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Local community leaders were named to an advisory board for A is for Africa to help the foundation further its reach in the community. From left: Tom Neff, Bill Butts and Ellie Bonde with foundation co-director Rick Smith.
Local community leaders were named to an advisory board for A is for Africa to help the foundation further its reach in the community. From left: Tom Neff, Bill Butts and Ellie Bonde with foundation co-director Rick Smith. (submitted photo , Carroll County Times)

For Molly Smith, the climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania was an extreme challenge. But compared to the daily challenges and desperate conditions of people in the villages she encountered in the African nation, the mountain did not seem so daunting.

Affected by what she saw in Africa, upon her return home in the fall of 2007, Smith, with the help of her family, started the charitable foundation A is for Africa. Its mission is to improve the safety, well-being and prosperity of the children of Africa and to increase their access to education, health care and safe spaces.

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Molly convinced her father, Rick, to go to Africa and see the conditions himself. In 2008, at age 61, he ascended Kilimanjaro and during the trip to Tanzania saw firsthand how much the foundation's help was needed.

Until then, the foundation was mostly funded by donations from family and friends. "We really needed to intensify our work," Rick said, and in 2009 they received their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

A is for Africa partnered with Maasai Wanderings in Tanzania to act as an in-country partner that manages the day-to-day operations of the foundation's projects.

Maasai Wanderings is a trekking and tourism company that both Smiths used for their trips to Africa, and they were impressed with how the company gives back to the communities in which they operate.

"Through them we had an entryway into helping the communities," Molly said of Maasai, which uses local labor and suppliers, thus creating jobs within the African villages. "That was so important to us. They know the communities, their resources, their language, what a fair price is."

Molly added that although Maasai coordinates the projects, "We set the agenda. We identify what is needed and prioritize what we feel would be most helpful."

To date, the foundation has funded the construction of two primary classrooms; provided schools with desks, textbooks and other supplies; and helped fund the building of a water system in one of the Masai communities and the building of a medical clinic in one of the worst slums in Nairobi, Kenya.

A world traveler at an early age, Molly said the Mount Airy family's wanderlust came as a result of Rick being in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a uniformed agency that promotes public health throughout the United States and internationally. Rick, his wife Mary Anne and their four children would travel via military planes with Rick on his overseas assignments.

Mary Anne was a nurse with the Indian Health Service on the Navajo Indian reservation in Tuba City, Ariz., among other places. Molly said that with both her parents being in public service, their entire family has always been community service-oriented.

In the case of A is for Africa, Rick said, "We saw an opportunity to give something back to these African communities - something meaningful."

A member of the foundation goes to Africa about every six months to check on the status of the projects they are funding. Rick stressed that they pay for their own travel and expenses associated with the charity, and that 100 percent of the funds raised goes toward the children and the communities.

During a recent "board meeting," which occurs every two to three months and usually over a family dinner, the discussion of where they see the charity going and what is the future of the organization was brought up. Molly said they concluded that the charity is best served by a community-to-community approach.

"Mount Airy has been so welcoming as a community," she said. Rick has spoken about the foundation's mission at local service organizations, including Kiwanis and Rotary, and the clubs have given contributions to the charity in return.

Both Rick and Mary Anne are in the Mentor Club at Mount Airy Middle School, where they have spoken with the children about the foundation. "Last year the Mentor Club chose to donate all of their proceeds from their spring Mother's Day flower sale to the foundation," Rick said. The $384.75 raised bought much-needed school supplies for the children in Africa.

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To further their reach in the community, the foundation has established an advisory board, and appointed three local community leaders to the board. Ellie Bonde, Bill Butts and Tom Neff accepted the appointments and will assist the foundation in furthering its goals of raising funds to support the children in the African villages.

There are many ways to help A is for Africa. One is a direct monetary donation, which goes toward educational expenses and school supplies for the African children. The website

has a PayPal link for direct contributions. For those who have a skill such as marketing, fundraising or Web design, donated time is needed. For the more adventurous, book a trek adventure or visit to Tanzania through Maasai Wanderings and a portion of the money is designated for local projects. Visit

for more information.

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