Teen sponsor addresses an audience of 21,000 at conference
November 23, 2009
Sami Freese is no stranger to speaking in front of crowds.
In 2008, she spoke on behalf of young people to an audience of 10,000 at the CFCA concert in Zamboanga, Philippines, at the request of CFCA President Bob Hentzen.
But on Nov. 22, the 17-year-old high school junior from Broomfield, Colo., was “terrified” as she stood up to address an audience twice that size.
She didn’t show it one bit.
Freese was one of five keynote speakers at Saturday’s general session of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas City, Mo. The bi-annual event gathers high school students ages 14 to 17 from across the U.S., Japan, Guam and Puerto Rico.
Freese overcame her butterflies and successfully delivered a testimonial of faith to 21,000 high school students. She spoke about her relationship with Carmina, an 11-year-old girl from the Philippines whom she sponsors. Freese met Carmina on a mission awareness trip to the Philippines in January 2008.
“After a grueling 20-hour flight, I arrived at the airport in Manila and Carmina was waiting for me,” Freese said. “I looked into her eyes and saw joy. I saw Christ’s joy, Christ’s love shining through.”
Freese invited her peers to connect with those living in poverty. Her words made an impact. CFCA obtained a total of 50 sponsorships during the conference, 43 of them following Freese’s speech.
A nine-year journey
Freese was only 8 when she chose 3-year-old Carmina’s family profile from a stack of folders at a CFCA parish appeal at her church. She said she sponsored Carmina because it was the right thing to do.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Freese said. “But when you’re 8, you can’t volunteer.”
Freese paid for the sponsorship by setting aside a portion of her allowance. Her mother, Linda Barnum, thought the adventure would last a few months.
When Freese was 15, she learned that she could meet Carmina on a CFCA mission awareness trip. She started saving in earnest, setting aside money she earned mowing lawns and babysitting, or money she received for birthday and Christmas gifts. After three years, Freese had saved $2,000, enough for the trip. A family friend accompanied Freese because her parents were unable to go.
“It was a grueling flight,” she said. “We lost our baggage and I just wanted to crawl into bed and take a nap. But then I saw Carmina smiling at me when I got off the plane.”
The trip was the adventure of a lifetime. Carmina called Freese her “big sister” throughout the week. Freese took Carmina shopping for clothes, and Carmina’s family cooked Freese her favorite meal of spaghetti.
“Her house was like the size of my bedroom,” Freese said.
The next step
After the trip, Freese had a hard time adjusting.
“People were complaining,” she said. “Everyone here has everything, yet they are so unhappy, so judgmental. There, everyone has so little and they are very happy. I got a whole different perspective. It completely changed my life. I started to look around and realize how much I have.”
Freese wants to attend college after she graduates in 18 months. She is thinking about a career in public speaking and creative writing, maybe politics or law. No matter what she does, she wants to make the world a better place.
She feels that sponsorship is a concrete way to help.
“Poverty is an idea,” Freese said. “Sponsorship personalizes the idea. It’s one thing to give your money to end poverty. It’s another thing to connect with someone.