"It has taken a long time to get to where we are,” says Jennifer Wright ’09 of the program she founded to help impoverished children in the developing world, the HEAL Raising Our World Foundation.
Yet it was only six years ago that she was sitting in her dorm room at Wagner College, researching how to start a nonprofit. Today, HEAL owns 14 acres of land in the Central Highlands of Kenya, is halfway through building a children’s home, is already caring for about 50 orphans aged 3 to 19, and has started a secondary school.
And, Wright says, her vision is to open children’s homes all over the world.
Wright came to Wagner with a heart for African children and for changing the world. She double majored in international affairs and French studies, and she participated in Wagner’s civic engagement program. In high school, she had volunteered at an orphanage in Zimbabwe. As a college student, she saw a flyer on a Main Hall bulletin board, advertising the Global Volunteer Network. She and her roommate, Christina Lamb ’08 (now Christina Perez), pursued the opportunity and spent January of 2007 volunteering at a state-run orphanage in Kenya.
Wright was appalled at the conditions there, where the children were undernourished, largely unsupervised, and lacking in love. “After I went to Kenya,” she says, “I just felt called to build an orphanage.”
Several Wagner alumni have helped HEAL get off the ground — Perez is the board secretary, Kristie Scherrer ’10 is an active volunteer, and Seneca Smith ’09 has helped with the website and marketing.
Wright admits that it hasn’t been easy — especially with the recession and her unfamiliarity with Kenyan culture. “There have been times where it would have been much easier to give it up,” she says. “But when you’re with those kids and realize the difference you make in their lives, that’s the motivating factor.”
UPDATE, MAY 8, 2015:
Jennifer Wright will trek Mount Kenya this summer to raise money for Rapha Community Center, part of the HEAL Foundation's work. She will be accompanied by HEAL volunteer Seneca Smith '09. Learn more about their upcoming adventure and donate to their cause.
UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 2017:
HEAL will be in NYC for a fundraising event on September 26. Jennifer Wright provided the following description:
“We have partnered with John Platt, a New York-based artist, who has started a program called How to Draw a Lion. He taught an art class to some of my students in Kenya this past summer. They created beautiful paintings that will be displayed at the Roger Smith Hotel in Midtown.”
All proceeds of the show will support the talented young artists of the Rapha Community Center, the home and school operated by HEAL. HEAL cares for 45 children at Rapha and educates 80 in its secondary school.
The show will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., on September 26, 2017, at the Roger Smith Hotel, 501 Lexington Avenue (at 47th Street). Find more information and RSVP on Facebook.