by Alan HodgeWhen Tia McNelly of Huntersville first went to Kenya, Africa, in June 2010, the poverty and hunger she saw among the children there made her vow to do whatever she could to help.“I came home burdened with the needs I saw,” McNelly said. “Many of the children had no shoes, clothes or food.”McNelly’s determination to rectify those and other problems she witnessed on that trip will get a big boost this month at a special benefit event to raise funds for the nonprofit Kilgoris Project. The fundraiser takes place Nov. 18 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Nov. 19 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Kadi Fit studio in the Oak Street Mill in Cornelius.Founded in 2000 by McNelly’s brother and sister-in-law, Jon and Caren McCormack of Los Altos, Calif., the Kilgoris Project brings medical care, education, clothes, food and hope to the Maasai village of Kilgoris located in the Rift Valley region of southwest Kenya. The project runs five schools there with a total of about 450 students as well as medical clinics and economic development programs such as a tea farm and a women’s crafts co-op.A registered nurse and director of health for the Kilgoris Project, McNelly has become especially involved in medical care for the Kenyan kids.“So many of their health problems come from something as simple as a lack of clean water,” she said.Since her first trip to Kenya, McNelly has returned twice to establish health-care assessment programs for the kids of Kilgoris. Some of the clinics were held in the bush, safari-style.“There were zebras and giraffes in the road,” McNelly said.In June, McNelly, her husband, and their daughters, 5-year-old Sarah and 8-year-old Mayah, traveled to Kilgoris, where they pitched in to help the villagers.“Our whole family is devoted to the Kilgoris Project,” McNelly said. “The children loved every minute of it and want to go back.”The McNelly children were struck by what they saw in Africa.“I felt bad for the kids my age,” Mayah said. “Sometimes, they didn’t have food, and most of them didn’t have shoes.”“They don’t have all the things we have, and I want to donate stuff so they can have food and be happy,” Sarah said.The Kilgoris Project fundraiser at the Kadi Fit studio will feature a dozen vendors offering a variety of handmade art and crafts from the African nations of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and, of course, Kenya.Many of the crafts for sale have been created by the Kilgoris women’s art co-operative, Upendo.There will also be art and crafts by local artists from Charlotte and the Lake Norman region for viewing and purchase. Young artists will have the Kids for Kenya section set aside to display their works.In addition, the Kilgoris Project benefit will have live music by the band, Humblefeet, baked goods and other activities.Want to help?A benefit for the nonprofit Kilgoris Project will be held Friday, Nov. 18 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 19 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Kadi Fit studio in the Oak Street Mill in Cornelius. For more information on the benefit event, contact Tia McNelly at 704-996-2514, or go to the Kilgoris Project website at www.kilgoris.org.

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