Barrita Durward sits with Angel, one of the older children at the City of Angels orphanage in Mexico. (Sweet Smiles Society photo)

Kelowna toddler and Mexican orphans benefit from Vernon fundraiser

Valentine’s for Mexico spreads smiles

Valentine’s Day may be over but the love continues to grow for children in need thanks to the Sweet Smiles Society.

The Vernon-based group is once again spreading love with Valentine’s for Mexico, an annual fundraiser supporting orphans and families in poverty. The 11th annual event takes place Friday, Feb. 21 at the Prestige Vernon Lodge, presented by A&W.

Sweet Smiles founder Barrita Durward has a soft spot for kids, and ensuring they can live the lives they are supposed to. Which is why she travels to Mexico every year to build and support orphanages and transition homes for children, some of whom are rescued from the streets, sex slavery and extreme poverty. The funds raised at the event support these efforts but every year a local family is also chosen to benefit from the fundraiser.

This year the Isagawa family in Kelowna is benefitting, as they are at BC Children’s Hospital with one-year-old Elara Rae who is battling cancer.

“She is not yet two and is facing a battle no one should have to face,” said Durward of the rare and aggressive yolk sac tumour Elara was diagnosed with on Christmas Eve.

Elara and her mother Jessica, father Nico and grandparents will spend four months minimum in Vancouver with the young girl.

To help support the family, Durward has added a treasure tree and burgundy balloon burst (one of six balloon bursts) to the fundraiser which will solely support them.

The event also includes an extravagant silent auction with everything from big screen TVs to diamond rings, trips and home improvement certificates. Plus you can win the contents of a treasure chest, liquor cabinet and more. But there are only two tables left before the event is sold out. Tickets are $89 and available at Cotton’s Chocolates on 30th Avenue. Anyone wanting to help support and donate additional auction items can contact Mali Cotton at 250-550-8207 or Durward at 778-212-2438, 250-503-2535 or [email protected].

READ MORE: Vernon Valentine’s for Mexico sold out – 2019

The additional funds raised will support three separate international projects.

The first is the City of Angels orphanage, where the society is looking to break ground on the seventh house, which will get eight additional children off the streets and into a home.

A much-needed expansion is also needed at the Transition House, which is where teenagers go to learn independence and how to live on their own before leaving the City of Angels.

“One of the angels from the orphanage just graduated university and is now a laywer,” said Durward. “Another young boy is going to school to become a doctor.”

The final projects is construction of a fifth home in the Family Preservation/Orphanage Prevention project in Hualtuco.

“Hualtuco is the second poorest area of all of Mexico,” said Durward, who has already helped four families escape extreme poverty.

The families are not only immensely grateful, they also pitch in, and are required to invest 800 hours of sweat equity into the build of their home.

Putting a solid roof over their head and foundation under their feet can make a world of difference in the lives of children, said Durward.

“The impact you’re making on these children is forever and always,” she said. “It’s a ripple effect. It gives them drive and inspires them and reminds them that their past doesn’t define who they are.”

READ MORE: Support stays on track for Silver Star Adaptive Snow Sports


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Paige Sines lends a hand demolishing during the Transition Program expansion in Cozumel recently. (Sweet Smiles Society photo)

Barrita Durward hauls away rubble from the demolition at the Transition expansion program in Cozumel recently. (Sweet Smiles Society photo)

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