Note: As a new member of the Common Hope staff, I am still acquainting myself with the organization and its amazing members. I have had a chance to speak with a few different people about sponsorship and what it means to them. Their comments were enough to convince me to become a sponsor myself. At that time, I hadn’t yet heard Lyla Aaland’s story, but I had received notes from Lisa Hetzel our Development and Hospitality Manager in Guatemala, that Lyla’s story was one that needed to be shared. I was curious as to what was so touching about this particular sponsorship story. What I discovered was a story about encouragement, connectedness, and love. Lisa was right; Lyla and Heidy’s story does need to be shared and I hope that it moves you as it has moved many of our staff members. Here is a story that is truly from the heart. – Lizz, Marketing & Communications Manager
Over the 10 years that Lyla Aaland sponsored Heidy Montiel, the two exchanged many letters. Since words were their only means of communication, Lyla made sure she chose them carefully. “You never know how things will translate. I just always hoped she would understand how much I cared about her,” she said. In one such letter, Lyla wrote, “We’re connected.” Little did she know that years later, those two small words would turn out to mean much more than their dictionary definitions.
With continued encouragement from Lyla, Heidy stayed in school and graduated in May of 2009. Sponsorship officially ends after the student graduates from high school, and Lyla lost touch with Heidy. She was sad about this, but she understood how the process works. Still, Lyla never stopped wondering how Heidy was doing. “We kept a picture of her at our house, so I thought of her often,” she said. Though they hadn’t communicated for five years, Lyla felt deep down that she’d get to meet Heidy some day. She didn’t know how or when, but she thought, “I’ll just let the universe work.” Then one day, Lyla saw that her workplace, Allina Health, was taking a team to Guatemala with Common Hope. That also happened to be the last day to register for the trip. It was almost like fate had taken over. “I knew that this was my chance to meet Heidy,” Lyla said. One month later, Lyla was in Guatemala and the Common Hope staff had set up a meeting. “It all happened so fast. It still seems surreal,” she said.
A visit 15 years in the making
Lyla says her visit with Heidy is still hard to put into words. “It was so touching, but hard at the same time,” she said. “After 15 years, I finally got to meet her face-to-face. We could barely talk because we were both so emotional. Hugging her was different than hugging anyone else. It felt like we had known each other forever.” Lyla said.
When they finally managed to pull apart, Heidy pulled out a stack of all the letters Lyla had ever sent. Heidy pointed to one specific letter and two words: “we’re connected.” Lyla was floored. “It was such an emotional moment,” she said. “It just showed me how two small words can mean so much.” Few other words spoken during her visit. The emotions were too overwhelming, she said. Lyla did ask Heidy if she was happy and Heidy said, “yes.” Lyla said, “In the end, that’s all that really matters.”
Lyla and Heidy’s story has already touched many. Twelve people from her Allina team became sponsors. When asked what advice she had for those considering sponsorship, she said,
“I think people have a lot of doubts surrounding sponsorship. They think it’s just about ‘shoveling someone money’ or they believe they won’t really connect with their sponsored child. I like to think of sponsorship as a circle. As much as you give, you get back. It’s much more than sending money. Money is the least important aspect of sponsorship. It’s about sending goodwill, good thoughts, and encouragement. I told Heidy in my letters, ‘I believe in you’ and she told me that she believed in me, too. And then seeing her so happy – it’s like it all came to fruition.”
The return from Guatemala
Lyla said she still struggles to find the right words to describe her experience. After pausing for a moment, she mentioned something that really resonated with me. She said, “The English language is so constricting.” What a true statement that can be! As a sponsor, you put a lot of thought into what to write to your student and then hope that even after translation, they will understand what you are trying to say. As Lyla’s story shows, love is a universal language. Through small, carefully chosen words, Lyla was able to tell Heidy how much she loved and cared for her, even though she was thousands of miles away and spoke a different language.
Towards the end of our conversation, Lyla asked, “If anyone was in that room and saw our connection, how could they not choose to sponsor a child?” We might not have been in that room with Heidy and Lyla, but my hope is that sharing their story will stir something inside of you. Maybe you’ve considered sponsorship but you’ve had a few doubts. Maybe you’re looking for a way to teach your children the power of giving back. Or maybe you are just longing to make a difference. Whatever the reason, there’s no better time than now to become a sponsor.
Join Lyla – become a sponsor today
Lyla has chosen to continue being a sponsor. She is starting a new journey with 9-year-old María Florinda, who she also got to meet during her trip to Guatemala. In conjunction with sharing Lyla’s story, we have set up an online sponsorship gallery with 15 children who are in need of your support and encouragement. It’s a real chance to make a real difference in their lives. This is a wonderful opportunity to share words, to connect, and to build a relationship that is truly “con mucho cariño,” from the heart. Click here to visit the gallery.