Tracy Claeys: preparing youth for the future

Carol Erickson and Tracy Claeys

An audience of about 180, many of whom were first-time supporters of Imara International, heard a message of hope for the youth of Minnesota and Kenya at a breakfast event on May 9 at The Metropolitan ballroom and event center in Golden Valley, Minn. The keynote speaker, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers head football coach Tracy Claeys, delivered a message of hope for young people in challenging circumstances. Mike Max, WCCO-TV sports reporter and anchor, served as master of ceremonies.

Carol Erickson, Executive Director of Imara International, tied in themes of teamwork to her work at the Imara rescue home in Kenya. Both speakers emphasized the importance of education for the future of youth.

The event raised nearly $20,000 initially, with additional pledges and donations being received days later, including a grant from the TCF Foundation.

Tracy Claeys Breakfast at Metropolitan
Coach Tracy Claeys speaks at the Imara International breakfast, June 9, 2016.

Carol Erickson explains how Imara makes a difference

Imara Sunday 2016

Back in Minnesota from Kenya, Imara International Executive Director Carol Erickson spoke to hundreds at her home church on about how Imara is making a difference, on Imara Sunday, April 24.

Messiah United Methodist Church set aside Imara Sunday for Carol to speak to the congregation at its two worship services. She provided updates about the girls and their young children, and shared how Imara is making a positive difference in their lives through education, job skills, and a safe and healthy place to live. After each service, Erickson and board member Pete Thorp provided more details and an opportunity to ask questions and socialize.


Going home

Sharon with giraffes

By Fred Hegele, Board of Directors
Imara International

On Tuesday morning, Kristine, Sharon and I enjoyed our last breakfast with Sophy on her porch overlooking beautiful gardens and more distant woods. It was cool at 7:30 a.m. The warmth of the morning sun was welcome. We were packed and ready to depart for Nairobi at 9 a.m. when our driver, Stephan, arrived. We returned with several boxes of unused homeschool curriculum, which we plan to resell. We have switched to the Kenyan ACE curriculum, which is working much better for the moms. It is self-paced and allows much flexibility.

We checked into the Amani Gardens Inn (formerly the Mennonite House), had lunch, and headed for the Maasai Market. The beautiful fabric, beaded items, wood carvings, soapstone items, purses, jewelry are simply remarkable. There are no price tags, of course, everything is negotiable. After some gift purchases, we went to the Westgate Mall, which was the site of an Al-Shabaab terrorist attack a few years ago, for our first visit since it was rebuilt by its Israeli owners. An enclosed Mall with limited entrance/exit design, one reflects about the virtual trap facing the unfortunate shoppers that fateful day. Ironically, Carol and Sandy were only a few blocks away at the time of the attack, so their recollection of tear gas odor is a lingering memory. We have an Urban Burger for dinner as we dial up our re-entry plans for home-sweet-home in the U.S.A.

On Wednesday morning, we visit the Maasai shopping area at the Hilton Hotel for more top secret gift buying. The street near the hotel was taken over by several hundred chanting demonstrators, waving tree branches, signs demanding their rights (for what we were not able to determine). Kenya City Hall is a block or two away, so perhaps it is a city issue. Thankfully we were safely inside, but they did capture our attention.

Carol and I had a meeting scheduled at 1 p.m. with Tim Kelly at Bethany International-Kenya. Our purpose was to share the Imara story and learn about Bethany’s missionary and intern programs, to determine possible fit for our short- and long-term staffing needs. The Bethany organization, people, and programs are quite impressive. Tim Kelly is warm, welcoming and very knowledgeable. We agreed on a phase one plan to seek candidates for our new House Manager position. Tim was also incredibly helpful with some practical advice about human resources, security, and networking matters. I think Carol has a new friend in Nairobi.

Kristine, Sharon, and Sandy visited the nearby Giraffe Centre, a non-profit set up to protect the endangered Rothschild Giraffe. Great fun!

Back at Amani Gardens Inn, we said farewell to Carol & Sandy and packed up for our three-hour ride to the Jomo Kenyatta Airport—at least half of which was spent idle in traffic. The Kenyans are quite patient—no horn-blowing or display of extreme impatience while we were deadlocked. Once we were on the move, the aggressive driving, lane changing, squeeze-in and out driving style was both amazing and a bit frightful.



