SANDESTIN — One Niceville High School student can add “published author” to her list of accomplishments, along with gaining 135 siblings along the way.
The 17-year-old’s journey began in 2013 with a woman called Mama Lupita and a pair of painted shoes.
Ally Woodard sat in her home in Sandestin late last month flipping through the pages of her self-published children’s book, “Mama Lupita’s Happy Orphanage.”
Although it begins with “Once upon a time … ,” Woodard’s book is not a fairy tale, but inspired by the orphanage Casa Hogar Elim in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
“Going to Casa Hogar really changed me as a person and the course of action my life was headed,” Woodard said. “I have just been really motivated to finding something I can do to help them. I think storytelling in any facet of life is very powerful. It would have been a crime to deprive people, especially children, of knowing Mama Lupita’s story.”
Woodard first visited the orphanage in 2013 while delivering hand-painted shoes through Art Miles Shoes of Hope. The only child now visits the orphanage twice a year to help Mama Lupita care for the children she refers to as her “siblings.”
The storybook is based off of the life of Mama Lupita, who founded Casa Hogar in 1989 at the age of 29. At the time, Mama Lupita had four biological children. She opened her home to four more children who had been abandoned and, according to Woodard, that’s how the orphanage was born.
Since then, Mama Lupita has cared for more than 3,000 children, Woodard said. The book describes the heroine’s struggles and triumphs, from trusting God to feed the children to the beauty of the children caring for the others with special needs.
“It’s just a special place for children,” Woodard said. “There are kids who come from all walks of life. There are some who have parents who just can’t take care of them and others whose parents have been killed by the drug wars. It’s a very diverse group.
“They all have one thing in common, though: They are so happy to be there. The reason why is because of Mama Lupita.”
The book’s illustrations was inspired by Woodard’s photographs of Casa Hogar Elim, the children and Mama Lupita. The back of the book holds the real photographs of the orphanage.
Woodard, who wrote the story in Spanish and English, plans to donate all book earnings to Mama Lupita and Casa Hogar Elim. It’s her dream for the storybook to eventually help support the orphanage.
“I love writing,” Woodard said. “I think being a published author is a lot of people’s dream, and it’s definitely my dream. But when I can be a published author while also helping people and helping my Mexican family, that makes it even more special.”
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