By JOANN JONES
Special to The Vindicator
Nine-year-old Zenobia Hilson of Youngstown has a mission in the true sense of the word. Zenobia, nicknamed “Zoey,” wants to help poor children in Africa, and she plans to raise enough money to go there to do just that.
“One day we were at school,” Zoey said, “and they were showing us a video of people in Africa. I saw how poor everyone was — they had nothing, just plastic shoes and barely any clothing on.”
“I felt bad for the babies and children,” she said sadly.
“Our class was doing something to raise money,” she said, “and I thought of doing something with my mom and grandmas. Both of my grandmas are missionaries, and they go wherever they are needed.”
One of her grandmothers lives in Ohio, and the other, in Georgia, explained Zoey’s father, Chauncey Hilson. Zoey has learned about missionary work from both of them as well as from her parents, the teachers and tutors at Youngstown Christian School, and her church, Victory Christian in Coitsville.
“I’d like to be able to give the children toys and shoes, and help them if they’re sick,” Zoey said. “I’ll do more things, too, but I just don’t know what yet.”
To accomplish her mission, Zoey has established “Zoey’s Baby-sitting and Learning Service,” which she advertises on a flier that claims, “It’s Gonna Be Fun.”
Zoey helps and interacts with six children while their mothers are busy cooking dinner or cleaning.
“I baby-sit from 5 to 7 p.m. by appointment only, about four times a week as needed,” Zoey said, “because I have to study, too. I get paid $3.75 an hour.”
Zoey explained that she gives her fliers out to family and friends, while her father emphasized that she limits her fliers to people at church for safety reasons.
What does Zoey do while at work?
“The children color and play a matching card game that I made,” she said.
“I also read to them,” she added, holding up her favorite reading book, “Hugless Douglas,” by David Melling. She also reads Dr. Seuss books to the children she cares for.
Zoey said she even gives the children little toys if they’re good. Zoey keeps everything, including the toys, in a little case that she uses for her business.
One of the children she takes care of is her nephew Zion, 1, the child of her 25-year-old sister, Chasity. Chasity is one of Zoey’s nine older siblings in their blended family. Four of her siblings are still living at home with her and her parents.
“Zoey is in the financial preparation stage,” her father explained about her trip. “When the opportunity presents itself, she’ll be able to go.”
“She literally saves every bit of money she gets,” her mother added. “She’s really dedicated to this trip. I know families who have taken their children to Africa. Members of our church are going to Kenya in the fall of 2014.”
One of the staff members at Youngstown Christian School went to Africa and took a letter that Zoey had written to a child there. Zoey said she taped a little piece of candy to it.
Zoey, who has earned a little more than $100 for her trip through her Baby-sitting and Learning Service, has many other interests at school and at church. At school she is active in the Language Club, where she is being introduced to Spanish, French and Chinese.
“We’re learning some different songs and the colors in Spanish now,” the third-grader said.
Zoey also cheers for football and basketball at school while her mom coaches the cheer squad. Zoey added she was previously involved in karate, baseball and gymnastics.
On Wednesdays after school, she goes to Girls Ministry at her church.
“We learn about God,” she said. “We have fun, play games and have snacks.”
But they also do a lot of work, according to Zoey’s mother.
“They earn badges, as Girl Scouts do,” Cynthia Hilson said. “Right now she’s working on a cooking badge. She does paperwork as a mini-lesson, too.”
Even with everything she does, Zoey still finds time to spend with her friends, sometimes in the clubhouse that her father built in her bedroom. Climbing a ladder to the top of the clubhouse, Zoey reveals that her bed is on the top of it. Inside the clubhouse are chairs, dolls and a small TV. On the wall near the clubhouse is the word FAITH in all capital letters.
Zoey, who memorizes and writes a Bible verse weekly on the back of her spelling test, said she would like to be a teacher for autistic children or a missionary someday.
“I have an autistic friend,” she said, “and he is so nice.”
But for now she continues to live according to her favorite Bible verse, Matthew 22:39.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Zoey said with a smile.