There is nothing unusual about a nonprofit group finding unique items to auction as a fundraiser. But Linda Wilson, founder of Caring for Kids of Kenya, which helps Kenya's orphans, has truly come up with a one-of-a-kind opportunity for a bidder.
She will auction off an African safari for two at the "Kenya on the Manor" fundraiser at the Manor Tavern on Sept. 28. Bidding starts at $3,000 for the nine-day Tanzanian safari that is worth $6,700.
"One hundred percent of the proceeds will go right to the orphans," said Wilson, a Monkton resident. "The only way they'll ever succeed is to go to school. I've been trying to raise money for years now to help them do just that. We have orphans in college now. They're my success stories."
The event, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., includes free hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar and a presentation by Wilson about her organization. She is asking for a $50 donation from anyone wishing to bid on the safari. She also has gathered smaller items and gift certificates for a silent auction.
"This is a really, really good cause and we were happy to donate the space and the food," said Manor Tavern general manager Sean Gahagan. "What Linda is doing is from the heart."
Monkton resident Peter Bell helped arrange the Manor Tavern event. He learned of Caring for Kids of Kenya through a North County neighborhood website and offered to lend a hand.
"Linda is a doer, not just a talker," Bell said. "I admire people who see a need and do something about it."
Wilson's love affair with Kenya's orphans began about eight years ago. As an independent travel agent who specializes in African adventures, she wanted to give her clients a way to interact with local people.
A visit to an orphanage to see if the children would like visitors changed her life.
"What I saw was pathetic. Four kids to a bed. Not much food. Not much clothing. No shoes. I'm not a religious person, but I think I was meant to be there," she recalled.
She came home and raised money through local churches and friends for food, clothing, books and even a freezer to store surplus food.
Wilson created Caring for Kids of Kenya in 2008. She estimates Kenya has more than 3,000 orphanages.
"Doing this is the most challenging thing in my life," she said. "There are some people who help me with the organization, I still do 99 percent of the work myself."
While she still raises money for necessities – she recently traveled to Kenya and bought 150 mattresses – her focus is now on education.
Children attend elementary school if they have money for uniforms and books. High school and college are only available to those who can pay tuition.
Caring for Kids of Kenya asks for donations of any amount and also looks for people to sponsor a child for a year. Sponsors receive personal letters from the child and get updates during the year.
Kingsville resident Barbara Slusher and her family have sponsored three students after learning of Wilson's charity. They Skype each of their students regularly to check on their progress.
"We did a family vacation to Kenya about 10 years ago and fell in love with the orphans and the kids," said Slusher, professor of Neurology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Slusher even got folks in her department at Johns Hopkins involved. They held a book sale and raised money to help Wilson buy those 150 mattresses.
"What Linda is doing is phenomenal. The more people know about her, the more kids can be helped," she said.
Wilson responds to any need she sees during her travels to Kenya. This spring, Caring for Kids of Kenya hosted a free, two-day health clinic. She also arranged to deliver 95 wooden desks and benches to a school where the students used rocks as chairs.
"My life was normal before I visited that first orphanage," she said. "Now I know I'll do this until the day I die."