Elisa Lanera Foundation - ELF Helps Africa


"Alum sets sights on African townships" - The Bona Venture

At St. Bonaventure, the Franciscans instill in students the notion that helping others helps them. In Jaymie Lanera's case, it became her calling. 

In September 2009, Lanera, '06, started the Elisa Lanera Foundation (ELF), a non-profit organization that promotes education and awareness of HIV/AIDS in poor African townships.

"I walked through townships holding little kids' hands," she said. "They just reached for my heart, and I decided right then and there, after one week of being in South Africa, that I needed to devote my life to helping these people."

Lanera, a former French major, traveled to South Africa in May 2008 through a nursing scholarship, the International Scholarship Laureate Program, to help HIV/AID patients, which she had been involved in since high school.

"I didn't want to be a nurse or anything, but it was the only program I could do in South Africa," the Katonah, NY native said. "My whole life I had been working with HIV and AIDS … It's interesting, and I know South Africa has the biggest population for HIV and AIDS."

After returning to the states in July 2009, Lanera got her friend Kristin Collins involved. Lanera went to Ghana and Uganda this past year to do research and more work with those affected by HIV/AIDS.

"We would have phone conferences while I was over there, and then as soon as I got back we started up our office," Lanera said.

Lanera studied at the Institute of American Universities in Aix-en-Provence, France; the Umbria Institute in Perugia, Italy, and Somerville College of Oxford University during her time at Bonaventure. Post graduation, she attended La Sorbonne University of Paris and American University in D.C., according to ELF's Web site. 

The organization is named after Lanera's mother, who was killed by a drunk driver three days after Lanera's first birthday, according to the organization's Web site. 

Lanera credits her mother for her ability to travel.

"All the traveling and stuff I've been able to do has been because her passing away had left me some money to do things that otherwise I would have never been able to do," she said. "I didn't want to just spend it in vain or frivolously. Her whole life she was always helping people, so I decided to start a non-profit in her name."

Lanera's former professors at Bonaventure are not surprised she started a non-profit organization.

"I think that it's fantastic for her and I think it's fantastic for the people she's serving," said David DiMattio, dean of Clare College. "I'm not surprised. She definitely had worked for real progress and shown that she would definitely go somewhere."

Guy Imhoff, Lanera's former adviser and chair of the modern languages department, said Lanera is the type of person who wants to help others.

"She's the kind of person who wants to change the world," he said. "I guess people who decide to go work for the Peace Corps have that attitude toward the world and toward others where they want to do things for others first."

Lanera said her time at Bonaventure was the best time of her life. 

"I couldn't find a better set of friends or a better set of people anywhere else in my life," she said. "I tell that to everybody. Even places I go where I meet other Bonaventure alumni that I didn't know in school, everyone's so close and whatnot. Academically, I completely flourished."

Her freshman year, she attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey. 

"I had a really rough time my freshman year but I was at a different college," she said. "Then I got a second chance."

Imhoff remembers helping Lanera through her difficulties adjusting to student life at Bonaventure.

"I know we had a few talks together, and she changed her life, which means that it's possible to go through college and to change completely if you want to work at it," he said. "It was not always easy for her, but she's the type of person who fights for what she wants. She knew she had to change and improve, and she did. I'm very impressed by her."

While a student on campus, Lanera coordinated every Monday for the Warming House and played rugby. She was an active participant in study abroad programs, such as the Oxford and Italy programs.

"Every summer while I was at Bonaventure, I studied abroad," she said. "I did my spring semester junior year (in France), then that summer was the Oxford program, so I went straight from France to England. Then I decided I loved France so much that I went back to France after England and did my first semester senior year at the Institute of American Universities."

DiMattio, who organized the Italy trip, said he still remembers Lanera fondly.

"That's definitely what I recall the most about Jaymie was interacting with her for those six or seven weeks in Italy, especially in Italy itself," he said. "She's very intelligent, but she's a bit of a free spirit. I can still see her coming to class in her tie-dye T-shirts and her hair tied back."

Lanera credits the Bonaventure connection for her success thus far. Through the alumni directory, Lanera was able to find a fellow alum who designed the ELF logo. 

She had contacted friends who did graphic design, but she didn't hear back from anyone. The Web site and business cards had been completed, but she needed the logo before the foundation could go live.

"Finally, I'm like 'screw it.' I remember I had the Bonaventure alumni directory, so I looked up people who studied graphic design. There were only four of them, and two of them graduated in '66 and the other one in '71. I was like 'what kind of graphic design could they have? I don't even think they had computers then.'"

"There was another guy, Andrew Vines, and he graduated in '97 from Bona's," Lanera said. "Long story short, within three days of that e-mail, he responded with three different sketches for us to look at. He printed up our business cards, got them ordered and sent to us, and sent our logo to our Web site guy. All this within three days from this guy I didn't even know, but all because I was a Bonaventure alumni, he helped me out like I was his first priority." 

Lanera said her connection to Bonaventure would continue to help her with her organization.

"Because of the Bonaventure community I was a part of, I feel a lot more confident about a lot of the things I still need to do in order to succeed. I feel that there's a lot more people willing to help me just because I am part of a Bonaventure community."


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