Adopted kids in Colorado remain connected to African culture
Montrose Daily Press
MONTROSE, Colorado (AP) ” Fundraisers, classmates and family funding helped Jenna and Stephen McGehee return to their birthplace: a small African village in Uganda near Tanzania. They didn’t make the trip empty handed. Jenna and Stephen, along with their parents Michael and Kimberley, brother Keegan, 13, and sister MaKenna, 11, brought money for food, shoes and a new playground.
Once a family of four, the McGehees decided to adopt Jenna, 8, and Stephen, 3, because they fell in love with their personalities when they met. Though their biological parents died from AIDS, the two children tested negative for the virus. Jenna and Stephen have adjusted well to life in Colorado, but Michael and Kimberley were determined to ensure the kids didn’t forget their roots.
“We’ve always wanted to keep the kids connected to their culture, so we knew we had to do something,” Michael said. The village in Uganda, where Jenna and Stephen were raised, is in the heart of a ghetto, covered in trash. Much of the population has been stricken by the AIDS virus and can hardly afford to eat meals regularly or clothe themselves. Despite the cost, the McGehees decided to raise money to help their children’s homeland and make the trip to Uganda as a family.
In December 2008, Kimberley decided to put her job skills as a Mary Kay jewelry representative to a good cause. After getting in touch with a few charities, including Peaceful Heart Uganda, she decided the best way to raise money would be using her jewelry sales skills by marketing necklaces made by women in the children’s village.
Several classmates and teachers at Johnson Elementary School in Montrose volunteered to help purchase and sell the jewelry. Those who couldn’t purchase full necklaces, bought individual beads to contribute.
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The teachers led the charge, raising $318 in first-, second- and fourth-grade classes. Parents and faculty then purchased $320 worth of crafts.
Oak Grove Elementary and Passage Charter school also helped, raising $341 and $184, respectively.
“I never dreamed the kids would be so dedicated to want to do something like this,” Kimberley said. “It was inspiring. We weren’t expecting that.”
The McGehees traveled to Uganda in January this year. The money Montrose schools raised helped provide a feast for people in the village, purchase 500 pairs of shoes and build a playground.
Seeing a different culture touched the McGehees.
“It made me more grateful for what I have here. We went there and saw people without shoes, without water, without a lot of small things,” MaKenna said. “It makes you feel really spoiled here.”
The trip was special for Jenna and Stephen, who were reunited with their grandmother and two uncles still living in the village.
Nine volunteers traveled with the McGehees, who brought back photos to show the participating classes the impact their fundraising made.
The classes were then inspired to organize another jewelry fundraiser for the people in Uganda. All proceeds will go to Peaceful Heart Uganda to help the villagers. The students will get a report back from the charity later this month showing the results.
The McGehees said they appreciate everyone’s efforts to help fund the trip for their two youngest family members, who could have had a completely different life.
“I knew we couldn’t save all of the children, but we found our two little starfish,” Kimberley said.
On the Net:
Peaceful Heart Uganda: http://peacefulheartuganda.org/