The last (pizza) supper

By Fred Hegele, Board of Directors
Imara International

It is Monday and we are back in the Imara weekday mode. We had a number of errands and business stops in town before arriving at the Imara House late morning. One stop caused me to reflect back on the broken door latch that I fixed last week—well, it was fixed for about twenty-four hours.

The replacement latch was a lower quality, bargain priced unit which was simply not up to the rigor of eight teenage girls, nearly as many staff, and lots of use. So Gipson will try to return it for a refund. Today, I went to Modson Hardware and was able to find an exact replicate of the original hardware. After figuring how to change the latch from left-hand to right-hand, which required one more trip to Modson Hardware, I now feel confident that as we pack up and leave town tomorrow, the Imara family has a door latch that will serve them well for a long time. It took me less that ten days to complete the job! Carol is greatly relieved that she is not paying me by the hour!

We decided that our last day here should be celebrated with pizza, so Carol and I picked up wheat flour, tomato sauce, mushrooms, onions, sausage, mozzarella cheese, all the fixings so that we could make our own pizza from scratch. We rolled out the dough that Carol and Veronica made this afternoon, applied the sauce and toppings, and baked it outside in the charcoal-fired oven. What a riot! I think that all enjoyed, and as we bid farewell to all until next year, I got the hint that the girls were about to make and bake some more pizza tonight after we left.

It is always so hard to say goodbye to these precious gifts from God in our lives. But we leave with a good sense that Imara International is blessed with a great staff, that the moms are making good progress towards their goal of independence, that the youngsters are off to an excellent start in early childhood education and development.

We also are so eternally grateful for the amazing commitment and service of Carol and Sandy. They make a mighty team in doing the Lord’s work here, and we all see more clearly the organizational steps this year to ramp up for construction at the Village and to prepare the first moms to leave Imara House for the start of their independence as adults.

I must admit that saying goodbye to Rose and Sophie, who do not plan to be here next January, was tempered a bit by exchanging email addresses and promising that we will visit them in their new setting if possible.

We are packing and departing for Nairobi in the morning. Please keep Carol and Sandy in your thoughts and prayers that they might feel your support for peace, security, confidence, patience, energy, compassion and wisdom in their Godly work here. They are the best!

Green acres

Corn field

By Fred Hegele, Board of Directors
Imara International

Sunday is worship day in Kenya as in many other parts of the Christian world. As Kristine and I sat on Sophy’s back porch before breakfast, we heard the spiritual singing across the river and through the woods to the rear of her property. Sophy is in Nairobi this weekend and will return Sunday evening, so we are in full charge of the house and the dogs. So far we haven’t locked ourselves out or in!

Carol accompanied the Imara family in a matatu to church, while Sandy picked us up in the Imara SUV for the fifteen-minute jaunt to Nanyuki Vineland Church. When we arrived, some of the children were singing in their Sunday school room while Caleb and Sharon burned off some steam outside on the grass.

We are warmly welcomed by Pastor Robinson and others at the start of the 10:30 a.m. worship service. Today’s message comes from Acts 16:16-34. Pastor Robinson used this scripture to talk about habits and curses. He talked about developing good habits like praying, worshiping, smiling, and trusting Him. Beautiful thought! As for curses, he talked about the curse of busyness, which surely caught the attention of us Americans.

After church, we traveled to the “promised land” to see our crops and to once again see the dream of Imara Village site. The maize crop towers over my head, probably more than seven feet high. I peeled back the husks on one ear; it looks like a terrific crop.

The high waters from last week’s heavy rain have subsided, but we see the evidence throughout the lower five-plus acres of our land. The river bank has moved back a foot or more, so it was indeed a major rain event.

There is some fruit on our citrus trees and the tomato trees. It was really good to be on our land—and it is legally in the ownership of Imara International-Kenya as of January 1, 2016. We also remembered the spiritual dedication of last January 2015, when we were last here, and we imagined the official groundbreaking for the Main Building that should occur in the first half of 2016.