Family has always been at the center of Shirley Ubinger’s life. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Shirley and her late husband John, to whom she was married for 67 years, ran a successful family-owned business while raising eight children. The couple’s small business kept them busy, but also offered them the opportunity to travel the United States together to attend conferences and cultivate long-lasting friendships with clients and business associates.
In 2003, while vacationing with friends in Florida, Shirley stopped at a craft show to buy several beautiful Mayan bracelets for her young granddaughter. The woman in the booth who was selling the colorful jewelry, Shirley learned, was raising funds for a not-profit organization called Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala. Interested in learning more about the organization, Shirley struck up a conversation with founder and president, Frances Dixon. “From the moment I started talking with Frances, I knew that I wanted to support her incredible work to help impoverished indigenous children and families in Guatemala,” says Shirley Ubinger.
Soon after meeting Frances, the Ubingers began supporting Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala as child sponsors of a boy named Pascual. Several years later, the Ubingers agreed to sponsor a second child, Jose, and then a third—a boy named Antonio who lived with his mother and siblings in a rundown shack in northwest Guatemala.
“We received photos of Antonio from Frances and were appalled at his living conditions and offered to help the family with supplies and clothing for him and his siblings,” recalls Shirley.
Around that time, tragedy struck the Ubingers. Their grandson Matthew died suddenly from a drug overdose. “Our family was absolutely devastated,” says Shirley.
Shirley and John and had just learned from Frances that a donation had been committed to build Antonio and his family a new home, but they did not have the funds to pay for the plot of land for the home. As a way to help them cope with their grief and honor their grandson’s memory, the Ubingers decided to purchase the plot of land for the home in Matthew’s name.
“Our entire family donated to the cost of the land,” she says. “We were grateful that we could make a difference in the lives of this poor family and at the same time honor our dear Matthew.”
Those who sponsor children and other initiatives through Adopt-a-Village receive regular updates from Guatemala and photos of the children they are supporting. After the recent passing of her beloved husband John, Shirley was struck by the image she received from Frances of the run-down shack that served as a primary school kitchen in Antonio’s village. She was again moved into action.
“My children and I agreed that a school kitchen built with love in the memory of their father—my husband—would bring joy to our family during a time of great loss,” says Shirley. “It is gratifying to know that our legacy gift to Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala will mean that children will enjoy nutritious meals during school breaks.”
Shirley says that her faith and the desire to “do small things for good people” led her to Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala. After more than 15 years, she is one of the organization’s most generous supporters, having sponsored three children, purchased land for a home, funded a new school kitchen, and most recently, donated a sizeable gift to the village literacy program that provides books for the primary school children.
“Francs Dixon has created a great legacy in the mountains of Guatemala,” says Shirley. “Her commitment to the Maya of Guatemala has helped to empower hundreds of youth and families, “ she continues. “Frances is my inspiration, and my family and I are honored to support her work and this wonderful organization.”
Pictured above: Mother serving children nutritious meals in the new village kitchen built in memory of John Ubinger.