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On a mission: Monkton man's goal is helping save Ugandan orphans

When Jerry Garland asked himself what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, he needed to find a suitable answer.

The Monkton resident was fortunate enough to do just that when he learned to what degree he could address the plight of orphaned children in Uganda.

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Inspired by Bob Buford's book "Halftime," Garland decided to act.

His mission is now clear: Make a difference in that east African nation, where nearly 3 million orphans often struggle in a Third World environment.

"It was about six years ago," said the 67-year-old former executive at a Hunt Valley-based wireless communications company. "It had been building up for a while that I wanted to try to make a small difference in the world. I thought it was a time in my life where I should be thinking about giving back."

Having been successful in business to the point that he landed spots on the board of the World Trade Center Institute, RF Industries, the Kennedy Krieger external relations committee and the Alzheimer's Association of Central Maryland, Garland wanted something that would be more fulfilling than all of his many personal accomplishments.

The Sozo Children’s Choir performed to a packed audience at Immaculate Conception School in Towson Wednesday. On April 14, Sozo Children’s Choir will perform at Grace Fellowship Church, 9505 Deereco Road in Timonium at 7 p.m. The group will also perform at AME Zion Church Conference in Washington, D.C., on April 15.

After talking to Pat Goodman, who heads the men's ministry that Garland belongs to at Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium, he decided to find out firsthand what he could do for the Ugandan orphans.

From his first trip there, Garland was smitten. He has returned four more times, and is will be heading back for the sixth time sometime this fall.

"I traveled to Uganda in 2012 as part of a missions trip and literally fell in love with the country," Garland said, noting that he met folks from Sozo Children, a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian ministry that is providing care for 125 Ugandan children.

While there, he developed a special interest in, and close ties to, the kids living in an orphanage in Kampala, the country's capital.

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One child, in particular, caught Garland's attention.

His name is Zube, and before he came to the attention of Garland and the folks at Sozo, the child had malaria, typhoid and worms.

The thought of children living in such danger and distress made a huge impact on Garland's next move.

When he returned home, Garland threw himself into raising money for a new orphanage, mostly through a golf tournament at Piney Branch Golf Club in Upperco.

Counting this year's tourney, which was held in September, Garland's efforts have netted $500,000 for the orphanage. At least some of that money, along with contributions from other sources, is going toward building a new town, Garland said, on 32 acres on the outskirts of Kampala, where the kids will be cared for until they eventually move on.

"Even though it's called an orphanage, we don't put the kids up for adoption," Garland said. "We want them to grow up and be leaders in their own country. We educate them or teach them a trade. We don't force them to leave. They leave when they're prepared to live on their own."

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His first trip there reminded him of how much he possessed compared to the Ugandans.

"I had a tough time after I came back, thinking about how privileged we are to live in such a prosperous country," Garland said. "We had an opportunity to visit Kabalagala, one of the worst slums that you will ever see. It is difficult to imagine how people survive living in these conditions. People live on about $2 a day."

Sozo Children's choir promises a riveting performance of song and dance at Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium tonight. The choir was formed as outreach by Sozo Children, a nonprofit that runs several orphanages in Uganda to address the nation's some 2.7 million orphans. They will perform in Timonium tonight and in DC this weekend.

Garland said that the benefits to his charitable endeavors are many.

"I went over there thinking that I was going to help them," he said. "But they have helped me more by getting me out of my comfort zone. It's really been gratifying for me."

Other local business and religious leaders have also taken up the cause, including Frank Kelly, the CEO of Kelly and Associates Insurance Group.

Kelly, who said he has taken several trips to Africa, met Garland at the Sozo orphanage while Kelly was on a mission for World Vision, an organization dedicated to combating famine in east Africa.

"Jerry is a very generous man," Kelly said. "He has a big heart, and he really cares about people."

Goodman said that Garland contacted Donna Hamilton after he learned that the WBAL-TV newscaster had a connection to Sozo Children through her nephew.

"He reached out to Donna Hamilton and then he contacted the Sozo folks," Goodman said.

From that point, Garland's mission to help kids in need has been clear.

"When Jerry focuses on something he's passionate about, he goes and gets it," Goodman said. "He's a great team builder and a man of integrity with a can-do spirit. He would never ask you to do something that he wouldn't do himself."

Grant Grasmick, the CEO of Louis J. Grasmick Lumber Co. in Rosedale, said that he first encountered Garland during a meeting about using the golf tournament as a fundraiser.

"What really came through during his discussion of the Sozo kids was his genuinely amazing heart in trying to do something which would tangibly benefit those less fortunate than ourselves," Grasmick said. "I believe this was Jerry's initial foray into fundraising, and although he had great enthusiasm, I sensed some apprehension on his part.

"I was apprehensive as well because you never know if people will see your vision and positively respond by opening their wallets. So on multiple levels, I wanted to come alongside Jerry, and I just love this man."

Donations are welcome at SozoChildren.org.



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