Jon Cornwell was 25 and looking to make a difference in the world. He remembered that his parents, Joan and Ron, had sponsored children in Kenya beginning in the late 1970s, when he and his siblings were young.
It felt like the right thing to do. So in 1993, he selected Hellen from Kenya and began making his own quiet contribution toward effecting change.
When Jon died suddenly in 2004 at the age of 34, his parents and two siblings were devastated by the loss. As they went through Jon's papers, they found that he had named ChildFund in his will. "Jon had been sponsoring Hellen for nine years," Joan recalls. "Our daughter, Stephanie, wrote Hellen that Jon had died."
Hellen, who was around 12 at the time, soon wrote back to the family. "She wrote a very compassionate, loving letter," says Joan. "Stephanie and her family then decided to continue the sponsorship."
In addition, the entire Cornwell family began to think about how to ensure the best use of Jon's bequest to ChildFund. "Jon was a very generous person. He was always very sensitive and concerned about kids in other countries—the tragedies and traumas that a lot of them have to endure," Joan remembers.
Ultimately, funds from Jon's estate were directed to three ChildFund projects in Africa:
- the Kasaka school improvement project in Kenya
- a milling machine that is improving nutrition and incomes in The Gambia
- a borehole to deliver fresh water to the KuKu Plains girls boarding school in Kenya.
"Our family has continued to support these projects and others," Joan says. "It has been a very nice legacy," she says, adding that the sadness of losing a child has been tempered by the knowledge that progress is being made to bring about the lasting change that Jon longed for in the world.
And, of course, there is the joy of Hellen, now 17, and very much a part of the Cornwell family.
Joan and Hellen met for the first time in March when Joan traveled with the ChildFund study tour to Kenya. It was a "treasured moment," Joan says.
A shared loss has forged a strong connection between the Cornwell family and Hellen. It's a story not yet at its close.