to raise enough money to have full-time employees sustain the nonprofit’s operations and to possibly start after-school programs for the orphanages and the surrounding communities. He would also like to begin ESL (English as a Second Language) classes to help children become bilingual and have a better chance at attending college or vocational school. He hopes to create community connections with more La Jolla-area businesses, churches and schools to increase the breadth of services Unity 4 Orphans can offer.

“We need partners to enter into our cause so this work can live beyond me and a small core of volunteers,” Brandi said, adding he knows the need will never go away but neither will the satisfaction of giving back.

“I want to provide a hope for the future for these children living in what’s presently a black, broken hole. With each trip, we create memories that will last a lifetime.”

WANT TO KNOW MORE? Visit Unity 4 Orphans online at unity4orphans.com

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