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Orphans

Artifacts were sold to help raise money for the children in the orphanage at the Hope Children Fund’s 10th anniversary celebration at the Heritage Trust Center in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

With the help of Hope Children’s Fund, the children of Joseph Kirima Rwito’s orphanage in Meru, Kenya, have never had to wonder where they were getting their next meal or resting their head in the last 10 years.

On Saturday, the Hope Children’s Fund board of directors celebrated the 10th anniversary of its involvement in Rwito’s orphanage at the Heritage Trust Center in Mount Sinai. The orphanage, called The Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home, provides food, shelter and education for orphaned Kenyan children and those who are struggling to get by despite living with relatives. For these children, education is key to a brighter future, and Larry Hohler, president of Hope Children’s Fund, and his team, are doing what they can to help.

In addition to celebrating another year, the organization aimed to raise enough money to help these kids go to high school, or other higher educational institutions. The Hope Children’s Fund got involved with the orphanage after Rwito saw countless children on the streets.

In the early 2000s, the AIDS epidemic in Kenya left many children without parents or relatives to care for them. According to Hohler, of Port Jefferson, Rwito took 45 of these children and started a feeding program, but after seeing the children return to their life of poverty, Rwito wanted to do more.

Larry Hohler interacts with children in Meru, Kenya. File photo
Larry Hohler interacts with children in Meru, Kenya. File photo

He asked Hohler to help create the orphanage, and now, upwards of 80 children of various ages reside at, or go to the orphanage. Hohler said the orphanage is so successful that Kenyan authorities and other community members bring kids in need there. While part of the goal is to help these children, Hohler said funding additional children isn’t easy.

“The problem is that they just leave them here, and they don’t help us pay for the upkeep,” Hohler said.

Despite this, the organization and the orphanage received help from Shoreham-Wading River High School students in the past. According to Hohler, they donated countless books to the orphanage for the kids to read and enjoy.

Hope Children’s Fund board of directors member Nancy Rose said the high school students used to visit the orphanage, but stopped. Rose was unsure why they stopped visiting, but said some kids stay in touch with the children they met at the orphanage.

Funding doesn’t just help feed the kids, it helps send them to school. Once the children reach eighth grade, they must take a test to determine if they can move up to high school. Those who fail the test must retake it to advance. While paying to get into high school is another alternative, the majority of these children do not have the finances to afford high school. It’s up to the orphanage and the Hope Children’s Fund to provide that funding once the child passes the test.

According to Rose, who is a mentor to several of the children, the institute hoped to raise $7,000 to $8,000 to help the kids who are preparing to take the exam. Although Rose is unsure if the organization will reach its goal, it still aims to do what it can.

“If they study hard and they pass the test, you just don’t want to tell them ‘I’m sorry, you can’t go, because we can’t come up with the money,’” Rose said.

Rose and her husband, Phil, started helping the children in the orphanage 10 years ago, and found out about the Hope Children’s Fund through their daughter. According to Phil Rose, those who mentor children at the orphanage are responsible for paying one dollar daily, which goes toward the children they mentor. The money raised during Saturday’s event also went toward funding the children’s education.

Those who didn’t want to purchase merchandise at the event could make a donation or use iGift to help the children in Rwito’s orphanage. iGift allows people to purchase goods from participating stores and donate at the same time. A small percentage of the money from that purchase goes toward helping the orphanage.

“I know a lot of people say there’s a lot of children in our country, but this is a good effort and a lot of people spent a lot of time to make it work,” Phil Rose said.

His wife added that, in addition to taking these kids off the street and providing them with a better chance to succeed in their lives, the organization’s goal is for the orphanage to be self-sustainable over time.

“When they do finish with school, they’re expected to come back and give a certain percentage of what they earned to the home itself so that the next kid can go [to school],” Nancy Rose said. “The whole idea is not about a bunch of American do-gooders coming in. It’s about helping them be sustainable and giving them an education, and celebrating their own country and their traditions.”

From left, Aaron Dalla Villa, Sean King and Jay William Thomas in a scene from ‘Orphans.’ Photo by Jacob Hollander

By Charles J. Morgan

The three-person drama “Orphans” officially opened at the Conklin Barn in Huntington last week kicking off a 12-performance run.

It is no wonder that stars like Alec Baldwin, William Devane and Ned Beatty have played a part in the past on Broadway in this powerful, dynamic effort. Playwright Lyle Kessler has written an interlocking, emotion-laden, compelling drama about two orphaned brothers living in North Philly; one, Treat, a slick domineering “Mack the Knife” type played to the hilt by Aaron Dalla Villa; the other, Philip, a mentally challenged younger brother who manages to maintain a tenuous grip on reality, handled skillfully and deftly by Jay William Thomas. Treat is convinced that his criminal lifestyle is morally acceptable since it is all for the benefit of his meek, needy and obedient brother.

Both actors discharged their characterizations brilliantly. Kessler has painted the emotional dynamism here with the precision of Seurat’s pointillism, perhaps with an admixture of Van Gogh’s intensity. Dalla Villa and Thomas display this with character intensity, revealing each to be skillful actors with an explosive stage presence and role interpretation of the highest magnitude.

Then on to the 18-inch-high stage platform of the Conklin Barn enters Sean King as Harold. He is drunk and has been kidnapped by Treat who discovers that Harold has a load of stocks, bonds and cash in his briefcase as well as on his person. Treat ropes him to a chair and, foolishly, leaves Philip in charge of him as he goes out to make outlandish “ransom” demands.

The great dramatic change comes when Harold frees himself and becomes the salient character. Was he a mob boss? A crooked businessman? Actually, he provides intellectual and emotional help to Philip, putting him on the road to extra-mental reality.

Treat is enraged on returning, but Harold mollifies him with a promise of a job as his bodyguard at an enormous salary. At this juncture the audience is beginning to realize that King’s portrayal of Harold is something larger than life. Harold is “The Other.” He dispenses moral and ethical advice that begins to give some concrete meaning to the lives and actions of Treat and Philip. King’s consistent playing of this role is startlingly understated, which gives it far more impact than if there had been added bombast — a temptation to a lesser skilled actor.

The final scene in this two-act production occurs in a very heart-rending denouement redolent of a Renaissance triptych.

Direction was by the multitalented Jim Bonney. Any director confronted by a fast moving three-actor property has issues with blocking. Bonney overcame this problem with the fastest-paced blocking your scribe has seen in a long time. He used karate, a fist fight, wrestling and logical positioning that was keenly correct. Bonney’s skills were challenged, but he showed his directorial métier so admirably that he came up with a tightly controlled, expressive result.

Is there a philosophy in “Orphans”? Yes. But it is not a transcendent one … more of a purely human one. Yet the humanity of Harold is so overwhelming, despite his lifestyle that it penetrates the façade of “goodness” between the brothers. It is tragedy, yet its human dimension provides an element of hope. Keep in mind that Renaissance triptych.

Bonney/King Productions will present “Orphans” at the Conklin Barn, 2 High St., Huntington, through Sept. 5. Meet the playwright Lyle Kessler and join him for a Q-and-A after Sept. 4th’s performance. Tickets are $25. For more information, call 631-484-7335 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.

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