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Retired insurance agent fulfills her calling in life

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

By Mike Dyer

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANERY — Cathy Kreis has discovered a profound, faith-filled calling in her life.

After she retired from her position as an insurance agent about a year ago, she asked the Lord what direction He wanted for her during retirement. The answer came earlier this year.

In February she made a trip to Jamaica with seven other members of Corpus Christi Parish in Cincinnati. Kreis visited St. Vincent Strambi in the Mandeville diocese of Jamaica — a church with which Corpus Christi has a relationship.

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Cathy Kreis poses on the truck filled with school and playground equipment, used library books and other supplies bound for Jamaica. (Courtesy photo)

While in Jamaica, Kreis learned how much the area high school students and children in the orphanage are in need of basic school equipment — supplies often considered essential by Americans. The city’s residents cook on wood-fire stoves and live in small homes. Despite their humble circumstances, Kreis observed how the families are loyal to each other and their Catholic faith.

“They are very poor; they all depend in God’s providence,” she said.

It was at the orphanage — Our Lady of the Hope Children’s Home in a city named Spur Tree — where Kreis decided to take action and helped start a project that provides supplies for children in Jamaica. There are approximately 38 children from ages 3 to 18 in that location.

“The ground at the orphanage was nothing but dust and weeds,” she said. “I thought, ‘These kids need a playground.’”

Kreis said she met inspiration in a 12-year-old girl who didn’t know her last name, her birthday or have the ability to identify colors. Because of circumstances beyond their control, Kreis said many of the children in the orphanage were not able to have a basic education early in life. Kreis worked to instruct many of the children at the orphanage, and the 12-year-old now has many of the answers to her questions.

In February Kreis helped to paint a nearby high school. When she returned to Jamaica in May as part of a group of 10 parishioners from Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenhills, she helped put tile in the high school.

Many of the school desks were something some school districts in America “would’ve turned away 20 years ago,” Kreis said. A teacher’s desk was mistaken for a work desk during the painting.

After she returned home to Ohio, Kreis made several calls seeking donations. Eventually that led to a connection with Wayne Chinn, a custodial supervisor in the Winton Woods school district. That conversation was a blessing for Kreis’ mission. Winton Woods donated 15 teacher desks and 98 student desk and chairs, according to Kreis. St. Gabriel Parish in Glendale also donated 25 desks.

“One thing about Cathy is that she is a go-getter,” Chinn said. “She said, ‘I asked for the stuff, but it was the Lord who does it.’”

Chinn was instrumental in helping Kreis load a 40-foot trailer on the morning of Aug. 14 at the gymnasium of the Cameron Park Elementary School. It took about four hours to load all the equipment, which was to be shipped by Food For the Poor, a Christian-based relief service based in Florida. About 35 volunteers, from young adults to a few 80-year old women, helped with organizing desks, textbooks, library books, playground equipment, lumber and other items bound for Jamaica.

The Lord’s hand was undoubtedly present for the loading of the materials that day.

“When the door came down on the van, it was completely full,” said Margie Riddle, a volunteer. “I don’t think we could’ve fit another thing on there. Not one thing was left behind.”

In just about three months, Kreis helped to collect an estimated 49,477 pounds of materials. She estimated the equipment is worth about $35,000.

“It was incredible what she did,” Riddle said.

Kreis received donations of time and treasure from friends and people she didn’t know, such as a woman in Minnesota who sent a check for the mission.

“It was just amazing how God worked through the whole thing,” Kreis said. “It’s amazing when God wants you to do something . . . you don’t question, it just happens.”

The supplies were expected to arrive in the Port of Jamaica at the end of August,  where they were scheduled to await approval from customs. Although it could be up to five weeks before customs allows the supplies to enter the country, it could be perfect timing for Kreis to witness the fruits of her labor. She plans to return to the country Sept. 19.

“He (God) gives you the grace to do it,” said Kreis, who is also planning a return trip to Jamaica next year. “I learned how many good people there were the day we packed and how much joy you get. I cannot wait to watch those kids.”

Donations may be made to her efforts in care of Corpus Christi Church, 2014 Springdale Rd.,  Cincinnati, Ohio,  45231, and should specify “Jamaica Project.”

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