Submitted by John Carricato
Jan 15, 2023
The Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Fund Home and Orphanage
I met Kevin Mann through a mutual friend, Bill Johnson. Bill is the editor and publisher of the Spring Lake Community News, an independent newsletter publication, mailed to residents in the Birchwood at Spring Lake community in Middle Island. When Our Community Newsletter was getting started, Bill introduced me to Kevin. “John, I’ve got a contributor who might be willing to submit an article or two for your newsletter. He does some great articles on local history.”Kevin submitted his first article in September, History Happens Here, Middle Island, Once and Entertainment Hot Spot. Last month Kevin offered, Gordon Heights: A Community with a History of Overcoming Obstacles. Both articles gave a glimpse into the rich history of our Middle Island hamlet, and its surrounding area. I wanted to get to know Kevin a bit more, to continue our relationship related to the newsletter. Little did I know at the time, there was more to Kevin than his interesting newsletter articles about Middle Island history.After receiving many positive comments about his Gordon Heights article, I asked Kevin about a project I had learned he was working on as with the Rocky Point Rotary Club, The Corridor of Peace. Kevin is currently President of the Rotary. He told me the project was moving slowly and that he was taking some time off from writing articles. Kevin wrote, “I have taken a pause from local history articles for a bit. Too many other fires to tend to. Our orphanage is requiring more and more of my time recently. We have our major Gala in March, so I am busy with that enormous project.”.Kevin had been sending me info on an organization called the Hope Children’s Fun (HCF). Honestly, I hadn’t been paying much attention. I replied to Kevin, “How about I do an article about you and your work with the Hope Children’s Fund?”He said, “An article on Hope Children’s Fund would be most welcome.”This time I figured I should open the URL and see what Hope Children’s Fund (HCF) was all about. As I started reading and doing further research, my interest was piqued.
Last month I sat with Kevin and his wife, Aida, for a few hours. Kevin, HCF’s current President, and Aida are retired. They’ve dedicated much of their retirement to the HCF and its orphanage, the Jerusha Mwiraria Home, in Meru Kenya.
Kevin is a Long Islander. He graduated from Hicksville High School. Class of 1970. In 1974 he began teaching at Shoreham Wading River High School, teaching Asian and African studies. In 1974, if I had to guess, he had no idea he’d spend his entire teaching career at SWR High School. In 2014 Kevin retired with forty one (41) years of teaching that touched hundreds of children from Shoreham-Wading River and Kenya, Africa.Kevin is one of the original founders of Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Fund Home and Orphanage. He co-founded the organization with a former Smithtown High School Afro-Asian cultures social studies teacher, Larry Hohler, in 2001. Larry served as HCF president until his death this past April. Kevin met Larry in the early 90’s while both were volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. While the two were very different men in personality, they shared two things in common: cultural studies and helping orphans. Kevin likens their relationship to the relationship between Keith Richards (Larry) and Mick Jagger (Kevin).
In 2000 Larry was inspired by a Kenyan primary school teacher, Joseph Kirma, to raise money to support an orphanage in Meru Kenya. Larry met Joseph in the 1970’s while traveling Africa with his wife, Yvette. Joseph was 18 at the time. Over the years the Hohler’s and Joseph kept in touch and their friendship grew. The Hohler’s paid for Joseph’s education. He became a Kenyan school teacher and eventually President of the Meru branch of the Kenya National Union of Teachers. In the late 1990’s Economic issues, terrorism and AIDS were creating a situation, leaving many of Kenya’s children orphaned and exploited. Joseph reached out to the Hohler’s with the idea of creating an organization that would help the orphaned children of Meru. Joseph came to Long Island, to help Larry promote the project and raise money. Larry brought Joseph to meet Kevin and pitched the idea. Kevin was sold on the project. In 2001 Larry registered the Hope Children’s Fund as a nonprofit tax-exempt charity. Together Kevin, Larry and Joseph raised $40,000 through donations on Long Island and Kenya. This was enough money to start construction on an orphanage. The orphanage opened in 2005, taking 18 children off the streets. Seventeen years later one is a doctor, one is a pharmacist and another a salesman. The orphanage currently cares for close to 90 children.
