- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) - After a successful single show, Jeremy Willet of Westminster was recently invited to travel with Donny and Marie Osmond as part of their Christmas tour.

Willet, a member of the Christian rock band Willet, serves as a child sponsorship advocate for the nonprofit ChildFund, promoting the organization and its sponsorship opportunities for children in poverty. In the past, he has spent time overseas working with communities in Haiti, Ethiopia and Mozambique, supporting the end of childhood poverty worldwide. Because of his work in the field, he said he was contacted by ChildFund to join Donny and Marie for the Washington stop of their current tour.

“They were having difficulty kind of expressing that the children were real and the needs were real and how exactly the program works,” Willet said. “The director of the artists’ program knew I was on the East Coast, so he gave me a call early one morning and asked if I was available that weekend to come down and share from the stage about child sponsorships and my experiences overseas.”

Willet said after that first night, they were able to raise more than double the amount of sponsorships that the tour had seen on any previous night. After the success, Willet said he was invited to join Donny and Marie for the rest of their tour. He traveled with the pair to Toronto, Canada, for two weeks, before a show in Connecticut and a brief Christmas break ahead of rounding out the tour with final dates in Connecticut until the new year.

“Typically when I’m on tour, I’m in the Christian market, so I’m touring a lot of churches, and when I’m speaking or playing, typically those venues hold about 400 to 500 people,” Willet said. “These venues we’re at now are 1,200 to 2,000 seat theaters, and a lot of those shows are sold out. There’s a mainstream exposure, since they’ve been on TV.”

According to Betsy Edwards, director of marketing communications with ChildFund, the organization sponsors support in 30 countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas. It offers everything from health and nutrition food programs to educational programs, clean water access, access to medicine and more.

“They do a lot of work with education, because education is what helps break the cycle of poverty which is generally passed down from generation to generation,” Willet said. “So, when ChildFund goes into a community, they’re actually hoping that in 15 to 20 years, they can pull out of the community and they can be self-sustaining.”

The organization works with local partners in each of the countries to direct the aid to where it is needed the most.

“We have 1,500 staff around the world, so we don’t actually administer most of the programs ourselves,” Edwards said. “The local partners know the culture; they know the community; they know the needs. So, not only do we provide aid to them, we help them build the capability to take off on their own later.”

Willet said though there’s not many chances for downtime, he did have the chance to celebrate Donny’s birthday, Dec. 9, with the two stars.

“His son’s name is Jeremy, so we have that in common,” Willet said. “It’s not a lot of time, but they’ve invited ChildFund on the tour, so they believe in what we’re doing. So, it’s nice to connect their vision, which is to help children in poverty, with the audience - which is my role to connect the dots.”

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Information from: Carroll County Times of Westminster, Md., https://www.carrollcounty.com/

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