By Dawn Carnill, Director of Christmas Outreach

In the following story, Dawn Carnill gives you a front-row seat to the journey of a young Filipino enduring cancer and how he radiates hope despite his circumstances.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again! Time for shopping, school programs, cookie baking, present wrapping, decorating and partying. It’s also a time to spend with family.

We at Extreme Response (ER) hope you’ll have a wonderful time with your family this year, celebrating Christmas and ringing in the New Year. I was strongly reminded of he importance of a family during the holidays at one of the ER Christmas parties in the Philippines. Seed of Love is a wonderful organization that operates a Ronald McDonald type house for kids receiving treatment for cancer at the Philippines General Hospital in Manila. Their house, called the Shelter of Hope, is home to about 30 kids and their parents. Many of them stay for a year or longer.

Just a few weeks ago, we held a Christmas party for the Seed of Love kids, their parents and siblings. The theme of their party was “Family is the Joy of Life”. There were about 80 kids plus the adults. We had a great time playing games, making crafts, painting nails and faces, singing and dancing. It was wonderful to see the mothers let loose and just have fun posing for pictures and dancing. They don’t have much joy in their lives in their current situations and this party gave them a much-needed mental break. During the program, one of the patients took the microphone to share something.

Rafael, an 18-year-old cancer patient, made his way to the stage with his crutches. The first thing I noticed about him was he’s missing most of his right leg. He started off by saying, “Thank you God, for this big family!” Everyone clapped. He then shared about himself. How he had never met his father. That his mother has been in prison for most of his life (and still is). That he was being raised by his aunt when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2016. He has Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor (also known as neurofibrosarcoma). Because of his illness and lack of means, his aunt wasn’t able to continue caring for him.

In February of 2018, he was sent to the Philippines General Hospital for treatment – alone. His doctors knew of ER partner Seed of Love and contacted Junie and Aura, the directors of the program. They agreed to take Rafael in – to provide him with a place to stay, the nutritious food he needs to continue his treatment, encouragement and that one special thing he’d always been lacking – love. Rafael thanked Junie and Aura – and commented on how he now has many mothers to help him along this journey at the Shelter of Hope.

After the program ended, I asked Rafeal for more of his story. He’s such an engaging and eloquent young man and he was happy to share. He told me he’s now enrolled in college, studying Information Technology and that Junie and Aura are now his guardians. I also asked him more about his cancer and treatment. He told me his type of cancer is chemo-resistant and gave me a bit more info on that. When I asked him where he was at with his treatment, his response was, “I’ve finished with treatment. I’m now in palliative care.”

Wow…Palliative care.  Words escaped me. How was I supposed to respond to that? I just looked into that young man’s eyes –  Instead of fear and pain that one might expect after uttering those words, I saw excitement that he was gong to college (something that he thought he’d never do – cancer or not). I saw a contentment that only someone in his shoes could ever feel. I saw a love for his new family. I saw joy.

I understood what Rafael has known for a while now – that none of us knows how long we will be on this earth. I want to be like Rafeal – taking advantage of the time I have. Expressing thanks for what I do have. I want to challenge each and every one of you to take this Christmas season to show love and appreciation to your families – because family really is the Joy of Life.


Christmas Celebrations Continue to Change Lives

(Sept. 15, 2018)

In 1997, a group of friends gathered to put on a Christmas party for the families who were living and working among the trash in the Quito Dump. Since then, more than 150,000 people have attended our Christmas Outreaches.These attendees experience JOY and HOPE as we celebrate Christmas together. Many attendees living on the front lines of poverty participate in life-building programs operated by ER and our partners.

ER’s Dawn Carnill, Director of Christmas Outreach, shares a big vision for this November and December:

“This year we are planning 40 parties in Ecuador, South Africa, Philippines and possibly Nepal,” Dawn said. “By working with our partners in the field, we’ll host 5,000+ people, mostly kids and women. At least 50 volunteers will travel to these regions where they join forces with ER staff and nationals.

“The parties will reach people who are served through five ER programs and 17 partners. This year, we’ll add our newest program, Pathway For Hope, in Manila.”


Volunteers Discover Passion to Help Others

(Sept. 15, 2018)

Helping families in developing countries is only half of the story. Volunteers on our Christmas teams often find the experience so impactful that their lives are permanently altered. We asked some team members to share their personal journeys. 

Terri Ramos, Santa Maria, California

“I have been a part of four Christmas teams in South Africa, Ecuador and the Philippines. Each trip was completely unique. I’ve grown and stretched out of my comfort zone every time.

“I love seeing how ER supports its partners. Caring for people in the field is so important. My passion is to encourage and uplift those who serve people who are needy and hurting. That’s why I love serving with ER. They go into communities with a heart to serve, equip and build people up. I want to be a part of that!”


