Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

These Filipino boys live on the street but participate in the regular education programs offered by the Lingap Children’s Center. The children come to a park to eat lunch and learn basic lessons in reading and arithmetic.


Transfiguration making ‘place at the table’ for Filipino street children

By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published January 23, 2014

MARIETTA—When energy company executive John Drake returned home to Michigan from work in the Philippines, he was unable to put the street children of Toledo City or a request from the community’s mayor out of his mind.

Mayor Arlene Zambo had asked Drake if he could renovate and run an existing crisis center for children operating from a one-time pig slaughterhouse.

The question came during a conversation on his last day of work in the province of Cebu.

“The very last day I was ever there,” said Drake. “I’ve been scratching my head for years over that.”

Genalyn, pictured nine months after her rescue by Lingap Center staff, is now thriving. She and her twin were found with pneumonia and dying of starvation in January 2011. They are now the foster daughters of a center staff member.

Genalyn, pictured nine months after her rescue by Lingap Center staff, is now thriving. She and her twin were found with pneumonia and dying of starvation in January 2011. They are now the foster daughters of a center staff member.

Having spent a lot of time in the Philippines for his job, Drake saw firsthand how orphaned and neglected children were begging for food, scavenging in the trash, and sometimes forced into slavery to support themselves or family members.

Years later, the Lingap Center and Children’s Foundation serves 100 children by providing food, clothing, a safe haven, private or technical school education, and participation in the life of a parish church. The program boasts several college graduates and also feeds thousands of street children following a children’s Mass each third Saturday. The children receiving aid are between 6 and 18 years old.

When Drake initially left work in the Philippines, he thought Zambo’s idea was “absolutely absurd” and kept placing obstacles to taking on the proposed project.

“I would wake up in the night and I’d be crying,” said Drake, a Navy veteran. “It kept eating at me, eating at me.”

Drake’s wife, Judy, told him to go back down to the Philippines and prove it couldn’t be done.

Drake did return and found that someone was willing to lease land to an American as he could not own land there; he had a chat with a parish priest about including street children in parish life, and explored other issues, overcoming each roadblock.

“They were all resolved,” said Drake.

Then came the job of fundraising, and in six months’ time, Drake had enough money to begin the work.

A new Lingap Center was dedicated in March 2006.

All aid goes to children

Transfiguration Church in Marietta held a renewal program on “Finding God’s Call … Wherever You Are” in 2007. Fransalian Father Geoff Rose of Mark 5:11 Ministries was presenter and John Drake was the featured speaker.

“I think he uses me as a poster child,” said Drake about Father Rose.

Transfiguration parishioner Dr. Jay Brunette visits with a group of Lingap Center children during a trip to the Philippines. The center is located in Toldeo City, Cebu, Philippines, and serves orphans and street children ages 6 to 18.

Transfiguration parishioner Dr. Jay Brunette visits with a group of Lingap Center children during a trip to the Philippines. The center is located in Toldeo City, Cebu, Philippines, and serves orphans and street children ages 6 to 18.

Dr. Jay Brunette, Transfiguration parishioner, and pastor Msgr. Pat Bishop attended the program and afterward would think often of the Lingap story.

“It’s captivating, inspiring,” said Brunette, who now serves on the Lingap Foundation’s board of directors.

At the time of the renewal program, Transfiguration already had a world missions project, but when circumstances changed, the parish began to look for another mission to support in 2009.

Msgr. Bishop remembered Drake, and parishioners took a vote with 90 percent of them electing to support Lingap.

Drake and the Foundation’s board of directors pay the salaries of the center’s staff so that 100 percent of the donations go to caring for the children.

“That’s why we went with them,” said Msgr. Bishop. “I’m very proud of our participation.”

Msgr. Bishop emphasized the amazing work of the Lingap Center in not only housing 100 children, but also providing nourishment and lessons to the children still living on the streets.

A Lingap educator teaches children living outside the center, and they are provided a daily lunch, which some of them take back to feed an entire family. The foundation’s Third Saturday Outreach includes a children’s Mass, followed by a soup kitchen where every attendee is fed. In January 2011, 5,000 people were present.

Msgr. Bishop said that Transfiguration’s children are in communication with the Filipino children, and the church recently celebrated a Mass via the Internet with them. “It was really kind of neat,” said the pastor.

