By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – A McComb couple took the trip of a lifetime in February to meet a child they have supported for 14 years, but never met. Andy and Gail Spinnato spent 10 days in Nairobi, Kenya, on a tour with the Christian group, Unbound. They took with them 250 rosaries donated by the Knights of Columbus to distribute to the people they met.
Unbound was founded by four Catholic siblings and a friend as an effort to reach out to the marginalized people of the world. The organization sets up sponsorships for children and supports communities all around the world. The Spinnatos first heard about it from a visiting priest who preached at their parish more than a dozen years ago. “I picked a boy from Kenya. I was a teacher and my students were primarily African-American, so I wanted a child I could tell them stories about,” said Gail.
The Spinnatos sent money monthly and wrote letters to Peter for many years and they received letters and photos in return. This year, Unbound offered them a chance to go to Africa to see the results of all those years of work. “It was absolutely awesome,” said Gail of the meeting.
Peter is now 22 and wants to get a certification in plumbing so he can find work. “It’s interesting that he wants to do that since they have no running water in their home,” she added. When they met Peter and his mother, they did an art project together using hand prints. Gail went with Peter’s mother to the restroom to wash off the paint and realized she did not know how to operate the soap dispenser or automatic faucet because the African woman has never had running water in her home. One of the community projects Unbound is taking on in Peter’s village is a cistern to collect rainwater. Currently, everyone has to walk to a river a mile away to collect all the water they use. Projects like that one fall outside the monthly sponsorships, so the Spinnatos have been collecting for it since they returned.
Before the trip, the Spinnatos spent some time reflecting on their time as sponsors. “I went back through all the letters he has written. I made copies of some of them so he (Peter) could see the progress he made,” Gail explained. “He was very shy when it came to talking. Like many young people from foreign countries, he was hesitant to speak to a native speaker – still you could feel the connection through the love of Christ because he knows that love is how we are connected,” said Gail.
Fourteen other Unbound sponsors came on the trip, so the Spinnatos got to meet those families as well. As they traveled, they distributed rosaries made by fellow St. Alphonsus parishioner, Charles Schovel, who makes rosaries as a hobby. He recently donated more than 250 rosaries to the Knights of Columbus council there. Andy Spinnato is the Grand Knight of the council. When the knights heard about the Spinnatos trip, they decided that was the perfect place to distribute the rosaries.
“We take so much for granted. So to actually visit in homes and see people in such need, but to also see how they have so much dignity and pride and to see what they have been able to accomplish for themselves, it was amazing,” Gail said.
The Spinnatos left Africa with another connection. They were about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. They had asked the priest celebrating Mass for a blessing, but he had another idea. “He called us up and we had to pull our wedding rings off our arthritic fingers and we renewed our vows,” she said.
Back in the states, the couple is currently making presentations at clubs or gatherings to invite others to become sponsors or donate to community development projects. They plan to return next February to travel into the country and see where Peter and his family live. The Spinnatos have decided to sponsor his younger sister, so the cycle of education and empowerment can continue.
By Maureen Smith