Tammy Highfill Garcia made a pact with her best friend AnneMarie Evans at Loras College in Iowa. Their kids weren’t going to be spoiled, self-entitled brats – they were going to be compassionate citizens of the world.
Eighteen years after their 1992 graduation, and alongside their friend Julie McBroom, they’re taking that challenge to heart – and to South America – with a trip to an orphanage in Peru.
And, of course, they’ll all be taking their kids with them: seven, in total.
“We’ve all traveled extensively, and we’ve all done service work internationally prior to having kids,” Evans said. “So we were all looking for a way, now that we’re mothers, for a way to incorporate that into our families’ lives.”
Today, Highfill Garcia lives in Forest Park, while Evans and McBroom live just up the road in River Forest, and they’re taking action on that pledge with two weeks in Cusco, Peru, bringing shoes and art supplies to Casa de Milagros, the creativity-oriented orphanage where they’ll also spend a week volunteering.
Highfill Garcia’s kids, Andrew and Alex, are 2 years old and 4 months old, respectively, are a bit young to quite comprehend the meaning of the trip at this point, but as a South America buff, and a teacher, she’s excited.
“Nothing you do as a teacher is in a vacuum,” Highfill Garcia said. “I’m sure it’ll make it back to my classroom in one way or another.”
However, Evans and McBroom’s kids have enthusiastically taken on the challenge. The group’s four eldest girls have been the ringleaders: Isabel Evans and Jordi McBroom, both 7; and Siena Evans and Andie McBroom, both 5, have all taken the reins with enthusiasm.
“I’m more excited than I’ve ever been in my life, because I like helping out and I think it could be fun,” Isabel said.
Together, they helped organize a fundraiser of sorts in June, replete with a talent show and, of course, lots of art. Friends and families showed up in droves, bringing donations of art supplies both old and new.
“They don’t have much and we have a lot, and we’re helping out and giving them some stuff,” Siena said. “[Our friends] came there so they could play but also so they could give stuff for the poor children to play with.”
When the dust settled and the goods were tallied, the fundraiser had yielded two to three suitcases worth of supplies: everything from easels to paint sets, from origami to crayons.
“They’re going to get some stuff to do and maybe they’ll get to do some art, and I’m happy so they can do that,” Andie said.
As they prepared to go to Cusco last week, Jordi said she was excited and proud of what they’d done so far – even before they visited the orphanage.
“I’m taking care of other people, people that I don’t even know,” Jordi said. “It makes me feel like I’m more grown up: I’m not being selfish, I’m not keeping everything for myself. It makes me feel like I’m taking a step forward.”
Art supplies aren’t the only thing the only thing the families collected, though. A push for more donations after the talent show yielded a more utilitarian donation: 69 pairs of shoes.
The families are overwhelmingly happy with the results of their efforts, Julie McBroom said – particularly with the fact that their message is spreading throughout the area.
“There are quite a few families who are really interested in what we’re doing,” McBroom said. “We want to really share this experience with people and make them feel like it’s really possible to do this with your kids.”
Evans is hoping that the trip can show their kids what a positive impact they can have on the world.
“As parents, when you’ve got kids that are 5 and 7, you have to be cautious about introducing them to poverty and to some of the problems in the world delicately,” she said. “Helping at a soup kitchen for street kids but then sending them back out into the streets every evening is a lot of ugliness for 5 and 7-year-olds to have to internalize and it’s hard for them to understand that.
“We wanted to focus on the positive impact that they can have, and the positive impact this orphanage could have,” she continued. “We wanted to continue to develop their global awareness and to be positive force for change and to really see that trajectory in action.”