With Christmas just a couple days behind them, a Greeley mother and her daughters, along with a Delaware County dispatcher and her son, traveled to Uganda to help the Children’s HopeChest organization bring hope to disadvantaged Ugandan children.

Karen Schmitz and her daughters, MacKenzie and Alex, along with Amy Zehr and her son Reegan Erickson, left for Uganda Dec. 27 and returned home Jan. 7.

For Karen Schmitz, it was a chance to become more involved in the work of Children’s HopeChest and to meet a girl that she supports through financial sponsorship.

“I wanted to experience this with my daughters,” Karen Schmitz explained. “The organization brings hope to kids in need. It identifies which families can benefit from this.”

According to the Children’s HopeChest website, the organization “equips vulnerable children, their families, and communities to empower them to become more self-sustaining and escape the cycle of poverty.”

A $45 a month sponsorship pays for a child’s education, ensures they have healthy meals and pays for any medical needs they may have.

“All the kids are either at risk, come from one-parent households or are orphans,” Karen explained.

The trip was the second one for MacKenzie Schmitz. A freshman at Iowa State University, she took her first trip to Uganda two years ago. “One of the cool things about Children’s HopeChest is it’s all about sustainability. It’s asking the locals what they need. What will make life easier for them and what can they sustain?”

Families in the area are predominately Roman Catholic, with Anglican and Muslim being the other prominent religions.

“We went to a church service and there were two collections during the service,” Karen Schmitz said. “These are people that don’t have anything, yet they were giving it freely and with their whole heart.”

While the Schmitz family was in Uganda, Alex Schmitz decided to sponsor a child. “I sponsored a girl who was unsponsored. When I told her, her face lit up. It’s nice to have that connection with someone and know the money that I earn is being put toward good.”

The trip was life-changing for the Greeley family. “I kind of had a rough first semester at Iowa State,” MacKenzie Schmitz acknowledged. “The trip reminded me to not take for granted what I have.”

Alex Schmitz said the trip was a chance for her to reflect. “It was hard realizing how much we have compared to them. I’m sitting in my house protected from the elements and they are over there without food at times.”

Karen Schmitz said she won’t forget the kids they met. “These kids we saw ran up to us, they were so grateful we were there. We saw kids eating their meals, taking some of what they were eating to give to their siblings. You see these kids and you just fall in love with them.”

For Zehr and her son, the trip was an opportunity to visit with all seven of the children she sponsors. It was Zehr’s second trip to Uganda.

“I met three of the children last year. This year we were able to get them all together.”

Zehr said Children’s HopeChest is designed to help people help themselves. “We are empowering them. It’s sustainable to them so they can teach it to their children and their grandchildren. That’s what we want. That changes the cycle of poverty and gets them out of it so they can do it on their own. It’s about hard work and not someone just coming in and doing it for them. It’s teaching them to bring out the potential in the skills they already have — 15 or 20 years down the road if we aren’t there, they can still be successful because we have taught them how to do it.”

Zehr also reflected on the trip and what it taught her. “I come back and think that we are so lucky and take so many things for granted. These families and kids don’t take anything for granted. They just take what they have and work with it. It’s their family, their relationships and their love of God.”

Anyone interested in learning more about Children’s HopeChest can access their website at www.hopechest.org