Shenandoah Spotlight on Lauren Pichon & Kendra Yoder


Lauren Pichon &
Kendra Yoder


Lauren Pichon

Lauren Pichon, photo provided.

Kendra Yoder

Kendra Yoder, photo provided.

Back in the spring of 2016, James Madison University graduate and ESL teacher Lauren Pichon was proctoring a Virginia Studies SOL test at Stone Spring Elementary School when she started writing a children’s book loosely based on the real-life experiences of her third grade Iraqi newcomer students. Lauren hadn’t found many books showing what her students had endured, so she tried in her story to show the struggles refugee children are facing as they flee their home countries, wait in camps for another country to accept them, and then adjust to the new language, culture, customs, and opportunities they find in the new community where they settle.

Lauren knew her artist friend Kendra Yoder shared her interest in Harrisonburg’s refugee population, so she invited Kendra to use her skill in watercolor painting to illustrate Lauren’s story. Together, they published “Messages From Maryam” later in 2016. Available at, this heartwarming fictional story is appropriate for upper elementary readers.

Lauren and Kendra, both members of Eastside Church in Harrisonburg, had become friends as they met at 7 a.m. each Wednesday morning at Shenandoah Joe to discuss their Bible readings. They also both worked with many immigrant children as they volunteered at a kids club. They built relationships with the children and other volunteers as they led craft activities, taught bible stories, led games both inside and outside, and enjoyed snacks with them.

Messages From MaryamA graduate of Eastern Mennonite University, Kendra majored in English with minors in writing and art. She is continuing her studies at JMU, and will earn licensure in art education next spring. She hopes to teach art in an elementary school, and would love to illustrate more children’s books and possibly write. For the past two summers, she has helped children explore their creativity with a variety of media at Larkin Arts summer camps.

This fall, Lauren will be transitioning from her role as an ESL teacher over to a new position as a second grade teacher.
Lauren and Kendra will be signing and selling “Messages from Maryam” at the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale September 29 and 30. They’ll be reading their book to children and possibly leading children in a craft activity. All profits from their book sales that weekend will be donated to the Mennonite Central Committee Relief Fund to help people in crisis all over the world.

LAUREE STROUD PURCELL is an editorial consultant and writer for Living.

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