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Two Hands Make a Difference

By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy

Laguna Beach philanthropist Lindsey Pluimer gives Queen a boost. The child is a resident of St. Ann's Orphanage in Kenya, built with the assistance of a nonprofit Pluimer founded.Photo courtesy of With My Own Two Hands Foundation:

Laguna Beach philanthropist Lindsey Pluimer gives Queen a boost. The child is a resident of St. Ann’s Orphanage in Kenya, built with the assistance of a nonprofit Pluimer founded.Photo courtesy of With My Own Two Hands Foundation:

The Wholistic Caring and Counseling Centre has a name evocative of a bright clean facility with soothing rooms, crisp linens. Maybe if it were in Irvine. The actual building, a combination orphanage, school and crisis center for young mothers in Ruiru, Kenya, is so dilapidated that it brought despair to the hearts of volunteers visiting for the first time.

Seeing the dark, mold-ridden building with broken windows, holes in the floor and roof leaks the size of waterfalls, San Diego architect Lauren Jolin wondered, “How can we even help them?”

Lindsey Pluimer, of Laguna Beach, knew exactly how. The founder of With My Own Two Hands took volunteers to Kenya in March. They witnessed the drilling of a water borehole, a $17,000 project funded by the Laguna Beach-based organization, and themselves built a chicken coop designed by Jolin.

The projects will eliminate the center’s costs for trucking in water, allow them to irrigate their own food crops, eat their own eggs, and sell surplus water and eggs for income.

With My Own Two Hands isn’t stopping there, but aims to raise enough money to rebuild and expand the center in Kenya with a 6 p.m. fundraiser at the Port Theater in Corona del Mar Sunday, July 13. The event will include professional NBA and NFL athletes, and the screening of “The Kids of Kekopey,” an account of the organization’s success in building St. Ann’s Orphanage in Kekopey, Kenya. Tickets are available at www.thekidsofkekopey.eventbrite.com.

After showing her volunteers the shabby Wholistic Centre in March, Pluimer had the foresight to drive them over to St. Ann’s. It was a Shangri-La-like comparison, said Laguna Beach resident and volunteer Marybeth Pugh. “That gave us all less despair and more hope,” she said.

Pluimer makes a point of bringing her volunteers to Africa to get a better sense of the work they can accomplish. “Once you go to Africa, you change,” said the strikingly tall blond athlete. “You can’t go and come back the same.”

St. Ann's Orphanage in Kenya

St. Ann’s Orphanage in Kenya

That’s been her experience. While studying communications and playing basketball at University of California, Los Angeles, Pluimer did research on the genocide in Darfur, and vowed to volunteer in Africa. Though she played professional basketball abroad and taught yoga in the off-season, she made good on her pledge and volunteered with a nonprofit involved in South Africa. That was all it took for her to trade in her basketball shoes and start her own nonprofit.

She founded With My Own Two Hands and received nonprofit status in 2011 to work with other non-governmental organizations that benefit children in need in Africa.

Pluimer has since cobbled together a hands-on board that meets monthly and a growing list of volunteers and ambassadors. Though she continues to teach at Ritual Yoga in Laguna Beach, the foundation has become a full-time job.

Unlike other passionate founders of nonprofits, who burn out trying to pursue their mission single-handedly, Pluimer recognizes that her own two hands need help.

Four years of experience, coupled with valuable input from other nonprofit leaders and an enlightening TED talk have taught her that “to grow you need infrastructure,” she said. She is constantly on the look out for people who support her vision and cause.

A key player in her cause is Joel Misango, a gospel-singing driver Pluimer met on a fact-finding trip to Africa in January 2013. He’s now the program director in Kenya, overseeing ongoing projects and vetting potential new ones.

It was Misango who took her to St. Ann’s Orphanage, a home for 30 orphans facing eviction. They owned land elsewhere, but lacked funds for a building. The timing was perfect, said Pluimer, moved by the “powerful experience” of visiting children who had such hard luck stories and yet remained “so full of life and love.”

Back in Laguna, Pluimer’s supporters raised $40,000 for the orphanage, and St. Ann’s managed to raise another $8,000. Pluimer insists that her beneficiaries contribute to the project themselves. “When you’re invested in something yourself, you’re going to treat it better,” she said.

In six months they accomplished their goal and completed the home, which now serves as inspiration for future projects.

Every dime donated directly funds a project, said Pluimer, who funds operating expenses herself or with donations solicited for that purpose. And she inspires people like Jolin and Pugh to donate their sweat equity.

Jolin is designing the improvements at the Wholistic Centre gratis and considers herself fortunate to volunteer with Plumier, who she describes as genuine and a great leader. “She’s relaxed, calm, problem-solving and teamwork oriented,” said Jolin.

Pugh appreciates that Pluimer opens volunteers’ eyes to the difference their efforts make in Africa.

For example, Pugh was surprised by a request from Naomi, a student at the Wholistic Centre, who was teaching her Swahili. She asked for her own pen, as school pens had to be returned at the end of the day, and she had nothing to write with to continue her studies at home.

Pugh promptly handed over several pens scrounged from the bottom of a backpack. Who knew the writing instruments, tossed in as an afterthought before leaving Laguna, would be a priceless gift in Kenya?

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