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Hope Children’s Fund

Photos from Larry Hohler
Leg. Kara Hahn. Photo from Larry Hohler

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is a daily runner who has participated in many local races, but her effort on the Port Jefferson/Setauket Greenway on Saturday, Oct. 16 in the Annual Kenya/USA Bi-Continental race was special.  

For the last 17 years, Hope Children’s Fund, a local not-for-profit, has held a 5K fundraiser in support of the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home for AIDS-affected former street children in Meru, Kenya.  

Hahn came in first among the female competitors in this year’s event with a time of 28:52. The overall winner was Setauket resident Donald Dodge, with his time of 24:28.  

The Kenyan times were inconclusive, but in all of the competitions since 2005, the Kenyans have won 16 times.

Pixabay photo

Port Jefferson-based Hope Children’s Fund is holding it’s 17th Annual 5K Kenya/ USA Bi-Continental Walk/Run on Oct. 16, starting at 10 a.m.

This fundraising event is being held on the Port Jefferson end of the Port Jefferson Station/Setauket Greenway Trail. 

People in Kenya will be starting at the same time — only seven time zones away. 

Founded by Port Jefferson resident Larry Hohler and his Kenyan former student Joe Kirima, HCF was incorporated in 2005, in response to the AIDS-pandemic then raging in Kenya. 

Eighteen AIDS-affected preteens were taken off the streets in Meru when the orphanage first opened  in February  2005.  

Most of the original residents are now free- standing young adults, and 87 youngsters are coming up behind them. The money generated by this fundraiser helps to pay for their food, clothing, shelter and school fees.

Until now, the Kenyans won 16 of the 17 times that the competition has been held.

The entree fee is $30, but  larger donations are welcome. Participants can also compete virtually,  at a time and place of one’s choosing, between Oct. 16 and Oct. 23. 

For more information, call Larry Hohler at 631-473-1662, or check out their website hopechildrensfund.org.

Photo from Hope Children’s Fund

The board of directors of Hope Children’s Fund, in conjunction with the Rocky Point Rotary Club, recently announced the ordering of an Isuzu 25 passenger bus for the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Fund Orphanage in Meru, Kenya. 

The bus will provide safe transport for the 86 children of the home and is to be used for transportation to schools, medical appointments and food shopping. 

Photo from Hope Children’s Fund

The Isuzu bus is the culmination of the efforts of hundreds of donors. A GoFundMe initiated by Hope Children’s Fund board member Kyle Spillane raised thousands of dollars for the cause. 

In addition to the Rocky Point Rotary Club, several other clubs including Port Jefferson, Westhampton, Stony Brook, Riverhead, Patchogue and Ronkonkoma contributed to fund for the bus. All clubs are members of Rotary District 7255 led by District Governor Mary Ellen Ellwood.

On Sept. 21, at the People’s United Bank Wading River branch, a wiring ceremony took place where members of the board sent the money to the orphanage in Kenya. People’s United Bank is the official bank of Hope Children’s Fund, and has waived all wire fees on all transactions to the orphanage. 

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.

Relay Supports Local Charity Supporting Kenyan Children

The Setauket-based Hope Children’s Fund, a local charity that supports AIDs-affected  former “street children” at the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home in Meru, Kenya, found a novel way to continue their fundraising effort, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Every year since 2005, the Fund has hosted a Bi-Continental 5K Run/Walk to generate income for the Home. The group has been holding the event on the Port Jefferson Station to Setauket Greenway Trail on a weekend day at 10 a.m. since 2014. The Kenyans start their part of the competition at 4 p.m., seven time zones to the east of the U.S. 

Last Saturday, Oct. 24, the group held a much smaller event. A select group of competitors ran or walked over a 5K course on the Greenway Trail. Ryan Filippi, an Interact Club member at Port Jefferson Middle School, and his mother Deirdre Filippi, the Interact adviser, handed out water to participants, meeting them at the turn around point and directing the flow of the competitors.

Meanwhile, HCF has also employed the services of EliteFeats, a company that publicizes competitions that attract fitness enthusiasts, to run independently on any 5K course of their choosing on any day between now and Nov. 1, and donate the contributions to Hope Children’s Fund from those who pledged to support our effort.

The pandemic in Kenya has resulted in shortages of food and other necessities, and the income from the event will be used to help keep the Children’s Home afloat. 

“It was a good day for runners in both Port Jefferson Station, and the Kenyan highlands,” Larry Hohler, the president of HCF said. “We are waiting for the East African report on how much they beat us by.”

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.”

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High school senior Mattea Rabeno presents a donation of $365 to Larry Hohler of Hope Children’s Fund. Photo from PJSD

On Thursday, Jan. 23, Larry Hohler and Ed Hyshiver, Hope Children’s Fund board members, shared their efforts with members of the Port Jeff high school’s Interact Club to support AIDS-affected street children at the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home in Meru, Kenya. 

Port Jefferson high schools Interact Club joined with members of the Hope Children’s Fund for a presentation. Photo from PJSD

Opened in 2005 at the height of the AIDS pandemic in East Africa, the orphanage now cares for 89 young people. Half of that number attend primary school, which is free in Kenya, while others attend secondary schools or trade schools, and several attend Kenyan universities. 

Well over half of the income generated to support the home goes to pay tuition fees. A focus of the presentation was the story of Doreen Gatwiri, who was rescued from the streets in 2005 when the children’s home opened its doors. Abandoned by her mother, she was 9 years old and suffering from malnutrition. Rehabilitated at the home, Doreen excelled in her studies and years later was able to qualify for entrance into the premed program at Jomo Kenyatta University near Nairobi. Last September, Gatwiri received her medical degree and plans to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, a specialty very much needed in her country. Hyshiver told of his relationship with Kelvin Koome, a young man who was also taken off the streets when the home opened. He met Koome on a visit to Kenya in 2007, became his mentor, and helped to pay for his education. Koome now works in Meru as a physician’s assistant. 

The students hosted a movie screening at the elementary school and raised money for the fund. After the presentation, Interact Club Co-President Mattea Rabeno presented a check for $365 to Hohler. The donation will be used to pay the school fees of a child at Hope Children’s Home in Meru. 

“This is something that our club hopes to continue supporting in the future through various fundraising activities,” said club adviser Deirdre Filippi.

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.”