Keela Grimmette, founder and executive director of Reason 2 Smile, with Reagan, a student who lives at Jambo Jipya Children's Home and attends Jambo Jipya School in Mtwapa, Kenya.
Athena Pepe went to Nairobi, Africa, when she was just 10 years old.
Her mother brought her there to do volunteer work at an orphange where a lot of the children’s parents had died from AIDS.
If You Go:
What: Jam for a Cause
When: Sunday, March 17, from 2 to 6 p.m.
Where: Upper Jay Arts Center, the corner of Springfield Rd. and Rt. 9N in Upper Jay
Cost: There is a $5 suggested donation for this event.
She left with a sense of purpose, the importance of helping others had become clear, and the memories of the living conditions made her want to do more.
“What I saw was extreme poverty,” Pepe said. “There were little kids walking miles and miles to get water they had to strain the mud out of for their families.”
That was almost 10 years ago.
Today, Pepe is a senior at Keene Central School.
When it came time for Pepe to do her senior legacy project—a project that gets students to leave a legacy by helping others—her thoughts went back to Nairobi.
She remembered a presentation Keela Grimmette, founder and executive director of Reason 2 Smile in Lake Placid, gave at her school a couple years ago.
Pepe learned that the non-profit organization focuses on helping kids in developing countries, specifically orphaned and at-risk children.
So she contacted Grimmette, and devised a way to help.
On Sunday, March 17, from 2 to 6 p.m., January Jams will return to the Upper Jay Arts Center, but this time, it’s for a cause.
There is a $5 suggested donation, with all proceeds going toward Reason 2 Smile.
Musicians of all skill levels can sign up and perform and, halfway through the event, Grimmette will give a presentation to explain what Reason 2 Smile is all about.
“I think in order to appreciate what you do have, it’s important to see what other people don’t have,” Pepe said. “Even if people can’t give much money, I think it would be good to see her presentation anyway, just to know.”
Grimmette started Reason 2 Smile in 2007, shortly after volunteering at Jambo Jipya school in Mtwapa, a fishing village located in Kenya, Africa.
Like Pepe, the experience left her with memories that inspired her to take action.
“She (Pepe) has a real personal connection to that country,” Grimmette said. “She said she was very excited to soak things up, which was interesting for me to hear—for a kid that young to have experiences like that.”
In Kenya there are free public schools, but children must have a school uniform and books to attend, requirements many families simply cannot afford.
A Kenyan woman named Christine Mwende began helping local families send their children to school, but soon realized that she could help a lot more people by opening her own school.
In 2004, Jambo Jipya was created. The school provides everything for the kids—school uniform, shoes, supplies, two meals a day and health care.
Grimmette taught first graders there for 10 weeks in 2007, and realized that the school would have to close if it didn’t start receiving some funding.
“The biggest thing was, I developed a really close relationship with the kids in a very short period of time,” Grimmette said.
One of those relationships was with a little boy who lived in a mud hut with his brother and grandmother, who made money producing and selling an illegal alcoholic drink to locals.
Grimmette would visit the family on the weekends, and never forgot what she saw there.
The hut had a mud floor and its roof was made of coconut branches and leaves. There was broken glass everywhere.
“If I could know it was just this family living like this, maybe I could wrap my head around it and move on,” Grimmette said. “But I know it’s not. As I’m driving I’m seeing more mud huts and little kids with hardly any clothes in, walking in bare feet, and I know this is happening to hundreds and thousands of kids.”
Grimmette couldn’t just walk away.
She now does a lot of presentations, telling stories and showing videos and photographs to show others the conditions she witnessed first hand.
She encourages people to help others through Reason 2 Smile and informs them that, for $18 a month, they can cover all associated costs of education—food, health care, clothing and two meals a day—for a child.
The organization recently began helping another school in Nairobi, too, and also provides aid to an orphanage.
Once a year, Grimmette visits Africa to meet with the students and their teachers, and once a year she receives letters from the children whose lives she’s impacting.
“They realize that every little thing that is given to them is because someone else cares about them,” Grimmette said.
Looking forward, Grimmette also said there will be a World Music Festival at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on May 4 to benefit Reason 2 Smile.
The all-ages event will include workshops, a Kenyan marketplace, and different kinds of dance and music from all over the world, including clogging, Irish step dance, zumba, African drumming and Yoga.
The UVM Topcats, an all-male acappella group, and the reggae band Robanic, from Saratoga Springs, will also perform.
For more information, visit reason2smile.org