"One thing we try to do as a church is build relationships with other groups of people, organizations and ministries serving those less fortunate and see how we can build those relationships," said Pastor Mike Barris of Pleasanton Presbyterian Church. "It's exciting for us that this choir is touring and that we are getting the opportunity to give these kids a change to express themselves in a positive way."
Founded in 1990, Caminul Felix is an independent, Christian organization that focuses on providing the orphans with a home life based on family, something they haven't had before. There are currently more than 200 children living in the Caminul Felix Village.
Sixteen children from Caminul Felix are currently touring California and Nevada, stopping at churches and rotary clubs to sing and raise funds for the villages, said Edie Boschen, the choir and sponsorship coordinator for Assist International, the local agency that coordinates with Caminul Felix.
The regular U.S. tour began 12 years ago.
On its first U.S. tour, the choir traveled across the country, but with a schedule that includes six shows, five days a week, it was too much for the children and their coordinators. Now, they choose a specific region to focus on, which is chosen each year based on how many connections the choir has in a certain area, Boschen said.
"We have many connections all over the country, as people move around and become connected to new areas of the country," Boschen said. "We do what ever we can to find places where they can sing, especially if (the place) will provide an honorarium or take an offering and allow us to present the child sponsorship so people will become ongoing supporters. Through connections, we meet new people along the way who get excited about the orphans and the choir."
While this year the choir is focusing on California and Nevada, in the past it has traveled through New York and the Midwest. In addition to the U.S. tour, the choir also travels to England, Sweden, Norway and Australia. They're able to do this because there are actually several choirs of children, Boschen said.
leasanton resident Diana Mendenhall arranged the Pleasanton stop on the California tour. Mendenhall and her husband Howard have traveled to Romania and worked with the orphanage several times. When she heard the choir was looking for stops in California, she offered Pleasanton Presbyterian.
We look for people like Diana who have been to Romania before and have such a passion for what goes on at this orphanage," Boschen said. "We send an announcement to our contacts asking if they know of a church or service group to ask to host and she gave us a call and said she would love it if they could be at her church. Typically, that's how it happens."
Other Pleasanton residents have a strong connection with Caminul Felix, as well.
Jerry Stunkel traveled to Romania about four years ago where over the course of two weeks he helped build facilities for the orphanage. Stunkel originally learned about the orphanage from his son, who has gone on several trips through Assist International and learned about the orphanage through his church, Celebration Church in Livermore. Before actually going to Romania, Stunkel saw the choir perform twice, both times in Livermore.
"What impressed me was the loving connection we established with (the choir children)," Stunkel said. "It was just fabulous. People meet buses of these kids in Chicago or wherever and their eyes fill with love and tears."
Pleasanton resident Barbara Hempill also got involved with the orphanage after seeing the choir perform in Livermore. Although she has not traveled to Romania, she became a sponsor of one of the orphans. She started when her benefactor, Octa Goga, was 4 years old; now, he is 8.
Each month, Hempill donates $25 to Octa, an amount that is possible since each child has 12 sponsors, and sends additional presents at Christmas time. She also corresponds with Octa regularly through letters and he sends art and craft projects he makes around other holidays, she said.
"We write letters and send pictures and actually hear from him quite frequently," Hempill said. "He writes letters now in English, which is quite an accomplishment, and then the sponsor parent who is with him writes and tells us how he's doing."
Hempill has been fortunate that with the Mendenhall's frequent trips to Romania, she has been able to gain additional contact and insight into Octa's life.
"Diane goes over and takes photos and sends them back," Hempill said. "He's doing well at school and is a nice, neat little boy."
Octa is not in the choir coming to Pleasanton, but Hempill said seeing the choir makes her feel even more connected to the organization, and they put on a good show.
"They're very talented," she said. "It's a nice, pleasant choir experience."
Stunkel agreed that what makes the show truly magical is the beauty of the music and the great love from the children.
"I think above all else, the connection and experience between the two cultures makes it a great experience," Stunkel said. "The costumes are beautiful, the kids are glowing and bright, but what it's really about is to hear their music and see their love."