No one knew how my life was going to change fourteen years ago when I traveled to Kenya to celebrate my father's 70th birthday. The beautiful landscapes and amazing wildlife stole my heart, but they were a small part of the story. I found myself unable to refrain from breaking when I came face to face with some of the most beautiful children who could not attend school regularly (or at all) due to their inability to pay fees. I stood in a dirt floored, archaic wooden classroom at an impoverished rural school with no electricity, no bathrooms, hardly a book, no devises and children who shared the absolute stubs of pencils because it was all they had….and I cried. Most of the children had not eaten the night before and only the lucky ones had a cup of black tea that morning. The school had no running water. A dusty field riddled with sharp thorns and jagged rocks was their playground….and most of the children played barefooted. I struggled to understand how these hungry, thirsty kids could grow and compete in today's world. And it was in that very setting that Matanya's Hope was born. Out of a sea of hundreds of hungry, orphaned and impoverished children, we chose four. Just four. And before I returned to America, this precious group prepared for an esteemed new life in boarding school. I vowed to write to each of these students, to learn about their needs, their dreams, their challenges… and to walk by their side through their academic processes.
I never would have dreamed that this heartfelt start would lead to more than 200 precious students sponsored annually. I have devoted the last 14 years to growing this support to include feeding more than 2,000 hungry children daily at impoverished schools, installing rainwater catchment systems to provide safe water where there is lack, and providing 3.3 tons of school supplies, books, bibles, clothes, blankets, shoes and so much more to thousands in need. Today we celebrate students who have graduated university as nurses, pharmacists, lawyers, economists, accountants, international chefs, engineers, and teachers. I have given up life’s comforts to do this work but have witnessed more growth in my soul than I ever could have imagined. Please join me and Matanya’s Hope on this life changing journey. Whether you join us in Kenya or help support our ongoing work from your home, there are a plethora of ways you can contribute. See our website for details, and of course, feel free to reach out to me any time. [email protected]
Michelle Stark, Founder
We aim to bring care and compassion to those positively impacted by Matanya’s Hope. This starts with our incredible board members.
Michelle Stark was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and moved to Illinois with her family when she was 13 years old.
Michelle founded Matanya’s Hope, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, in 2005 after returning from a safari to Kenya, East Africa. Stark states, “The visit to Kenya changed my life. Since I was a little girl, I prayed that there would be a way for God to use me. When I felt the calling to co-found Matanya’s Hope with God, I knew that my prayers had been answered.”
Michelle has given everything in her power to help the poor children of Kenya break out of the chains of poverty by providing them with alternatives to this harsh and desperate lifestyle. Stark sees education as the most important weapon of all against world problems including poverty.
She spends several months each year in Kenya where she works one on one with hundreds of children who seek help from Matanya’s Hope. She lives with the local people and tells us, “I have learned that it is not money, but heart which defines wealth. The people in Kenya have little to give beyond their love and prayers, but they are some of the richest people I have ever met.”
It is Michelle’s dream to build several schools in Kenya so that orphans, street children and those forced into child labor due to poverty all have a better chance at life. We take so many of these opportunities for granted here, but something as simple as a blackboard and chalk is considered a precious commodity if not a treasure in some of these rural villages. If we can send the children to good boarding schools”, Stark says, “they will have a chance to compete with the most privileged students…because money doesn’t buy brains.” “It is time that all children are recognized as human beings with potential and purpose in this world. We can do that by giving them a chance. They have to do the work.” Stark tells us that by building schools for Matanya’s Hope, the organization will have even greater access to the students throughout the year…thus improving all aspects of their education – both academically, spiritually and emotionally.”
In addition to Matanya’s Hope, Michelle works as a massage therapist. She is passionate about serving people and making this world a better place. Michelle is the proud mother of Sean Slutsky, whose achievements in life have never ceased to amaze her.
Michelle attended Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois and the Art Institute of Chicago. She graduated with a BA in fine arts.
Ann Thomson began traveling the globe at an early age with her family, living in places such as the Philippines, Singapore and Japan. She attended Northern Michigan University and received a degree in sociology and psychology. Although Ms. Thomson is now retired, she has worked as a juvenile probartion office, a teacher, corporate manager and supervisor for SCAN (Stop Child Abuse and Neglect). Ann has recently retired from Decatur Middle School in Indianapolis, Indiana. She has always enjoyed working with children and education which is why she has chosen to work with Matanya’s Hope.
