Local Women Helping Those in Need
By Michelle Moskowitz
Clean water. Safety and protection. Education. Community development. An opportunity for a brighter future.
These are the virtues to which the World Vision Fairfield County (WVFC, formerly Women of Vision Fairfield County) dedicate their time, talent and heart in order to provide for the most vulnerable women, children and families around the world.
The WVFC is a local volunteer chapter of World Vision International, the largest Christian humanitarian relief organization committed to working with the underserved and their communities.
Founded in 1950, the organization works to tackle the root causes of poverty and injustice in a particular region in order to create a roadmap for lasting change.
The organization works in nearly 100 countries and serves all people in need, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender.
The WVFC boasts hundreds of members from Greenwich and Fairfield, unified in their drive to help build a better world for women and children. Faith and compassion are the mobilizing forces that unite them and inspire them to affect change.
Since its inception in 2001, the WVFC has matched over 1,500 children with sponsor families in the community. It has also raised over $1.5 million to support its projects domestically and internationally.
The Sentinel sat down with the current co-chairs of the group, both of whom have been working with the organization for many years, to gain some insight into how the organization works.
“Our local group of amazing, diverse women are bound together to give a voice to those who don’t have one,” said co-chair Gigi Jorissen.
The warm-natured Jorissen was eager to share her path, which she referred to as “experiencing fulfillment from helping others.”
Co-chair Susan Garofoli, who also works with AmeriCares, has a smile that radiates both peace and resolve.
“Once your heart is broken by witnessing first-hand those in need of a better life, you can truly empathize, and you just have to make things better for them,” said Garofoli.
The group goes on a yearly mission to visit their projects at their own expense. Because their chapter is self-supporting, 100 percent of donor contributions go directly to providing resources for the projects.
Once a third world region in dire need is targeted, the WVFC works closely with that region’s local community members to identify its critical needs and then provide the essential tools and resources to assist with its root problems and enable that community to become self-sufficient and prosperous over time.
“We don’t provide a hand out, we provide a hand-up,” said Garofoli. “We are setting the groundwork for change in impoverished communities that might take 15 to 17 years, but we’ve got to start somewhere, and it will happen,” she said.
Thus far, their missions have targeted regions in India, Cambodia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and the Dominican Republic.
In Rwanda, they have worked to provide vocational training, business coaching and microloans for young adults who grew up with no parents.
In Sierra Leone, their efforts have focused on maternal and child health as the country recovers from last year’s ebola epidemic.
In Cambodia, they have recovered children from sex trafficking and provided counseling services and medical care to help rebuild their lives.
At the same time, the group also experiences the dangers and destruction of these areas, which in turn further energizes their advocacy work with even more tenacity and compassion.
“While it’s truly amazing to see for ourselves the impact our efforts can have, I feel like I am the one who truly gains so much by connecting with people who are so grateful for the work we do,” said Jorissen.
Another integral part of their mission work is to recruit people to sponsor a child from third world countries; some of them sponsor many at a time.
People get to know and connect with their sponsor child of choice through correspondence (and even a visit, if possible) and with their monthly donation are able to provide the necessary resources to benefit an entire community as well.
“We show people the pictures of the many children in need and how a minimal investment could change their lives for good and give them a future,” added Garofoli.
In addition to its international outreach, the WVFC spends a significant amount of time working to improve the lives of those in need in our own home state of Connecticut.
The group works closely with the children at Inspirica, one of the largest providers of services to the homeless in Fairfield Country.
Inspirica serves families living with illness or substance abuse problems, and provides a multitude of resources, including counseling, children’s services, and education.
The WVFC provides Inspirica with youth service programs such as a monthly reading and arts evening as well as providing holiday meals and gifts that would otherwise not exist for these children.
In addition, the group has a close partnership with the Bronx World Vision Storehouse, a 46,000-square-foot warehouse stockpiling everything from toiletries, clothing, school supplies, and furniture.
These overstock items provided by retailers are then distributed to local churches, school teachers and community groups in need.
Garofoli works tirelessly with the storehouse to provide much needed supplies to the people living at the Inspirica shelter, as well as provide learning supplies to students and teachers at Title I schools in the state (defined as those having 70 percent of the student body at or below the poverty line).
These schools exist in Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven and Norwalk. Last year, WVFC provided these much-needed supplies to 9,300 students.
While the group starts their meetings with a spiritual prayer, Jorissen says all faiths are welcome to join together and serve the greater good.
“When you pause to think about how things are for some people, it just makes you have a bigger heart to give” she said.
To learn more about the WVFC, please visit womenofvision.org and discover how you can help transform the lives of those who suffer both at home and abroad.