Over the years Kevin and his wife, Aida, have made the 16-hour flight to Kenya. After landing in Nairobi, they endured a rough bus ride from Nairobi to Meru, finally arriving at the orphanage 6 hours later. SWR high school students in Kevin’s Global Awareness Club often made the trip with the Mann’s. Students who made the trip were required to raise their own money for travel. Only two suitcases were allowed. One packed with clothes and the other with donations for the orphanage. Shoreham
Wading River students have donated many books to the orphanage. Other donations have included over the counter medical supplies, refurbished laptops and a microscope. The student’s second suitcase would not return empty. They would pack the suitcases with crafts made in Meru, to be sold in the States to raise money for the orphanage. Visiting the orphanage has been life changing for many of the students who took the trip with the Mann’s. When the students would first arrive, the children would come running out to greet their guests. The orphans and visiting students immediately bonded. The visiting students learned about hardships the orphans had to endure by getting to know the orphans through talking, playing, and singing. As a result consequently the visiting students began to recognize the many things a typical Long Island teenager takes for granted.
One of Kevin’s former students, Kyle Spillane, is on the HCF’s Board of Directors. Kevin and Aida’s daughter, Tiffany, also serves on the HCF board. Kyle’s mom, Laura, is Vice President. Kyle and another Shoreham Wading River alumni, Avery Friedman traveled to the orphanage in 2016, when both were 22, to build bed frames for the orphans. During prior trips both young men had seen three to four children sharing dirty and mangled beds. After seeing those conditions, Kyle and Avery raised the money for the bed frames, new mattresses, and pillows through donations.More recently the HCF raised thousands of dollars to purchase an Isuzu 25 passenger mini bus for the orphanage. To save money on Kenyan import taxes applied to transport vehicles, bus parts were shipped to Kenya and the bus was assembled there. This bus has changed the lives of the children. The bus was dearly needed to provide children safe transportation to and from school, medical appointments and to go food shopping. Before having the bus HCF had to rent taxis and hire local transportation or walk. Two of the orphanage's children lost their lives while walking to school on a dangerous road. The mini bus became operational in December 2021.
In addition to providing children room, board, and medical attention the HCF sends them to school. All orphans are required to attend primary school (grades 1- 8,) even though it’s not compulsory in Kenya. There is no cost to attend primary school. Children at the home are encouraged to attend secondary (grades 8-11) and tertiary (college) schooling.
Before leaving primary school, children test to determine which secondary school they can attend. Those who test best are accepted to attend more challenging schools. For the students who test well, this can cost money. The orphanage raises the money to send deserving children to the most challenging secondary schools, preparing them to test again for either college, vocational, or post-secondary school. Again, the orphanage will pay for a child to attend these higher educational paths. The orphanage’s goal is to raise all the money required to meet the educational needs of all the children who want an education. No one left behind. After the children graduate from their schooling, they are expected to come back to the orphanage, to give back a percentage of what they earn to the home. This ensures that the next generation of children can go to school. The HCF motto has become education is key.
Kevin and Aida Mann continue to raise money for scholarships for the orphans. Their cars are proudly parked in their driveway, because their two-car garage is filled with Kenyan crafts made by the Meru Woman’s Collective, an organization in Meru that makes and sells jewelry and crafts at market. The crafts are sold in the States too.
The collective was started with HCF seed money. The idea was for the Meru woman to use the money to purchase local supplies to make their jewelry and crafts. A percentage of the profits from sales goes to the HCF to support the orphanage and scholarships. Through collaborative ventures like this it’s the Mann’s goal that the orphanage can one day be self-sustaining. The Hope Children’s fund is a 100% volunteer organization with no U.S. offices, employees or overhead.
The Gala Kevin mentioned to me in his email is The 5th annual Douglas J. McDonough Passion for Education Gala. The event is being held on March 11, 2023 from 6pm to 11pm at the North Hampton Ballroom, The Inn and Spa at East Wind Long Island, Wading River. The Gala is the Hope Children’s fund largest fund raiser of the year. 100% of all proceeds from the event support the Jerusha Mwiraria Children’s home. Every ticket pays for 1 trimester of secondary school for a child from the home. Tickets are $199 per person and includes live music by X-session, cocktail hour, a plated dinner, raffles, and silent auction. Please RSVP to HCFgala@gmail.com For other ways to support the orphans of the Jerusha Mwiraria Children’s home see www.Hopechildrensfund.orgI’m looking forward to attending the Gala event. I hope to see you there. In the coming year the newsletter and I will be supporting HCF. I hope to become a mentor to one of the orphanage's children. — John Carricato