Aiding a community's children Insurance company workers contribute to Ethiopian district

July 25, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

It's a long way to Tiya from corporate Hunt Valley, but the parched region in Ethiopia is on the minds -- and desks -- of 43 employees of a group insurance firm in Baltimore County.

Greg Garvin, director of billing and enrollment at Kelly and Associates, looks at photographs of Belida Muluneh and five other boys from Tiya. Melvin Miller, enrollment auditor, has a picture of Tiruneh Worku. Near Doris Kwon, major accounts coordinator, is the face of Gosaye Mekonen.

The workers and their bosses are sponsoring the purchase of food, clothing, school materials and medicine for 64 children through the Christian relief and development group World Vision. Theirs is one of two area firms aiding children that way.

"We are such a comfortable, affluent nation," said Garvin. He and his wife, Sharon, have three children. "These people need our help. And it helps us not to be so attracted to money."

For the moment, the Ethiopian boys and girls are faces, payroll deductions and distant, vague acquaintances. But the tie may bind tighter. The Kelly company plans to pay for a much-needed well in Tiya so villagers can avoid drinking questionable water.

"And from the start, we made it a goal to go there," said company President Francis X. Kelly III. He and his brother, David, vice president of sales and marketing, will visit next spring, possibly followed by other employees. "There is a long-term commitment to Tiya, as long as we're in business."

Tiya is a community of 40,000 people in several villages in the province of Kondaltiti, 40 miles west of Addis Ababa, the capital. It is free from the occasional clashes at the disputed northern border with Eritrea, but it has troubles of its own.

The landscape is barren and dusty, and the water tainted. People often must draw from stagnant ponds. Two of 10 children die before age 5, many from water-borne, easily preventable illnesses. To obtain clean, safe water, wells are needed to get at aquifers at least 450 feet deep.

Besides seeking improved water resources, World Vision also aids education. Of 25,000 school-age children, 3,600 attend classes.

The 43 Kelly insurance workers, from the company work force of about 100, pay $10 a month for each child they help; the company matches the $10 for a total of $240 a year per child. Under World Vision guidelines, the money is spent so that family and community also benefit.

"The Kelly company is giving a sense of hope to Tiya that people really care," said Stephen Krentel, executive director of the mid-Atlantic region for World Vision. "There's a lot of energy there."

He also commended the work of Charles "Buck" and Judy Lynch of Glen Burnie, president and vice president of the Lucky Convenience Markets, for their decade-long sponsorship of World Vision children around the world.

"God gave us so much," said Charles Lynch, "and half the world's starving to death." The employee-owned firm sponsors 30 children. The Lynches, who used to own the company, support another 14.

Krentel said most donors don't give through companies. At $20 a month, Americans sponsor almost half of the 1.3 million World Vision-supported children in 94 countries.

Francis Kelly said he began the project at the company in 1996 as an outgrowth of the group insurance firm's mission to "honor God" and "to serve the least, the last and the lost," as well as to make money and serve its 6,000 customers.

Kelly employees and the firm have given about $27,000. The number of donors has slowly grown in the past two years.

"God has blessed us with this business; we have to give back," said Francis Kelly. "So we also try to invest time, talent and treasure in organizations serving the less fortunate."

Kelly picked World Vision because "it deals with the whole person -- physical, medical, educational and spiritual."

An average of 63.7 percent of the donations directly benefits the children. The cost of administering the programs is more than that of managing government grants or donations for a specific program, but the programs are effective because many donors stick with the children year after year, according to a World Vision statement.

Why spend the money in Ethiopia and not in Baltimore, some have asked. Kelly referred to lessons from his mother, Janet, and father, former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly, who founded the firm in his Timonium basement 20 years ago.

"My parents are the most generous people I know and taught us tithing in different ways. We support a ton of organizations here, also in Maryland and the nation. These children are our world aspect."

Several Kelly employees said that reasons differ for supporting children in Tiya and that corporate pressure is not one of them.

"You don't have to believe what the Kellys believe, and you can do well here," said Garvin. "I'm between churches now and feel disconnected, so for me this is the right time and the right place."

Miller has counseled Baltimore youths as a voluntary Baptist youth pastor. "I'm working in the inner city. But I hope to do some foreign mission work someday. The church needs a world view."

Accounts coordinator Kwon said, "It's not much, what we give. Part of it is it makes me feel good, and that's kind of selfish. But I give because I want to help. I like the idea that World Vision is founded on Christian principles."

Information: World Vision: 800-283-8606.

Pub Date: 7/25/98

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