Ask Gil L’Italien about the painting on his office wall. He’s got a lot to say about the colorful image depicting a mélange of children’s faces, some of them the same child at different ages. They are the 10 children, ages 5 to 13, whom he sponsors through ChildFund.
Gil began sponsoring his first child in 2001, just after Sept. 11. “Everyone was looking for ways to give back,” he says. “I saw the TV ad — that gentleman with the white beard, a very moving TV spot showing the kids. That really touched my heart, and I called and started the sponsorship.”
That’s how Gil, an epidemiologist based in Deep River, Conn., connected with Ahmad, who lives in Indonesia. Soon after that, Gil, the father of three sons — 26-year-old twins and a 37-year-old — found himself working in Latin and Central America. “There was a lot of poverty, and it breaks your heart, to see that.”
He soon began to take on more sponsorships, in Brazil, Mexico, central Honduras, Guatemala. “About a year ago was the last child, the 10th,” he says. “It’s a little bit of a challenge with the letter writing, but I try.”
As Gil received photos of the children, he would pin them on the wall, which resulted in what he calls “this really clumsy-looking collage.” Then, a few months ago, Gil met the owner of a business that produces digital paintings from photos, which gave him the idea to convert the collage into a painting.
“The owner took the photos, and she laid it out,” he remembers. “It’s important to put the name with the face, so underneath each child’s picture, there’s a signature of their first name, and I put the ChildFund logo up top.
“I just enjoy looking at the kids. But it’s also a conversation starter, and sometimes it gives people the idea to do the same,” he says.
Gil’s support for ChildFund doesn’t end with sponsorship; he also enjoys helping spark funding for certain ChildFund projects that catch his eye. When the inclination strikes, he’ll send an e-mail to his regional ChildFund contact asking for project proposals. Recently, she sent him three.
“One that was interesting was this Honduras Health Hut — you know that kids are going to benefit from the get-go,” Gil explains. ChildFund invited other sponsors to add to the funding that Gil had kick-started for the Health Hut to make the project a reality. “Another project was providing sewing machines for a Native American reservation in South Dakota,” he adds. “These are very practical supports — you can see how those benefit people.”
And Gil’s support doesn’t end with ChildFund: He’s an active volunteer with hospice, visiting nursing homes as often as two or three times each week. “It’s important to give back, at both ends — children and the elderly,” he says. “I get more out of giving than the kids do. It’s the same in the nursing homes; I get more out of visiting with the elderly than they do. They have fascinating stories to tell.”
Go ahead, ask Gil about the picture on his wall. You might get a few ideas.