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International Fellowship Dinner serves up welcome

Mary Hinds • Dec 15, 2015 at 11:24 AM

Debbie Vaughn, who teaches English as a Second Language for the Lebanon Special School District, did it again.

Vaughn played host to the International Fellowship Dinner on Tuesday evening, and families in Lebanon schools got a chance to bring their best dishes for a potluck extravaganza. The event was also Vaughn's opportunity to give ESL students a few Christmas gifts and let their parents browse the free clothes and warm winter coats their children will need to stay warm as the cold weather months approach.

Vaughn and her band of volunteers welcomed the families to the Byars-Dowdy Elementary School cafeteria where the feast was spread.

"It's amazing," Vaughn said as she looked out over the laughing crowd as they devoured the feast. "I was expecting about 200 people, and that's how many raffle tickets I made. I have four left."

Vaughn seemed a bit under the weather, but wasn't about to miss it despite her voice nearly gone. She was concerned there were enough gift bags of food and Christmas things for everyone.

"We have about 200 bags for the kids and 60 bags of food, enough for one for every family. It's important for every kid to get a bag, and this year, we have socks for every kid. Every bag for the kids has school supplies and a few little toys. The bags are sorted by age and sex."

Vaughn then rose from her seat and started the raffle.

"I'm going to beard the lions in their den," she said with a laugh as she moved to the center of the cafeteria to pick up the bowl of raffle numbers.  

The raffle was new this year, and while most of the items were used, they were new to the kids. The prizes included bikes and a computer. The children gathered around Vaughn with excited looks in their eyes as she drew the winning numbers.

Diana Garcia, a sixth-grader at Winfree Bryant Middle School, won the computer. Her excitement was visible. Vaughn was thrilled for her, saying she is a good student who works hard in school.

"Having that computer could be life changing for her," Vaughn said.

The children were excited about the prizes, but Vaughn was most excited by the number of donated winter coats that would be distributed after the feast.

"We've got coats," she said. "I stopped counting at 180."

Vaughn also heads a community outreach program to help Hispanic families. The organization is Community Involvement through Education and Literacy Organization or CIELO, which means sky or heaven in Spanish. CIELO help local citizens learn to speak Spanish so they can communicate with the areas growing number of Spanish speakers.

One CIELO member, Dr. George Robertson, was at the dinner. He said he travels to Peru, Honduras and other places in Latin American on mission trips delivering vaccines and hope. While his involvement is sterling, his language skills could use some work.

"I learn about one word per trip," he said with a laugh. "I really enjoy it, I just got back from El Salvador."

Vaughn was thrilled so many of the families she and her volunteers work to help came to the dinner and that they were able to make sure their Christmas celebrations were a little brighter.

"This is family involvement," Vaughn said. "They are all working with me and laughing with me. That's my goal, because when family are involved the kids do better and it's all about the kids."

Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 45 or maryhinds@lebanondemocrat.com.

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