Two decades ago, Carolyn Cooper took a life-changing short-term mission trip to the Dominican Republic. While she was there, her heart went out to a starving eight-month-old baby named Lusitania. The child died soon after Cooper returned to her home in New Hampshire. But Cooper determined to do something to prevent such tragedies. She began sponsoring a child through Compassion International, a Colorado Springs-based ministry that tends to the physical, spiritual, social, and financial needs of children. Today, Cooper, 64, a widow with five grown children, sponsors three girls in the Dominican Republic: Miguelina and Pamela, both 10, and Ronely, 6. Cooper, who lives in the beach community of Rye, spends $96 each month on these commitments.

Last December, the AT&T office where Cooper had worked for 12 years said she would be laid off in February. A week before Christmas, Cooper sat down to figure out how to live on less. But she put her sponsored children before any other financial commitment, even her mortgage. Cooper knew it would be tight receiving only $350 a week in unemployment benefits, but she vowed to keep sponsoring the girls as long as they needed her.

Ten minutes after devising her new budget, Cooper walked to her mailbox and pulled out an envelope with a return address simply marked, "From a Christian friend." Inside she found a greeting card with the message, "Remember that Jesus loves you," along with five $20 bills. Delivered by the pastor of her nondenominational congregation on behalf of a parishioner, the card was without a signature.

"I took it as a sign that I did the right thing putting the girls first," says Cooper. On her refrigerator are photos of her holding the emaciated Lusitania in 1989. "When I ...

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