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Heifer Project animals make a difference for families

Eliza Penick, now 35, has been involved since she was eight years old.

Eliza Penick, who grew up attending Keystone UCC’s alternative gift fair, the Festival of Hope, was first drawn to Heifer International by the rabbit a volunteer had at the booth.  This year, she is coordinating the 37th annual festival.

Eliza Penik

Eliza Penick hosts Heifer International table at the Keystone UCC Festival of Hope.  This year is the 37th year and will be held Saturday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 22.

Photos courtesy of Eliza Penick

She began running the booth when she was eight and continued, becoming more involved after college.

She began running the booth when she was eight and continued, becoming more involved after college.

After graduating from the University of Washington in 2002 with a bachelor’s in history and American Indian studies, she wanted to help Heifer, so she contacted the regional office in Sacramento and developed a volunteer group in Seattle.  She built the visibility of Heifer International at fairs and events.

In fall 2007, Heifer hired her as community engagement coordinator in Seattle, which is now one of 14 U.S. metro areas with full time staff.
“Heifer drew me with the idea anyone can help someone out of poverty by giving animals to provide food and extra income,” Eliza said.  “Anyone can buy and give a goat or a batch of chickens to help a family improve their diet by eating eggs and drinking milk, and earn extra income by selling extra eggs or cheese.

“It’s easy for a child to grasp,” she said.
Eliza in Honduras

Eliza Penick holds goat on a visit to projects in Honduras.

To deepen her understanding of the complexities of poverty and how Heifer helps, Eliza visited projects in Honduras, Peru, Nepal and near Portland. 

“Animals are the face of Heifer, but training in community development comes with the animals,” she said.  “That’s what transforms communities.”

As people learn how to care for, breed and slaughter animals, they learn to work together to envision and organize as communities.  “Social capital” develops as they do that.

An organized community able to advocate for itself is a safety net in the face of poverty, environmental degradation and gender inequity, she explained.

“There is only so much a U.S. agency can do,” she said. “Heifer hires local people abroad to empower people to create lasting change.  As communities organize, everyone has a seat at the table.

“In a world with many conflicts, illnesses, accidents and natural disasters, people may lose their homes, but devastation cannot take away their skills in organizing and advocacy.  It makes communities resilient and able to bounce back rather than slide back into abject poverty,” she said.

eliza penik at 9

Eliza Penick ran Heifer booth at age nine.

Heifer works in 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and Central and Eastern Europe.  Over its 72 years, it has worked in 125 countries, helping 25 million families lift themselves out of poverty.  Previously, it did many things in many places, but now it focuses on places where it can have the most impact to end poverty, like in East Africa, Nepal and Haiti.

The East Africa Dairy Development Project, affects a million people in three countries. It connects people to markets to improve nutrition, incomes and opportunities. It helps small farmers meet demand for cow’s milk by forming co-ops to build infrastructure for transportation and marketing.

Rural Entrepreneurs for Agriculture Cooperation in Haiti (REACH) started in 2011.  They address poor soil and roads, loss of breeding stock, and lack of resources, tools or transportation to help farmers.

The training includes animal health, women’s empowerment and disaster prevention. From 2013 to 2017, it will train 120 community animal health workers, of which at least 40 will be women.

Seventy-five breeding centers will add 300 jobs to assure goats, pigs, cattle and poultry are healthy for breeding and to teach families accounting and marketing to be competitive.

With partners, they will plant more than 130,000 trees to prevent erosion. The project will help 12,000 rural farmers in 36 Haitian communities.

In Nepal, Heifer worked for several decades in women’s empowerment and now uses social capital to strengthen women’s programs. It offers economic opportunity around goat meat and agricultural production, and helps women farmers build cooperatives and economic opportunities.

In the earthquake, participants were some of the first communities to assess needs and respond.  Heifer staff in Kathmandu were among the first to send resources to meet emergency needs in rural areas.

Eliza in Nepal

Eliza Penick on visit to Heifer project in Nepal.

“A community that knows how to mobilize and work together recovers faster,” she said, telling of Heifer’s FaceBook page on Nepal and reports on farmers regrouping.

Since February, Eliza has also been on the board for Ten Thousand Villages (TTV) Seattle. It intersects with Heifer. For example, in Peru, Heifer projects raise alpaca and sheep for wool used for weaving.  It also helps people gain access to markets, promotes gender equity and starts community banks.

Keystone’s Festival of Hope includes Heifer, TTV, small fair-trade coops and Seattle-based agencies like Northwest Harvest.

“Keystone is a small, but powerful congregation,” said Eliza.  “Members pitch in to run booths for hunger relief and self-help projects locally to globally.  In recent years, it raised $15,000 with $18,000 last year, including alternative gifts.”
Eliza said Heifer receives most of its revenue—$193 million in 2014—between Halloween and New Year. 

One way children can be involved is through Heifer’s Read to Feed Program, students ask for pledges to earn money for Heifer animals by reading.

Growing up UCC, Eliza believes “we are to extend our love for humanity through justice, to put our faith into action to provide opportunity for people around the world.

“I am  hopeful, because I believe we can end hunger and poverty as communities work together to take care of and support one another here, as well as around the world,” she said.

The Festival of Hope is one of 15 fairs with Heifer International, and one of 18 fairs in the Puget Sound area with Ten Thousand Villages.

Other Seattle-area UCC churches doing fairs are Richmond Beach on Nov. 14 and Magnolia UCC on Nov. 21, both with Heifer and TTV, and Wayside with TTV on Nov. 29.

For information, call 206-547-5696 or email



Copyright © November-December 2015 Pacific Northwest Conference UCC News


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