June 28, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Kids for the Congo

MEDINA — It started out as a small gesture to help people halfway across the world.

But as word got out about 12 Medina children trying to raise money for an ambulance to donate to a Congolese village, the idea grew into a community effort.

“We were hoping that we would raise $50,” said Tessa Webb, 11, of Medina. “After we told more people about it, they said, ‘Well I can do this and I can do that.’ ”

The children, who call themselves Kids for the Congo, hosted a carnival Sunday and raised $1,500 that will go toward buying a $15,000 ambulance for the village.

The idea started with a local priest and a socially aware family.

Ernest Martello, originally from Parma Heights and now a member of the Crosier Priory, spent 19 years working with a village in the Congo.

For the last two years, he has returned to the area to give presentations at local churches to make people aware of the Congolese people’s situation.

Jennifer Webb, of Medina, brought her four children to presentations given by Martello in Strongsville last year and in Brunswick this year.

“I thought they should know what life is like where they don’t have the luxuries that we do,” she said.

Martello explained in his presentations that the village — Musienene — he spent his time in is in severe need of many things, including a way to safely transport people to the hospital.

“The priest has a station wagon, but it doesn’t work,” said Tessa. “They attach four poles to a bed and they carry it to a hospital.”

The nearest hospital is two hours away.

As the Webb family left the meeting this year, an idea began to take shape.

“Tessa said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the kids could do something to help?’ ” Jennifer remembered.

Jennifer told her children about the carnivals she had organized as a child with her family to raise money for multiple sclerosis. The children decided to follow suit.

The kids told their friends at St. Francis Xavier School and they gathered “a group of 12 kids who were the steering committee,” Jennifer said. Those students would become Kids for the Congo.

The kids created flyers to post on the streets surrounding the Webbs’ residence on Warwick Court, where the event would be held. They wrote skits to perform over the St. Francis morning announcements. They produced handouts to send home with St. Francis students.

“This was their project. This was their idea,” said Jennifer. “We were just there to help them execute it.”

The children organized, ran the activities and staffed the booths the day of the event.

Carnivalgoers could ride ponies, play corn hole, win a goldfish, play football toss and jump around in a bounce house.

“It was just wonderful. It’s all low-tech stuff that the kids could do,” said Jennifer.

Prizes ranged from Happy Meal toys that had been dug out of toy chests to one of 160 Beanie Babies donated by area families to Tim Couch bobbleheads McDonald’s on state Route 18 in Montville Township contributed.

“It was just really awesome to see the little kids’ faces when they won something,” said Taylor Wray, 16, of Medina, the only high school student in Kids for the Congo.

And there were plenty of people there to participate.

“At one point, someone said we had more than 200 people,” said Tessa. That was a half-hour into the event.

“A lot of friends I knew live really far, but they came anyways,” said Colin Edgley, 9, of Medina.

At the end of the day, the children were able to add $1,500 to the $7,500 that already had been raised by area families for the ambulance.

“If it was the other way around, wouldn’t we want people to help us,” said Tessa’s sister, Teagan Webb, 9.

But this will not be the end of it, the kids say. The children have discussed with Sister Sandra Bevec, principal of St. Francis, the possibility of organizing other events.

The children of Kids for the Congo say they want to do more to help those in another part of the globe.

“It feels good to know that we can make a difference,” said Julia Wray, 9, of Medina. “Just like adults can, we can too.”