FOFA is extremely fortunate to have a steady stream of volunteers who come to us through longstanding personal relationships, website communication, and personal introduction. Each volunteer offers special ingredients to our projects, e.g., photography, program evaluation, development, publicity, and teaching English as a second language, to name a few. Some contribute their talents during seasonal visits to Oaxaca, while others live there year-round. We are always delighted to find a place for those who wish to participate.
Nina Bellak (Bolinas, CA)
Nina first encountered Mexico as a teenager in 1962 when she was fortunate enough to be sent by her parents to join a group of girls staying with Frances Sciaky in her lovely home in Oaxaca. Franny saw to it that her girls were deeply immersed in Oaxacan culture, highlighted by visiting the pueblos, meeting the artisans and buying artesanía. Nina was fascinated by all the colorful impressions, as well as the warmth of the people. In 2000 Nina returned to Oaxaca for the first time in almost forty years. Much had changed, but the beauty and warmth remained. She walked up and down many streets, but was disappointed that she couldn’t locate Franny’s beautiful house. On a subsequent trip, however, thanks to the miracle of the internet, she did find members of the family that helped Franny, and through them reconnected with Arden Rothstein, who had shared both of those memorable summers with her. Nina and her husband, a retired attorney, have been making annual trips to Oaxaca for the last several years. When at home in the small coastal town of Bolinas, California, she teaches English to local immigrants.
Reading FOFA’s website about English classes it had previously sponsored, Nina had the fantasy of teaching a class in Teotitlán del Valle, one of Oaxaca’s rug weaving pueblos. Arden soon helped to make this a reality in February, 2010, through her encouragement and her introduction to Bulmaro Pérez Mendoza, a weaver, and his wife, Aurea Bautista Lazo, who went out of their way to make it happen. They not only offered their salon as a classroom, but also invited Nina and her husband to be their guests, and did outreach into the community to notify other weavers about this opportunity.
Kathleen [Kay] Burch (Oaxaca)
Lured by its fabulous folk art and with her own small collection and desirous of being repatriated, Kay moved to Oaxaca in the summer of 2008 immediately following her retirement. Her mother, daughter and granddaughter joined in on the adventure, so now four generations of Burch ladies are enjoying Oaxaca’s many pleasures.
Growing up in South Florida, Kay developed an early interest in Mexico and Latin America that became a focus of study at the Universities of Florida and Texas. During her professional life addressing social needs through philanthropy, Kay followed her interest in Mexico via travel opportunities, coming to know and love Oaxaca. Drawn by its beauty, climate, and artesano communities, Oaxaca was the top choice as a place to live, learn, and give back.
Serving as a FOFA volunteer is a perfect way to give back. Kay draws on her background in charity and non-profit management with the dream of ultimately making a difference in the lives of individuals and families whose products have enriched hers.
Suzanne Grant (Minneapolis)
Suzanne first visited Oaxaca in February, 2003 from Minnesota, where February is bleak, bleak, bleak and the only colors are white, grey, brown, and dirty white. Suzanne arrived after dark and awakened the next morning to bright sun, incredible blue sky, and brilliant color everywhere. She fell in love in that moment and has returned to Oaxaca five times, most recently staying for 2 ½ months. Suzanne loves wandering the streets of the city with the red, orange, blue, green buildings, the parks, the warmth of the people, and the amazing folk art. She began collecting art from Oaxaca during her first visit and has continued to do so on every subsequent visit. The interior of her Minnesota home is filled with the colors and art of Mexico.
Suzanne learned about FOFA in 2009, when she stayed at the home of a friend during her fourth Oaxacan visit. He sent her a map produced by FOFA to show the location of MEAPO, where the 2008 contest winners’ art was on display. Suzanne immediately googled FOFA to learn about its work and, after reading its mission statement, not only sent in a donation but also became determined to contribute further to FOFA’s goals. After a year of communication with Arden Rothstein, Suzanne arrived in Oaxaca with the assignment to teach an English class to young artesanos. It was a perfect fit since she had spent her professional career in corporate training and development, has an ESL teaching certificate, and currently teaches English at Berlitz Language Schools. Suzanne was able to combine her passion for Oaxacan art with her extensive teaching experience to create two of the most exciting and rewarding months of her life. She will return to Oaxaca for longer stays in the future, and will possibly be there full-time. She will continue working with FOFA to further their goals to promote and preserve Oaxacan folk art.
Sandra Kirkland (Oaxaca)
Sandra moved to Oaxaca in 2007, retiring from a brief career as a marketing copywriter for a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper. Most of her life has been spent in advertising, marketing and promotion, so it was a perfect fit for her to jump in to help FOFA with promoting the first exhibition at the MEAPO of the winning works of artesanía in the 2008 young artists’ competition. It was Sandra’s suggestion to add the tianguis, outdoor art sale, to the opening of the exhibit, since the goal of FOFA is to show young artesanos that they can earn a livelihood with their crafts. It was all extremely successful, leading to additional tianguis to accompany the duration of the exhibition in 2008-9.
Jessica Hubbard Marr (Oaxaca, 2008-2010; London, 2010-present)
Jessica grew up in a home filled with vibrant folk art from all over the world, given her mother’s work as a folklorist and her father’s travels as a public health doctor. Her father had a passionate love for Oaxacan folk art, especially the tapete weavings of Isaac Vásquez of Teotitlán del Valle. Jessica grew up with a deep appreciation and sense of Oaxacan folk art, even before traveling there. She arrived in Oaxaca in August 2008 and, despite her intention to stay for just two months, she remained in Oaxaca – with its rich, inspiring culture and people – for nearly two years. Jessica attributes much of this to her amazing experiences she had working with FOFA. After reading a newspaper article about FOFA’s first art competition, she contacted Arden Rothstein to explore how she could become involved. Jessica contributed in many ways: promoting events for both FOFA and MEAPO by distributing FOFA information throughout the city, contributing to the website, creating and helping to maintain FOFA’s Facebook “Fan Page” to update members about new events and information, and generally spreading the word about FOFA. Jessica has made a special contribution with her professional interest in photography, photographing both artist events and individual artists’ work. She considers this work a genuine gift, as it has allowed her to meet so many talented and inspiring artists and to see the amazing range and variety of their work in various pueblos throughout Oaxaca.
Jessica is also a TESOL certified English teacher who earned her B.A. in English from Kenyon College in 2005. She is a former teacher of children’s art, having taught in the USA for two years and one year in Oaxaca at the “Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots” center. Jessica cherishes the time she spent at the center devoted to providing education and resources to the children of Oaxaca’s poorest communities. Jessica is also a published photographer who finds constant inspiration each and every day in Oaxaca.