While serving as a Peace Corp volunteer, on a reforestation assignment, Mike saw the struggles his African friends, living in poverty, faced every day. He realized the great need for economic development and education in Africa. Since then Mike has earned his MBA in Accounting from Keller Graduate School of Management and started a bookkeeping service. He shares in the vision of Matanya’s Hope to provide resources and opportunities for poverty-stricken families to improve their lives.
Delray Beach, FL
Ellen St John is originally from Northern New Jersey (right outside of New York City). She has been living in South Florida for the last 15 years.
St John attended Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia where she studied early childhood education. She later attended Centenary College in New Jersey to study Equine Science.
Miss St John found her early passion working with horses, riding, training and competing, which she did for many years post college.
Once married, she had 3 children: 2 boys and a girl. St John stayed home to raise her children while continuing to compete on an amateur level until 2013.
4 years ago, Miss St John traveled to Kenya. “I immediately felt called to do something to help the children there. I became involved with Matanya’s Hope 3 years ago and am passionate about this program! I will be going on my third mission with Matanya’s Hope this summer, 2018.”
While home in the USA, St John has been helping Matanya’s Hope with sponsor and student communications, personal sponsorship as well as procuring sponsors and physical donations. She joined the Board in February 2018.
Stacey Bernard is married with a 12-year-old son and lives in Mount Prospect, Illinois. She has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in Marketing from the University of Missouri - Columbia.
Stacey’s high level of marketing experience has enabled her to develop excellent oral, written and interpersonal skills which have increased her ability to communicate effectively with people at all levels. She considers herself a self-starter who welcomes challenges and has a good eye for detail. Bernard says of herself, “I am highly organized, task oriented and have excellent time management skills”.
Stacey volunteers at her son’s school and has organized many school events/fundraisers. In addition, she volunteers and assists with events at her church. Bernard states, “I have a big heart and lots of love to give”. She has always enjoyed helping children and others who are less fortunate.
Stacey has been effective in composing the Matanya’s Hope tax letters for its donors.
Sue has been a South Suburban resident since 1978 and a resident of Flossmoor since 1986. She has a BS from Illinois State University and an MPA from Governors State University, where she was also the recipient of the Amoco Fellowship in Public Policy.
Sue is semi-retired after career involvement in racial justice and counseling/education. She is currently the owner of Bertram Estate Sales and eBay Consignment Services. She uses the eBay platform to fund raise for Matanya’s Hope by selling donated items and marketing Matanya’s Hope gift certificates for goats, chickens and school uniforms.
Sue served as an elected Commissioner for the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District from 1993 to 2016. She is so proud to have been part of the team that made the H-F Park District the # 1 Park District in the USA, winning the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence given by the National Park and Recreation Association in October 2006. Her Board responsibilities included oversight of the Districts $14,000,000 budget as well as the development of goals and standards.
Sue was a Member of Flossmoor Community Church’s Board of Outreach Ministries from 2004 until recently. She used this platform to pursue avenues to foster helping people. The FCC Outreach has donated more than $8,000 to help provide rainwater collection basins for Matanya’s Hope families in Kenya as well as grants to many other charitable groups.
Additionally, Sue has a soft spot for animals and has volunteered for many years at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in the Science Department, assisting with a classroom filled with a plethora of parrots, reptiles, and other critters. She also helps with the school greenhouse and Zoo-Bot Club.
Mauri was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pa. She moved to Sarasota, Florida with her Husband and 2 boys 15 years ago.
One of Mauri’s boys has special needs. As a result of the difficulties and isolation experienced when he was young, Mauri formed a nonprofit group called The Children’s Apraxia Network of Pa and New Jersey. She served as the President and Educational Director. Mauri’s goal was to connect with others who had the same challenges and to develop a network of difficult to find resources for growth. She expanded the network to include parents and the professionals serving their communities. Mauri also ran teacher accredited trainings specific to Apraxia of Speech and Methodology to promote learning success. Mauri shares, “Focusing on empowering and educating those in need was a life changing experience.”.It has been 15 years since Mauri left the Board and moved to Sarasota. She continues to advocate for her son who has grown into a wonderful young man of 25. Today, Mauri is working as a full time Realtor, whereby her focus is on providing her clients with the perfect home, a place they can experience life, love, safety, nurturing and growth.
Mauri has yet to travel to Kenya, however, she has been drawn to the need and passion of service through Michelle’s eyes and heart. Mauri is currently sponsoring a young girl just starting in school and looks forward to seeing her grow into a beautiful young woman.
Mauri comes to the board with a desire to help Matanya’s Hope continue to grow and flourish. She looks forward to contributing her marketing and research skills and her enthusiasm for connecting people.
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