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Kyle Spillane with three students during one of his past trips to Kenya. Photo from Kyle Spillane

By Julianne Mosher

An initiative built a school for kids in Kenya, and now they need a way to get there.

Kyle Spillane, a graduate of Shoreham-Wading River High School and board member of the local nonprofit Hope Children’s Fund, recently set up a GoFundMe fundraiser online to buy a minibus to safely get Kenyan students to school.

“It has the potential to save lives,” he said. 

Incorporated in 2003, Hope Children’s Fund is a New York State licensed 501(c)(3) that provides for the physical and emotional needs of some of the most vulnerable AIDS-affected children who had been living on the streets of Meru, Kenya.

With the goal to provide food, clothing, shelter and medical care to enable children to be enrolled in local schools, the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home was built in 2005, taking in children that are HIV affected or who come from tragic backgrounds with families who can no longer care for them. 

According to Spillane, two of the group’s kids unfortunately — and tragically — lost their lives while walking home from school, due to the dangerous surrounding area. Their names were Glory and Michell.

“We wanted to fund a vehicle to transport our kids and doctors to and from the school,” he said. “We have never had a vehicle, and it’s been very costly for us to rent taxis and buses for them.”

Photo from Kyle Spillane

Over the years, the organization lacked a vehicle to transport the children to and from their regular activities of attending school, shopping for food and supplies for the home, and visiting medical providers. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, public transportation is no longer the safest option for the group’s immune-compromised children, who regularly travel to the doctor. 

Spillane said the GoFundMe, called A Vehicle for Hope, which was posted early last month has raised more than $4,600 to date. The total cost for a 16-seater minibus, from a Toyota dealership in Kenya, will cost $42,000. They have received a $10,000 grant from World Orphan Fund and received a partnership from an anonymous donor who has offered to match the first $5,000. 

“We just got over 50% of our goal,” he said.

The 26-year-old Shoreham resident found out about the Setauket-based organization through the Global Awareness Club at Shoreham-Wading River High School. Since becoming a part of it, he has been to Kenya four times, returning more recently in 2017 and 2019. 

“This is an organization I hold close to me,” he said. “They have really grown to be what I consider my family, and I wouldn’t still be interested if I didn’t believe in those children. The amount of growth I’ve seen them go through is amazing.”

Hope Children’s Fund is a completely volunteer-based nonprofit.

“The education is what they really want,” he said about the students. “It’s incredible — these students are coming from nothing and are becoming doctors. They are not taking anything for granted.”

Spillane is asking the community to donate and help keep these students safe. 

“This GoFundMe will support and provide protection to some of the brightest youth minds, who are also some of the most vulnerable AIDS-affected children in Meru, Kenya,” he said. 

To donate, visit the GoFundMe here.

A child supported by the Hope Children’s Fund gives a shoutout to his mentor. Photo from HCF
A child supported by the Hope Children’s Fund gives a shoutout to his mentor. Photo from HCF

The Setauket-based Hope Children’s Fund is asking residents to financially support young orphan children in Meru, Kenya through school in the fund’s mentorship program.

According to Aida Mann, a board member of the fund, the program participates with 97 orphans, though they currently have only around 45 mentors. These mentors donate $1 a day for a total of $365 a year. The money truly goes to support all the kids in the program, whether it’s to pay for their school tuition, books, shoes or uniforms. 

“If we had 96 mentors, and if they pay $365, a child, another child will write to them through email and they’ll send postcards,” Mann said. “We’re trying to set it up so that they know each other, they introduce each other.”

The orphanage itself is a unique one, established in an old church that includes a dining area and separate dormitories for boys and girls. 

The group has also started a program June 15 whereby people can donate $210, enough to help feed the entire orphanage for a week. The group has sponsors only up until Aug. 20, and every week the nonprofit shows pictures on its Facebook of the children thanking their supporters. 

Mann and her husband Kevin, of Middle Island, who is also a member of the Rocky Point Rotary Club, regularly take trips to Meru to visit the orphanage. Mann said they have sponsored a child since she was 9 years old. That child just celebrated her 25th birthday.

“Hopefully what we try to do is get people to maintain that child,” she said. “To have a mentor is so important to a child. These are orphans who don’t have anyone. We have a house mother and a house father, but you can’t give personal attention or affection, let’s say, to each child when you have that many.”

A mentor’s responsibility, she said, is to get in contact and then share that communication with them. Being orphans, many have no regular access to things like clothes. Schools in that part of Kenya also require a tuition to attend.

“It’s about sustaining them in everything — what we try to do is make sure first and foremost is education. Sometimes they just want someone to talk to, someone who cares whether they wake up in the morning or not.”