Londonderry woman raises money for orphans around world, considering Vietnamese girl her child
Arlene Naples (center) handing out bicycles in Vietnam with funds raised from her bingo event.
The bus stopped at one of the foundation-sponsored orphanages before driving another 10 minutes to a school.
“There are no buses for the kids. If they can’t walk the six miles to school in 100-degree weather, they don’t get to go to school,” Naples said.
When Naples returned home, she organized a charity bingo event to raise money to help buy bicycles for the children so that they could get to school.
That first year, Naples raised almost $10,000.
She’s holding her annual bingo event May 19 at the Londonderry Fire Hall at 2655 Foxianna Road. Prizes include an Instant Pot, ice cream maker and numerous gift cards to restaurants, grocery stores and entertainment.
Doors open at noon. Tickets cost $20 in advance or $25 at the door and can be purchased online at www.brittanyshope.org/fundraisers/bingo/.
According to Executive Director Mai-Lynn Sahd, funds from the bingo event go toward bicycles and whatever else is needed at Brittany’s Hope, such as adaptive equipment for children with special needs.
“It’s literally saving lives and transforming lives each day,” Sahd said of Naples’ event.
The foundation was started in honor of Sahd’s sister, Brittany Ann O’Connell, who died in a car accident in 1999. When the foundation began, the focus was to provide grants to families who were willing to adopt special needs children.
Now, the foundation has expanded its mission by providing direct care to orphaned children, who either can’t be adopted or are waiting to be adopted, and at-risk children and their communities in Vietnam, Ethiopia and Kenya, although their adoption grants go to children all over the world, Sahd said.
Naples works as international logistics and compliance manager at DAS Distributors, whose founder, David Abel, was Brittany’s father.
For about 14 years, Naples has sponsored a girl named Thu who lived in the House of Love Orphanage in Cam Ranh, Vietnam.
“I saw this picture of this tiny little girl. … She was very shy and introverted. She had a tough time [and] some pretty dramatic events in her life when she was young,” Naples said.
Thu met her sponsor for the first time several years ago in Vietnam
Naples is one of more than 300 Brittany’s Hope child sponsors. To Naples, being a sponsor means she has another child. Thu’s picture is on Naples’ mantle, and Naples’ children and grandchildren write letters, draw pictures and call her “Auntie Thu” even though they’ve never met.
Naples met Thu for the first time on the service trip.
It was an emotional meeting.
When she walked through the gates of the House of Love Orphanage, Thu, who was a teen, was bouncing up and down, weaving through the crowd of children, trying to find Naples’ service group.
“Where’s my mom?” Naples recalled Thu repeating.
Thu was given permission to spend the night with Naples, and they spent several days together.
It was Thu’s first time in a hotel. They laid across her bed and used Google Translate to talk.
It wasn’t the first time they communicated, though. Naples has sent letters, photos and gifts to Thu, and Naples’ mother gave her a family brooch.
“To me, it’s an amazing journey not just for her, but for us to get to know this little girl who was so scared and had been through so much and see her come out of her shell and get an education and have friends and be a typical teenager,” Naples said.
Now, at 21, Thu will graduate college this fall; she is studying to be a chef. She’s confident and mentoring other kids, Sahd said.
As an incentive to graduate, Naples offered to bring her to Pennsylvania for her first winter and to meet her American family.
Naples saw firsthand how a bicycle helped Thu. According to Sahd, students in Vietnam make the trip to and from school several times a day, walking home for lunch and then walking back for class.
Thu was behind because she didn’t get to go to school until she arrived at the orphanage. One year, she went to school all year because she needed tutoring. She wrote Naples a letter during the rainy season, describing the wind and mud she trekked through to get to school.
“But she was just happy for the bicycle. It would’ve taken her forever to walk home in the dark. But now that she has her bicycle, she’s OK,” Naples said.
There are still kids waiting to be sponsored, particularly in Kenya and Ethiopia. Beyond giving $35 a month, Brittany’s Hope works to build an inpidualized relationship between sponsors and children.
To find out more about being a sponsor, visit www.brittanyshope.org/sponsor, call 717-367-9614 or email [email protected]