Evan Kleinhaus, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
“I have been on seven teams, all to Ecuador. I’ve learned the full extent of the poverty in Quito and the surrounding areas. Each time I return to Ecuador, I am humbled and become more thankful that I can help make a difference in another part of the world.”


Louise Carver, Bristol, United Kingdom

“I’ve been on 10 Christmas teams in ER’s three regions, as well as longer volunteer stints in Ecuador and Manila. I’ve been fascinated by the different partners ER works with, to see the diversity of support and learn how locally run partners use different approaches to support local needs.

“I love watching the children I work with grow up and I treasure the international friendships I have made at the Christmas parties.”


Christmas Celebrations Rock!

(December 15, 2017)

ER has been hosting Christmas Outreach Celebrations for 21 years. Hears a snapshot of our 2017 celebrations:

  • 40 parties
  • 4 countries
  • 4 teams of volunteers
  • 80+ volunteers and staff
  • 17 ER partners engaged
  • 5,000+ people reached

But those numbers don’t begin to describe the impact of these Christmas Outreaches. The real impact is what takes place in the hearts and minds of the people who attend and the volunteers who serve on our teams. All year long, ER staff and partners reach out of people living in harsh conditions in  squatter communities, refugee settlements, barrios or on the street. Most of the people we help are generationally poor.

In response, we offer nutrition, educational assistance, job and life-skill training. We run programs, help our partners with their programs, build homes, help feed hungry families and much more.

But the best thing we provide is hope for the future. We  encourage, affirm and love people where they are in their life journeys.

One of the best times to provide hope is during our Christmas Outreaches. We celebrate with entertainment, games, crafts, food, gifts, family photos and the Christmas story. For many who attend, these outreaches are the highlight event of their entire year. For some, these events are life-changing as they hear and respond to the Christmas story.

Thank you to all who volunteer or support these outreaches.



21 Years of Christmas Impact

By Dawn Carnill, Director of ER Christmas

During the past 21 years, Extreme Response International has celebrated Christmas with nearly 150,000 of the poorest of the poor. These celebrations have provided hope, built trust and been the catalyst for deep relationships. If you know ER, you know we believe it is through these relationships that true life-change takes place.

That’s what we’re about – changing lives – and it all started with that very first Christmas party in 1997.

Extreme Response was launched in the Quito Dump in Zámbiza. It developed when a group of expat friends living in Quito got together to reach out to the people living and working in the local garbage dump. To celebrate Christmas, these friends gathered their kids, some big pots of chicken and rice, more than 200 pairs of boots and shoes donated by HCJB World Radio missionary families, some make-shift carnival games and set up in the dump right in the middle of the trash piles. The dump families played the games and tug-of-war, made crafts, watched a puppet show and live entertainment and received raffled gifts. Everyone got a big plate of chicken and rice, bread, cookies and juice.

Miraculously, the food stretched from the 300 that had been planned for to the 500 that attended. Volunteers ended up running around the dump, picking up plates and cups to re-use, but the food never ran out.

The next year, our first group of volunteers from Grace Fellowship Church in Georgia came to help, a tradition that has continued with many churches and groups sending teams. The annual event has grown and changed over the years. In 2001 a second party at Remanso de Amor (Haven of Love) in South Quito was added. In 2003, donors provided funds for Christmas parties at Living Hope in South Africa. In 2004, our first team of volunteers traveled to Cape Town to help put on parties with Living Hope.

We also began providing funds for parties in other locations, including Honduras, Ivory Coast, Ghana, India, Nepal, Malawi, and Russia. In December 2006, we added six parties in Quito and another on the coast of Ecuador. In 2007, a team traveled to Manila, Philippines, to celebrate Christmas with partner Youth Mobilization. In 2008, our first Christmas team traveled to Nepal.

This year we celebrate our 21st anniversary of working in the Quito Dump. We continue to celebrate Christmas with our own programs and partners located around the world.

Our goal with these celebrations is the same – to bring hope to the hopeless and cultivate relationships, to help our partners reach out to those with whom they work and to celebrate the joy of Christmas with those who wouldn’t have the means to do it otherwise.

Thank you to those of you who have served with us on a Christmas team, those who have become Christmas team junkies, and those who have given so that we can celebrate with the thousands of people we touch. We can’t do this without you!


Christmas Outreach – A Family Experience

By Dawn Carnill, Director of ER Christmas

It’s that time of year again. Time to start shopping for gifts, thinking about decorations, school parties and Christmas vacation. Time to start making memories with your family.

We here at Extreme Response love celebrating with our families too. I love getting together my kids, parents and siblings. It makes the holidays even more special. I also love celebrating with our extended ER family – our programs, partners, staff and Christmas team members.

