Shorewood native Stephanie Koczela's effort to construct an improved schoolhouse in Kenya is receiving a little help from kids in Whitefish Bay.
After studying abroad in Nairobi her junior year of college, Koczela decided to improve conditions at Valley View Academy in a poor, densely-populated slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Nearly 400,000 people live in the four-square-kilometer area, where many live without water, electricity or sewer systems. Over the last several years, Koczela has led an effort to raise more than $400,000 to tear down Valley View's cramped, dilapidated schoolhouse with a leaky roof and replace it with a four-story building with 24 classrooms, a computer room, a library, a play area, and an extra large kitchen.
Koczela has raised enough money to construct the school, but the children still need 600 desks. That's where the Whitefish Bay students come in.
This holiday season, more than 100 Whitefish Bay students are expected to participate in the Boxes of Love project, which bakes holiday treats to raise money for a charitable cause. This year's fundraising effort calls on 11 different families to bake treats for Valley View Academy. The epicenter of baking activity is at the Katz family's Berkeley Boulevard home, where a quarter of the treats are produced. All three of the Katz children participate, including sophomore Noah, seventh-grader Trevor and fourth-grader Damon.
“Sometimes its hard to get kids just to empty the dishwasher,” their mother Linda Katz said with a laugh. “Noah will have 20 sophomores come over here, and in the blink of an eye, they’ll have made hundreds of cookies. I’m amazed at their motivation to make this happen.”
Boxes of Love started seven years ago by a service-oriented student group called Bay Attitude. After four years of baking at the Cochran family household, the Katz family took on the project three years ago and spread out the baking responsibility across 11 different families.
Noah, who has done a lot of the baking and organizing in the past three years, said he has watched the efforts grow exponentially every year.
In 2010, Boxes of Love raised $7,375 with a $5,000 matching grant from Disney's Club Penguin. That money went to benefit for a water project and a one-room schoolhouse in Kenya.
In 2011, the organization raised a total of $20,000 for COA, which includes $10,280 in bake sales and an equal matching grant from the Herzfeld Foundation.
This year, Noah has solicited matching donations from nine different donors, most of whom have supported Koczela's efforts at Valley View in the past.
“I’m really excited to see what we can pull off this year,” Noah said. “They need $31,000 for 600 desks. We might not raise the full amount, but we can at least raise money for a couple hundred desks.”
Deliveries to Shorewood and Whitefish Bay are free, but they will ship them anywhere in the country for $11. Katz said the treats are a great holiday gift idea for teachers, coaches, hairdressers and college students that may be looking for a gift from home.
While Noah does not pride himself as a baker, he said he is happy to put in long hours for a good cause.
"It's inspiring to know that you are working toward something that is bigger than yourself," he said. "We’re so small in the world, but there’s over 120 of us here in Whitefish Bay that are able to make a difference for kids in Africa."