From Litchfield County to Ghana, With Love
Being home to one-quarter of the earth’s prison population, producing one-quarter of the earth’s carbon emissions, having a $14.4 trillion national debt, consuming 20 million barrels of oil per day, tolerating health care costs that are one-sixth the gross domestic product, seeing nearly one in 10 unemployed, and harboring inequitable marriage laws—these are some things many observers list as being wrong with America.
But the Elisa Lanera Foundation—that’s one thing right with America.
Two ambitious and philanthropic young ladies, Jaymie Lanera and Kristin Collins, natives of Westchester County, N.Y., and New Milford, respectively, founded this nonprofit organization with the intention of establishing better learning environments and living conditions in poor African villages.
Getting It Done
They didn’t donate money to the United Way. They don’t stroll a couple miles in an annual benefit walk. Instead, Ms. Lanera and Ms. Collins created their own nonprofit agency, organized numerous stateside fund-raisers (including a polar bear plunge) to help reach their ultimate goal, and this year made their first outreach trip to one of the planet’s poorest regions.
All of it is designed to give African children a little bit of what has always been so immediately accessible to New York City suburbanites—school grounds with adequate facilities.
“It’s all very rewarding,” said Ms. Collins, who spent two months in Ghana during the brutal winter that was sub-Saharan Africa’s brutal summer. “My life has now definitely changed for the better, and it makes me more driven and motivated.”
She and her partner have discovered purpose and meaning through their philanthropy, and they’re not even 30. While generational peers such as Snooki and J-Woww travel the New Jersey boardwalk in an alcohol-fueled mission to ostensibly denigrate their entire generation, Ms. Lanera and Ms. Collins travel the planet in a mission to bolster humanity.
But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect is that they’ve established a sustainable enterprise that continues its social outreach to such foreign places as Ghana and soon South Africa.
Under the Elisa Lanera Foundation’s ELF Helps Africa initiative, Ms. Lanera and Ms. Collins earlier this year arrived in a dusty, sweltering and impoverished section of Ghana to build a Library Learning Center at a pre-existing school for adolescents. That’s what they raised money for, that’s what they bargained for.
What they didn’t bargain for was that they would be practically running the place while they were there. “We ended up teaching and taking over all the classes,” said Ms. Collins. The school they showed up to expand had no full-time teachers. The kids were there, but largely because it was a place for them to gather and play.
The initial plan was to bring together the pieces and workers to create a venue for students to access and utilize the computers and books sitting idle in storage; it just altered got a bit. The students at the Kiddy Kare Preparatory School needed help, and that’s why they were there.
“These kids have nothing. They were playing in the dirt with a stick and an empty can and having the time of their lives,” noted Ms. Collins. “It was such an eye-opening experience.”
Plus, the ladies got the Library Learning Center built. They hired the mason, the electrician, approved the materials, and made sure everything stayed on course.
It’s quite an accomplishment, but the Elena Lanera Foundation (named after Ms. Lanera’s mother, killed by a drunk driver when Ms. Lanera was a baby) would have never made the impact had Ms. Lanera not been chosen to serve as an international delegate for a Nursing Scholarship program in South Africa in 2008.
Upon her return to the U.S., she regaled Ms. Collins, who currently works part-time at The White Horse country pub in Marbledale, with her tale of hope and change. With that, Ms. Collins was on board.
“This whole experience she wanted to be part of,” said Ms. Lanera. “There’s nobody I trust more; she’s the godmother of my son.”
Their next mission is to South Africa. To learn more, visit the Web site at http://www.elfhelpsafrica.org/
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