Becoming aware along the way 

By Abby Marie R. Harris, Unbound sponsor and board member

December 01, 2020 | Be Involved

My story begins 10 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was standing alongside my parents at the back of church staring down at a table full of faces. Each unique profile was of an individual seeking a “life empowerment partner.” The decision loomed like an impossible task, until I noticed a picture that didn’t look like the others. While nearly all the photos were of children, the profile that caught my eye was of a 59-year-old widow from the Philippines. Her name was Zenaida.

My parents and I had just heard a presentation by an Unbound priest visiting our parish, Church of the Risen Christ in Denver. The mission he was calling us to join was participating in the empowerment of an individual to live to their fullest, God-given potential. While looking at Zenaida’s profile, my parents and I agreed that the mission could be applied at any point in a person’s life, regardless of age. To this very day, I believe God was calling us to empower Zenaida, and so began our sponsorship and our friendship.

At the time, I was an independent 26-year-old and Unbound was so appealing because it was built on a concept of individual empowerment. I was captivated by the idea that believing in someone could be the catalyst they needed to achieve their greatest potential. Unbound’s genius stems from walking with the individual, in their world, in their community, within their family, and asking them what they need most to lift themselves up. I found this idea inspiring, and I could relate to it so personally.

Left, sponsored elder Zenaida spends a pleasant moment with her sponsor, Abby Marie R. Harris, during a 2019 Awareness Trip in the Philippines. At right, the two women participate in a group activity. Festive gatherings are a customary part of such trips.

For the next decade, my parents and I exchanged letters, photos, stories and prayers with Zenaida. We got to know her and her family. We often heard about activities within the Unbound community and items she bought with her sponsorship benefits. I loved hearing from her, but I wanted to know more about her life — what inspired her, what she envisioned for her future. I wanted to know how we could walk with her, not as a pen pal, but as a partner.

It was just last summer when my prayers were answered. While I hadn’t given much thought to traveling on an Unbound Awareness Trip, I didn’t pause for a second when I heard about the February 2019 trip to the Philippines. Finally having the opportunity to meet Zenaida in person meant that I would have a chance to actually see my role in her life, to learn how to support her more, to witness her life, and to become a true empowerment partner in her journey.

Left, sponsor Abby Marie R. Harris and her sponsored friend Zenaida enjoy visiting during the 2019 Philippines Awareness Trip. At right, they pose for a picture while participating in a community celebration.

The trip was nothing short of extraordinary. The exposure I had to the Unbound program operating within the Manila communities and witnessing firsthand the impact it was having was eye-opening. It became obvious to me that the program not only impacted the lives of the individual sponsored members, but that the benefits had a ripple effect that extended to their families, their friends and even their communities.

On Feb. 3, 2019, I finally met Zenaida and I was overwhelmed. The whole family and neighborhood welcomed me and prepared a day of celebration. I learned so much more about my good friend that I had never known, despite years of letters. More importantly, I became aware of the opportunities that Zenaida had opened up for herself because she felt we believed in her. We were on the receiving end of her gratitude, but she was on the receiving end of our pride, hope, inspiration and love. After 10 years, I finally see that I am indeed her empowerment partner.

I now know that human potential — when tapped, when supported, when provided with opportunity and self-determination, is boundless. I passionately wish to spread this message, and I hope to encourage all sponsors to take an awareness trip to meet their sponsored friends. I promise this: You will become aware, you will see what is possible and you will experience what it means to be Unbound!