Off 2 Africa

LAKE PLACID – A pair of Lake Placid High School seniors will fly to Kenya next week to help an orphanage build a garden and set up a composting system.

The trip is the culmination of Mary Kate Graham and Carleigh Garrett’s senior projects. They’ll travel with Keela Grimmette of the Lake Placid-based nonprofit Reason 2 Smile as well as photographer John DiGiacomo and Garrett’s mom, Tricia, who substitutes for the Lake Placid school district. Grimmette’s organization helps run the Jambo Jipya Academy and Children’s Home in Kenya.

The group will leave Monday and return May 27, although Grimmette plans to stay in Kenya for a few additional days. The girls were granted educational leave for the trip since it involves their senior projects.

Garrett and Graham met Grimmette at a youth group function about a year-and-a-half ago. Garrett asked Grimmette if she could travel to Kenya with her, and Graham also expressed interest in going.

“I’ve wanted to be able to branch out and take younger volunteers, but there’s so much unknown when you go to a country like Kenya that it wasn’t something I wanted to dive into until I was really comfortable,” Grimmette said.

On Wednesday, the group gathered at the Reason 2 Smile office to pack supplies that will be donated to Jambo Jipya.

“I’m pretty excited,” Graham said. “I think I’m more excited than I am nervous.”

Both girls raised money for the trip on their own. Garrett wrote a letter to friends and family members, who responded with donations. She also sold African trade bead bracelets to help foot the bill. Graham received support from friends and family as well.

Additionally, Graham put on two one-act plays to gather donations for the orphanage and the school, raking in more than $1,000.

Grimmette said she didn’t want the girls to simply visit Kenya; she wanted them to take on a project that would leave a mark. She said volunteering at the school would be too tricky, since so many activities are packed into the school day. So instead she asked the girls to develop projects for the children’s home.

Garrett’s goal is to build a garden at the orphanage. The project will consist of five lessons, she said.

“For the first one, I’m teaching them about seeds, and we’re going to start bean seeds in plastic bags,” Garrett said. “Over the couple weeks that we’re there, on the last lesson, we’re going to plant the seeds, so they’ll be able to see the plants grow.”

For her project, Graham will teach the children about compost, which she said will tie in to Garrett’s gardening project.

DiGiacomo moved to Lake Placid after retiring from the corporate world. He has since launched a photography business and has been looking for ways to give back to the community. He was introduced to Grimmette and later learned about the trip to Kenya.

DiGiacomo said he wants to document the lives of the Jambo Jipya children outside of the classroom.

“We see a lot of them in school and in uniform, but we don’t see what happens the minute they get home and those uniforms have to come off, or when they have an hour walk or two-hour walk to get to school,” he said.

Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or