PJ residents area students describe life-altering engagement.
By Jennifer Choi
The Port Times Record
March 25, 2010
While many students enjoyed sleeping in and spending time with friends during mid-winter recess, four teens from Shoreham-Wading River High School traveled to Kenya on behalf of the Hope Children’s Fund.
Established in 2002 to help rescue AIDS affected and displaced children in Africa, the Port Jefferson based nonprofit hosted its fifth trip to Meru, Kenya, from Feb. 12 to 27. Joined by the organization’s Co-President Larry Hohler and SWR High School teacher Kevin Mann, the student volunteers paid their own way to visit the Hope Children’s Home, a two-story orphanage built in 2005, and personally deliver some of the books collected during a year long project a ship 1,400 boxes of books and school supplies to Africa.
SWR High School junior Meghan Spillane, who first traveled to Kenya in 2009, said it was “inspiring” to return to the orphanages this year and witness the growth in the children.
“I had no idea it would be even more amazing than the first trip,” Spillane said, noting it’s “mind-blowing” to witness how different life is in Africa.
Spillane, 16, said she and a fellow student, senior Natalie Pagano, also served as bridesmaids in the wedding of Kenyan filmmaker Patrick Muthuri Murithi. While that was an exciting experience in it self, Spillane said the emotional connection she built with the children at the orphanage was the highlight of her trip. “I can’t even describe the way you look at things when you come home,” she said. “Every perception of the world is completely altered.”
Pagano, 18, who also traveled to Kenya for the second time this year, said she was able to “embrace” the experience more this time around because she truly understood what a difference she was making in the children’s lives. “I just realized how good of a place the orphanage is in such an impoverished country,” she said.
Joining the retuning Hope Children’s Fund volunteers were first-time travelers Samantha Lacovara, 15, and Kyle Reinhardt, 17, Lacovara, a sophomore, said the children in Keynya “definitely have more imagination” because they don’t have the toys or supplies that are available to children here. “A lot of what I saw is beyond words,” she said. “I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience this. It fills a void that you don’t even know you had. I definitely came back a totally different person.”
Reinhardt, a junior, described his trip to Kenya as “breathtaking and eye-opening,” and said, “it was by far the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. “Explaining he developed a strong connection with the children at the orphanage, Reinhardt added, “There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be there next year.”
In addition to the student volunteers, five Port Jefferson residents who serve as mentors to the orphans at Hope Children’s Home traveled to Kenya last month. Ed Hyshiver, who is also a Hope Children’s Fund board member, said he began mentoring 15-year-old Kelvin Koome about two years ago. Mentors provide a minimum contribution of $1 a day and correspond with the children through letters, according to Hyshiver. “It really gives you back more than what you give them,” he said. “You just feel really rewarded.”
Pat Slavinski, who began mentoring 14-year-old Fridah Kirimi about three years agao, said her first trip to Kenya was a “wonderful” and “moving” experience. “I’m so glad that I did it,” said Slavinski, a life long Port Jefferson resident. “It was very fulfilling to see the children in the home and the work that’s being done with them.”
To continue to support the orphanage, members of Hope Children’s Fund have scheduled fundraisers including a March 28 viewing of a documentary titled “children of Kenya” at the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or by calling 1-800-838-3006. a “Kids Helping Kids” benefit concert will also take place on April 11 from 3:30 to 5:30 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stony Brook, followed by the sixth annual Bi-Continental Cross country 5K Run/Walk starting at 9 am April 25 at the SWR High School.
For information, email Kevin Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.hopechildrensfund.org.