Jody and Brian Johnson

Jody and Brian Johnson

Snowbirds bring ‘Elvis’ into the building to help kids

Vernon couple raise funds for Salvation Army children's home in Mazatlán, Mexico with show featuring Elvis tribute artist Adam Fitzpatrick.

Two winters ago, retired psychologists Brian and Jody Johnson of Vernon did what many snowbirds do, they went to the popular holiday destination of Mazatlán on the west coast of Mexico.

The vacation would prove to be life changing.

While buying groceries, they heard the voices of children singing at the entrance to the store. Upon inquiry, through fellow snowbirds, they found out the youngsters were mostly orphans from a nearby children’s home run by the Salvation Army.

The Johnsons decided to visit the home, located on a rural property outside of the city, and say they fell in love with the two Salvation Army officers, Aseal and Rocio Flores, who look after the home and the 25-plus children who reside there.

“The children in the home are either orphans, or have been neglected, abused or exploited,” said Jody. “For example, a new child to the home in November, when we arrived, was four years old with severe breaks to his upper legs. He was in a full hip/leg cast – the story being that he had been left at home with a younger sibling while mom worked and a five gallon water jug fell on him.”

The Flores almost single-handedly parent all the children and have to deal with the upkeep of the home.

“The home receives no government funding although children are brought into the care of the home by the family services agency,” said Jody. “The Salvation Army provides the officers who care for the children, but do not fund the operation of the home. Consequently, money is scarce and basic necessities – milk, toilet tissue, shampoo – are often lacking. One major source of funding are the performances of songs and ethnic dances by the children in hotels, malls, RV parks and wherever an invitation is offered.”

The Johnsons and other fellow retirees who travel to Mexico during the winter months have continued to help with necessary projects at the home.

“We go out when we can, help where we can, and raise money from other snowbirds,” said Jody, who with the other benefactors have so far raised funds to replace both the electrical wiring and buy a new truck for the home.

“The power was leaking into the ground resulting in higher than necessary electrical bills, so we raised enough money to replace the wiring and connect to a solar system. Also, they had only one large van to transport children to their performances – very expensive when one child needed to go to the doctor, dentist or hospital – so we raised some more and together with some funds from the Mazatlán Rotary Club, a small truck was purchased.”

Improving the  home’s security wall for safety reasons is the next priority.

“Two years ago, during the Christmas season, an armed robbery occurred after the family returned home from an event,” said Jody. “Again this past Christmas, a break-in occurred into the compound but the intruders did not enter any of residences. The police were called but did not attend because of the rural destination.”

The Flores, who live in the home with their own two children, have also had to deal with continual theft from the property.

“The lack of security is stressful and dangerous. Most properties in Mexico are surrounded by brick walls with razor wire on top. A wall is absolutely a necessity at the children’s home to provide physical security and peace of mind,” said Jody.

To help raise funds for this project, the Johnsons are holding a fundraiser, which will feature a performance by Elvis tribute artist Adam Fitzpatrick, at Vernon’s Trinity United Church Sept. 20.

The Penticton-based singer is known locally for his past performances with the Louisiana Hayride show and has now gone out on his own with his award-winning tribute to the King.

This summer has been a busy one for Fitzpatrick. He recently took top spot in the third annual Europe’s Tribute to Elvis in Blackpool, England, earning himself another berth to the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition, held in Elvis’ hometown of Memphis and sponsored by the Graceland estate. (He placed as first runner-up in the competition last year.) Fitzpatrick was also just crowned grand champion and people’s choice at the 2014 Heart of the King Contest at the Las Vegas Elvis Festival.

Fitzpatrick performs in an evening of gospel/inspirational Elvis songs to benefit the Salvation Army Children’s Home in Mazatlán, Sept. 20, 7 p.m., at Trinity United Church.Tickets are $25 at the Ticket Seller in the Vernon Performing Arts Centre (250-549-7469) or online at www.ticketseller.ca.