Tom Slattery remembers the day he first saw a picture of Francisca, the elderly woman he sponsors in the Philippines.
He and his wife decided to sponsor someone after hearing a priest speak about Unbound at church one weekend. Tom’s wife, Nancy, chose a child. Tom picked Francisca after seeing her photo because “everybody was gravitating to the young people,” and he thought an older person would need support as well.
That was in 1996, when Francisca was 84. She’s 103 now.
“She is a beautiful human being,” Tom said. “She has meant a lot to me over the years, and to my wife.”
In the beginning, the letters Tom exchanged with Francisca were more formal, what one might expect from two strangers getting to know each other through correspondence. Tom wasn’t sure what to write about at first. A social worker wrote on Francisca’s behalf.
As time went on, though, the letters got more personal. Tom told Francisca when his mom was ill and asked for prayers. When his mom passed away, Tom sent Francisca one of her rosaries.
Francisca told Tom about the rice she received with his support, how she enjoyed the other seniors in the sponsorship program and about the new dress she got. She told him about tending to her vegetable garden. She also told him about hardships, such as when a typhoon hit her eastern coastal community in the Legazpi area.
At some point, her grandchildren started writing for her instead of a social worker. All along the way, Francisca shared her prayers.
The letters and prayers were a great comfort to Tom when his wife became ill from cancer and passed away. Though Francisca is Tom’s sponsored friend, she was Nancy’s friend, too, and the couple drew inspiration from her.
Tom was especially touched by something Francisca said in a letter.
“She said we, my wife and I, were an inspiration for her to continue on,” he said. “That’s the way I felt about her.”
Tom decided to meet Francisca in person and joined Unbound’s awareness trip to the Philippines last January.
The first day he spent with her, at an event for sponsors and sponsored friends, she wasn’t feeling well. The next day he went to see her at her home, and she was much better.
“Oh, my God, she looked gorgeous,” Tom said. “The sun was shining on her face.”
Francisca lives in a small hut next door to her son’s family. There’s a vegetable garden out back, a rice field out front and the picturesque Mayon Volcano in the distance.
When Tom stepped into Francisca’s bamboo and nipa hut, he saw the rosary he had given her when his mother passed away, and another one he had given her when his wife passed away. There were also photos of Tom’s family and letters he had written to her. Her grandchildren told him they read the letters to her over and over.
Tom said it’s amazing how Francisca has been able to live independently for so long. She still cooks for herself over an open fire.
Babylyn, Francisca’s granddaughter, said her grandmother has a strong faith, prays the rosary and lives peacefully. Sponsorship has been a blessing to her.
“I think the greatest benefit that she received from the sponsorship is that she was able to experience a very unique thing in her life,” Babylyn said. “Aside from the benefits that she received from the foundation, she’s very thankful to have a friend abroad.”
For Tom, visiting Francisca at her home in the Philippines was “special.” He felt warm and accepted in her presence. And he was able to leave her with an unexpected gift.
Before the trip, as he was walking out the door of his Georgia home on his way to the airport, Tom saw a blanket his wife used to keep warm after chemotherapy treatments. He said he didn’t know why, but he grabbed it and stuffed it into his already full bag.
The day Tom visited Francisca at her home was a beautiful day, sunny and in the 80s. When he asked Francisca how she was doing, she said she was cold.
Tom knew then why he had grabbed the blanket, and he gave it to her.
“We had so many prayers, so many tears in it,” he said.
For Francisca the blanket is a reminder of her friendship with Tom and Nancy, and what it meant to her for Tom to be there in her home.
“I feel very thankful to my sponsor because he visited me,” Francisca said. “I always say thank you, thank you so many times.”
Give the gift of companionship. Sponsor an elder today.