According to the African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child. And sometimes it takes a village—or at least a group—8,000 miles away, like the half-dozen-plus Sarasotans who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help homeless children in Moshi, a small African village in the foothills of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro.
The catalysts were Tom and Beverly Porter, seasonal Longboat Key residents who own Porter Family Vineyards in Napa, California. Through their family foundation, they’d been supporting another children’s home in Africa when, in 2004, their son, Tim, stopped by to visit it after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
“He found the executive director was driving a Mercedes and said, ‘Uh-oh,’” says Tom Porter. “So he looked around and found these two Tanzanian women and a young graduate student from the U.S. [living] in a two-bedroom rambler with 66 kids they’d rescued from the street. Tim came back and said we have to help them.”
Help them they have. They originally helped build a 20,000-square-foot building for the nonprofit Amani Children’s Home, which rescues and educates destitute street children, many of them addicted to sniffing glue by the time they’re 12. They also started an Amani wines division six years ago, and donate 100 percent of its profits to the children’s home.
In 2012, the Porters recruited Sarasota friends Dennis Rees and Felice Schulaner, Katie and Peter Hayes, and Jim and Melissa Palermo, who for six years have underwritten the cost of a fund-raising dinner at the Palermo-owned Oasis Café. The dinners have raised $425,000 for Amani’s in-house school and to send some of the youngsters to college. And the group helps in other ways, too. For example, Sarasota philanthropist Keith Monda, who came aboard a few years ago, provides the funds for 10 Amani children to attend four years of school.
The group also has raised the money to develop a two-acre farm where the children learn agricultural skills. This spring’s dinner raised money for chickens, chicken feed, seeds and a cow. During the paddle raise, Schulaner bought a fence for $800. “Cheaper than a pair of Christian Louboutins,” she says, “and lots more satisfying.”
“Often those kids are on the street because their family is so poor they can’t even feed them,” says Porter. “They started out on the streets sleeping on a cardboard box and now they’re graduating from college.”
He’s especially proud of his friends’ global vision. “Maybe it’s human nature to discount the pain and suffering of the people who aren’t socially or physically proximate to you,” he says. “This group is quite the opposite—they have big hearts for all citizens of the world.”