Mission children help typhoon victims

Materially speaking, the children of the Lingap Center don’t have much. But what they do possess, they have been willing to share with their fellow countrymen affected by the 2013 typhoon. While the center lost power for a few days, it was spared any damage from Typhoon Haiyan.

Drake led the children in two relief missions to hard-hit areas where people had received no assistance. The children assembled 1,200 relief packs and took life-saving water, as well as bread baked through the center’s entrepreneur class.

After the first relief mission, the children were very quiet on the way home. They talked that evening about what they had seen, and one of the greatest gifts they have learned is to “be concerned for others,” said Drake.

Addressing the children’s spiritual needs is a primary focus of the foundation’s work. Once excluded from church, the children are now altar servers and are the local parish’s choir.

“They say the rosary every night before bed,” said Drake.

Traveling to Philippines changes lives

Transfiguration parishioner Dot Wesselmann first spearheaded the local Lingap fundraising efforts.

Wesselmann said the parish has two collections each year for the children, one in April and one in October. The parish’s various ministries also make rosaries for the children, sew shorts for the boys and pillowcase dresses for the girls.

Wesselmann visited Lingap for the first time for Christmas in 2012.

“I felt like I knew them already,” she said about meeting the children.

On that trip, volunteers visited a squatters’ village, and a priest celebrated Mass there for the families whose homes are 4-by-8-foot shacks.

“It was just incredible,” said Wesselmann.

She said that many of them never see a priest, and they all pitched in and offered a collection of 63 cents. Lingap had also arranged for clean water to be piped into their area.

According to Wesselmann, the parish is now attempting to foster the “Place at the Table” sponsorships, which enable donors to pledge specific amounts on a recurring basis. It offers a more predictable budget for Drake when planning services for the youth. There are now about 80 sponsorships coming from Transfiguration.

“The most important thing is the ‘Place at the Table,’” agreed Msgr. Bishop.

Board member Brunette said that with the church’s collections and pledges Transfiguration is probably Lingap’s “single biggest supporter.”

Brunette, too, has visited the Philippines to see the work of the program.

“Within 30 seconds, you are in, hook, line and sinker,” he said.

One of the program’s college graduates, Aileen, will be coming to America this spring for a yearlong internship. With a degree in tourism management, she will be working at the Baltimore Country Club. On March 15-16 she will visit Transfiguration to speak.

“She’s just a beautiful woman,” said Wesselmann.

“I would put her up against any college student in this country,” said Brunette.

When John Drake first met Aileen in 2002, she was sitting on the edge of a pig trough with a blank expression.

Brunette calls the young lady a “true testament” to the worth of the mission.

Drake believes that education is key in the success of the children. There are 15 Lingap youth currently enrolled in college.

Lingap wards attend either private schools or a public, vocational high school. The other public schools are abysmal, said Drake.

Donations to help with these tuition payments are much appreciated.

“People will apologize for giving $5. Good heavens. It’s $5 I didn’t have before,” said Drake.

Many Transfiguration parishioners know of the story of two baby twins rescued by Drake and others during a visit by Brunette.

The twin girls were discovered filthy, malnourished and crawling in a hut and nearby shack. The girls were hours from dying and had pneumonia, lice and other complications. They were hospitalized and are now the happy, healthy foster children of a Lingap staff member.

A video documentary about Lingap is available at Matt Calvo, Transfiguration’s director of media, created the video during a 10-day trip there.

Calvo said the trip was a transformative experience and he was amazed at how happy and jovial the Filipino people are. He said they might be living in a shack, but they are always gracious and inviting.

Calvo left his shoes caked with “five layers of mud” outside the door of his room one evening only to find that a Lingap student had taken the shoes and cleaned every groove free from dirt. “It shows how well they treat what they do have,” said Calvo.

Brunette said Lingap is one of the happiest places, and he has given much thought to that.

“We as Americans equate poverty with unhappiness,” he said.

In the Philippines, there are no distracting televisions or cell phones or other stuff. Faith, family and friends are the concentration. “It’s a tremendous lesson,” he said.

To learn more about the Lingap Children’s Foundation, visit A speaker’s brochure is also available for any parish or organization wanting a mission appeals speaker. To give, click on the “You Can Help” tab. One-time donations are accepted, as are “Place at the Table” sponsorships of $25 a month. To read John Drake’s journey about striking at the root of poverty in the Philippines, click on “Our Story” at the organization’s website.