It was the seventh trip for the club, led by Don Routh of San Ramon and Bill Wheeler of Pleasanton, which raised more than $6,000 for food, building materials, clothes and Christmas gifts. The children refer to Routh, 59, as "Papa Grande" and Wheeler, 51, as "Mucho Bill."
Several hundred pounds of bulk food now fill the pantries of the on-site group homes for the children and their support families. While there, Dec. 8-11, the Rotarians also helped lay a new tile floor in the living room of a currently vacant group house.
Over the years, club members have financed construction of a school building, a solar-powered well, a computer laboratory, and a library at the site.
The orphanage, which is in the Baja desert about 70 miles east of Ensenada, Mexico, is sponsored by the nonprofit International Children's Care, Vancouver, Wash., and is a refuge of last resort for abandoned Mexican children as young as 3. These children are not usually put up for adoption but are raised and educated in group family homes by the El Oasis staff through their teenage years, before attending an off-site religious boarding school for secondary education and college. The Seventh Day Adventist Church provides spiritual guidance.
During ceremonies at the mission church Friday night, Rotarian Tina Case of Livermore gave each child a colorful, hand-sewn scarf. Bags of shoes, school uniforms, casual clothing, soccer balls and toys await wrapping and distribution to the children on Christmas Eve night.
"It was an experience not soon to be forgotten," said Kevin Greenlee. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the children and amazing leaders who have molded those young souls into the sweetest group of well-behaved children you could ever meet."
It was a return trip for many of the club members, including Jim Brice, Mike Gallarado, Audrey Glafkides and her daughter Elise Pritchard, Kevin and Yvonne Greenlee and their daughters Sasha and Mira, club president Ronda Henstorf and Jerry Pentin, as well as those mentioned above. Case brought along a young companion, Briyana Oellrich.
The children entertained the group with choral singing, an original skit in the style of Uncle Tom's Cabin spoken in Spanish, many hugs, smiles and laughter that night and again on Saturday -- the Sabbath day for children.
Yo-yos and hand-operated bubble makers were distributed outside the church on a sunny morning after services. The older boys and girls got to skirt their church's strict rules against playing sports on Sabbath day by kicking a soccer ball around with the Rotarians.
Before leaving, Papa Grande and Mucho Bill promised that the club would return again next Christmas with another load of essential supplies, gifts and plans for construction projects to complete.
Pleasanton North Rotary is always looking for new members who share their chapter's informal style and zeal for fulfilling Rotary International's commitment to putting community service before self. Potential candidates are invited to attend a weekly Rotary lunch meeting at 12:15 p.m. Fridays at the Hilton Hotel at the Club in Pleasanton. Visit the website at www.pnr-rotary.org.