Sometimes the kids at the orphanage ask me: “Are we famous in America?” I smile and laugh. Tonight, as I look around this place, I can honestly say that for a few hours in Kansas City, Missouri – on this particular night – the children from St. Mary Kevin are indeed famous.
Welcome to the 6th annual Change the Truth Friendraiser Fundraiser. Thank you so much for coming. I see a lot of new faces tonight, which is wonderful! You may have come for the pizza and beer, but I do hope you’ll leave with just a small place in your heart for the kids at St. Mary Kevin Children’s Home.
Often we are asked: Why Africa? Why not help people right here in your own backyard? There is so much need. I did a quick survey of some of the people volunteering tonight. In Kansas City alone, they also give their time, energy and money to – and these are just a few! : Operation Breakthrough, Jewish Family Services Food Pantry, Bridging the Gap, Rose Brooks Shelter for Abused Women, Crittenton and Newborns in Need at Truman Medical Center. The world is getting to be a smaller place. I believe, if we are able, we all can and SHOULD reach out to help here AND a few oceans away. As human beings, we are all connected.
Tonight we celebrate the progress we have made, and acknowledge that there is more to do. As you will learn in the upcoming film by Lynne Melcher and Cara Myers, providing the children at St. Mary Kevin’s a shot at higher education is our main goal. I’m happy to report that CTT is now sponsoring 33 students, some in secondary school, some in vocational school and some at University level. We’ve come a long way from sponsoring just five students in 2007. Without exception, these kids are working hard and are grateful beyond measure for the assistance we provide them. We can feel really good about the young men and women they are becoming. They are lovely people, determined to succeed and make us proud, and they do not, for one moment, take our help for granted.
Besides education, CTT helps with food, medical care and various special projects like a huge new vegetable garden that was planted this year. And unbelievably, our social worker/liaison Melissa Mosher is going on her fourth year living at the orphanage. The daily love and support she provides the children is nothing short of miraculous.
You can see by the artwork that’s here tonight that the kids are making great strides. Not only in art, but in music, too. We’ve got many incredible marching band members, and some of our kids have started playing the violin. These children never cease to amaze me with their natural talent and their hard work – a winning combination. Once we give these kids wings, they really do fly. Purchasing a doll or painting tonite will allow us to continue sponsoring these beautiful children and will put us in a position to offer assistance to even more. Nothing would make me happier tonite then seeing all of this artwork find homes.
The most recent team to go to Uganda was Team 7. It was led by Jennifer Smith and Jeff Mildner. Among others, Dawn Taylor and her daughter Emily were part of the team. The group did some wonderful work while at the orphanage, including a project about HOPE. I’m happy to tell you we’ve got four more groups in the works. Three women from Tennessee are going over in May to teach photography and dance; a student from McGill University will be there for the month of July, four CTT friends from Portland, Oregon are going in September and Team 8 will go for the Christmas holiday. It looks as if Team 8 will be made up of adults and their teenagers. If you have an interest in being part of that, please let me know.
One of the adults who plans to return to SMK in December is Suzanne Garr. If she does indeed go, it will be her fourth team trip. Lucky for us, this woman decided back in 2010, she wanted to get involved with CTT. It didn’t take long to find out that she really meant it! She lives in Wisconsin and has assembled a strong network of support for us there. She comes up with creative ways to raise money, she tells everyone she meets about our kids, she sponsors a couple students, she led Team 6, she travels to KC for our fundraisers, she Skypes with the children on a regular basis and she writes more pen pal letters than anyone I’ve ever met. Suzanne, you are one of our greatest cheerleaders and strongest supporters. Thank you for all you do.
OK. The movie… it will take you directly to the grounds of the orphanage. You’ll see what St. Mary Kevin looks like, meet some of the kids and hear what it means to them that we care so much. I won’t keep you much longer, because I know you’d like to watch it. But I do want to touch briefly on a topic that’s been in the news recently and is possibly on your mind. The president of Uganda recently signed legislation that will make penalties for gays and lesbians much harsher than ever before.
It is true that children in Uganda, including ours, will be raised in an environment that is homophobic. They will be taught that being gay is wrong. That is nothing new, actually. Homosexuality has been illegal in Uganda – and in most other African countries – for years. But the new law makes outside exposure for the children that much more important. CTT provides the kids the opportunity to get to know people from different races, religions, backgrounds and lifestyles… stereotypes have, and will continue to be, shattered. Unfortunately, there is no follow-up test, no absolute indicator that minds have been changed… but the seed of celebrating differences has been planted. CTT advocates an environment of tolerance, respect and acceptance. When our young people mature into adults, they will have had a larger scope of life experiences, thanks to the work we’re doing. And so… we shall continue.
After the film, the young dancers and drummers from the Traditional Music Society will perform for us. They are regulars at our events, and we’re really happy to see them again this year.
I’d like to acknowledge those who came in from out of town to be here tonight: Therese McGuire from Chicago, Suzanne Garr and Libby Protz from Milwaukee, Holly Cobb from Topeka and my good friend and CTT board member Carol Joseph from New York.
To everyone here: Your friendship and support means more than I can really say. Together we are helping children blossom – children who face incredible odds. So, thank you for caring for them. If they could be here tonight, you would each get at least a million hugs. We always have a love fest when we’re in Uganda, and I can’t wait to tell the kids that we had a love fest here tonight in their honor.