Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Homegrown philanthropy turns 5

Make a Difference Now expands with scholarship program

Express Staff Writer

Last year three young people climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to support the work of Make a Difference Now, a philanthropy that was begun five years ago by Hailey native Theresa Grant. Photo by

Making a difference in the world can seem a daunting task to those trying to simply make ends meet. Pulling off a real adventure at the same time can look like a dream come true.

Thanks to the enterprising thinking of grassroots philanthropist Theresa Grant of Hailey, a group of intrepid travelers will have the opportunity to do both this summer.

Make a Difference Now volunteers are raising funds to climb 19,340 foot Mount Kilimanjaro in eastern Africa in July. A portion of the proceeds will provide shelter, education and life skills training for orphans.

Grant, a Hailey native, went to Africa five years ago determined to help out. Touched by the estimated 12.3 million orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa due to HIV/AIDS, she decided to volunteer her time and money at an orphanage in Zambia. After working in Silicon Valley, facing the basic life struggles of rural Africa was an eye-opening experience for her. She began by asking the Zambians running the orphanage what she could do to help.

"They told me that if I was able to simply hold a child I had what it takes to begin helping out," she says.

Five years later, Grant oversees Make a Difference Now, a nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian assistance in Moshi Tanzania and Mysore India.

Make A Difference Now enlists self-supported volunteers at an orphanage and private school. The organization also takes tax-deductible donations to support its work with children. The organization still supports work in Zambia, but only takes volunteers in Tanzania and India.

This fall, Make a Difference Now will enlist volunteers to rebuild a school in Jacmal, Haiti, following the devastating earthquake that struck in January.

Since 2005, Grant has raised about $500,000 for her organization, which operates independently through local partnerships arranged by her and guided by a board of directors. The organization covers the $45 annual cost of primary and high school education in Tanzania.

"That's a lot of money over there,' says Grant.

Grant says she spent $25,000 of her own money getting Make a Difference Now off the ground and receives a salary of $1,000 per month to keep it rolling. She says the lives of 2,000 kids are bettered by the organization she founded.

"With a minimum amount of money we have had a huge impact," she says.

Volunteers in Africa and India typically spend from two weeks to one month helping out at orphanages and schools, paying their own way, including $60 per day for room and board. Money from more than 100 volunteers have gone to support the Make a Difference Now programs in the past five years.

This summer, Make a Difference Now will hold its second annual Kilimanjaro climb, organized to draw attention to the plight of orphans in Africa and raise funds for its programs.

Tracy Munk, an elementary school teacher in Blaine County, has been to the orphanage and school in Tanzania twice, most recently to remote villages with children during Christmas break.

Munk raised money for her trips by contacting family and friends for donations. She spent time in Tanzania teaching reading skills and making jewelry, some of which is now for sale at Tully's Café in Ketchum.

"The kids are so enthusiastic and willing to learn there," she says. "They will line up with books to read to you. Africa is warm and friendly and comfortable. The kids make a real difference in your life. What you give and what you get back are equal."

The Make a Difference Now board of directors met recently in the Wood River Valley and voted to establish a scholarship program to send one person each year abroad to help at one of the organization's programs.

"We get letters from students who want to participate," Grant says. "Some have money and others don't, but say, 'This has been a dream of mine,' and they really want to go. This is a way to invest in leaders for Make a Difference Now."

Grant says she has learned to form local economic partnerships overseas to sustain the work of her organization.

"You end up helping out in ways you never thought you would. We now pay electricity and water bills for the orphanage. We learned that it works best if we match funds with our local partners on building projects."

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