Carnills with Masi kidsFor the past 21 years, we’ve been celebrating Christmas with some of the poorest of the poor. We began with providing a celebration to the families that lived and worked in the Quito Dump. Over the years we’ve celebrated with more than 141,000 people. That’s a lot of parties and a lot of people. Most of those parties consist of 100-2,500 attendees. Some are for entire families, others are just for kids and a few are only for the adults.  The smallest party we put on is for one particular “family”. The African Hope Trust family.

African Hope Trust is an organization based in Masiphumelele, South Africa that operates “safe houses” taking in abused and abandoned children and fostering them in a safe and loving family environment.  Currently it consists of two houses.  Each one with a house “Mom” and six children. The houses are right next door to each other – so the mom’s can help each other out. A third house is nearly ready and they are currently looking for another house parent.

The African Hope Trust party is a bit different than our larger parties. From 2011-2016, the ER South African Christmas Teams took the kids to a local pizza restaurant with a big play area and a nearby petting zoo. We did crafts, painted faces and took instant photos.

Last year the restaurant happened to be closed, so we set up a mini carnival at The Team House, the guesthouse where our ER Christmas team stays. We had pizza, played carnival games, jumped rope, did some crafts and had a great time.

Each and every child received lots of individual attention. There were 12 kids and 24 team members. The house parents got a much-needed break and our team loved pouring into these precious kids that have been through so much. We were able to go above and beyond with their gifts – school backpacks filled with school supplies and lots of other fun things. We were able to talk together, play and laugh together, eat together and build relationships.

This year, as you get ready to celebrate with your family, please consider giving so that we can help our ER families, like African Hope Trust, celebrate too. $20 is all it takes to provide Christmas for one of the impoverished children we will reach with our celebrations in South Africa, Philippines and Ecuador.

We couldn’t do what we do without all of you. If you’re interested in serving on an ER Christmas team this year, contact us at for details.


It’s the Little Things that Matter

By Dawn CarnillDawn_Carnill
Director of Christmas Outreach

(The following story was originally published Nov. 7, 2014)

It’s almost that time of year again. The television commercials have already started and it’s time to break out the Christmas music (much to my family’s chagrin).

ER volunteers lead a Christmas Party in the South African informal settlement of Red Hill.

ER volunteers lead a Christmas Party in the South African informal settlement of Red Hill.

We at Extreme Response start planning for our Christmas parties in January, so we’re well on our way to another great year. We have almost 90 people signed up and ready to travel to Quito, Manila and Cape Town. We’re in the process of gathering thousands of small toys, hygiene items and school supplies. Emails are flying back and forth across the globe. There are parties to schedule, buses to rent, sleeping arrangements to make and food to order.

Yes, things get pretty crazy this time of year. My husband Jerry and I will be on the road for four weeks as we travel to the South Africa and Quito parties. It’s exhausting. It’s a bit overwhelming. Why do we keep doing this after 18 years? What difference can a little party with food, games, crafts and a “token” gift really make?

Last year was our fifth year leading the South Africa Christmas team. There we put on more than 15 parties in 10 days, sometimes as many as three per day. Our sixth party – and the second of that day – was in Red Hill, one of the communities that ER partner Living Hope works in.

Wood-and-aluminum shacks like these are typical of informal settlements like Red Hill.

Wood-and-aluminum shacks like these are typical of informal settlements like Red Hill.

The team was getting a bit tired. It had been “one of those days.” The gift bags didn’t make it with the rest of the supplies, the crafts were nowhere to be found, we had 200 hotdogs to cook over an open fire, the kids were wound up, and one of our team members had an accident and was taken to the hospital (he recovered!).

Needless to say, I felt a bit discouraged. But the party had gone well, all things considered. It was time to hand out the gift bags, so I grabbed my camera to get a few shots of the kids opening their gifts. It’s one of my favorite things to photograph. As I came around the corner, a girl, probably around 8 or 10 years old, ran up to me and opened her gift bag. She shouted, “Look! I got a Colgate! Of my very own.” She proudly showed me her full-sized tube of Colgate toothpaste and skipped on.

The young lady on the left was thrilled and appreciative to receive a tube of Colgate toothpaste as one of her Christmas gifts from ER.

The young lady on the left was thrilled and appreciative to receive a tube of Colgate toothpaste as one of her Christmas gifts from ER.

Wow. That much excitement – over a tube of toothpaste. No, she wasn’t being sarcastic. She was genuinely excited. She appreciated the gift. She appreciated the party. She appreciated our time and effort. She appreciated your generosity. She doesn’t take things like this for granted. Our being there and providing that party for her made a difference in her day (at the very least).

She had a reason to smile. A reason to skip. A reason to celebrate. She helped remind me that we do all this to bring a little hope, to build trust and to cultivate the relationships. That day, I realized that something as insignificant as a tube of toothpaste can make an impact.

Are we ready for another great year of parties? You bet we are!

We also collect gift items all year round. If you’d like a list of our needs, please contact me at

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