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Tenth Anniversary Reflections
March 28, 2013
by Susan Schunk

Dear Friends,

African Sky will soon be celebrating its tenth anniversary. It would seem that this is an appropriate time to pause for a few moments in order to reflect upon where we have been and to look forward to our future endeavors. With your support and your willingness to recognize needs beyond our borders, we have come a long, long way in the last ten years. It has been a journey filled with many miracles, both small and large – miracles that could not have happened without you. Some of you may know the story of how African Sky came to be, but allow me to retell the basics and to explain the directions we are following for the future.

In 1994, a young man from Munroe Falls, Ohio, with a big heart and the seed of a dream, served as an Agricultural Extension Agent with the Peace Corps in the small rural village of Dissan in Mali, West Africa. His experiences while there led him to pursue studies in Anthropology and, in 2001, with the help of a Fulbright Scholarship, he was able to return to Dissan to conduct extensive field research for his PhD dissertation. Halfway through his Fulbright experience, he became overwhelmed by a sense of indebtedness because of the knowledge, wisdom, and friendships his hosts so generously shared with him. Since the village needed a new pump, he asked the village elders for permission to build one as an appreciative gesture that could benefit the entire community. Their response was positive, and the seed of the dream began to sprout.

Having already organized the Bougouni Browns Backers, a group of Malians and Peace Corps volunteers who followed the Cleveland Browns' games via video tapes sent from home, Scott had the idea to approach the Cleveland Browns for permission to sell t-shirts to raise money for the project. With the Browns on their side, Scott's family launched a campaign to sell Bougouni Browns Backers shirts to raise money. His sister Kathy created a terrific design, his mother Christine spent months receiving and managing shirt sales, his father Ron helped promote the fundraiser at work and in the community, while his grandmother Anna transformed her home into a t-shirt order fulfillment center. After surpassing their initial goal to raise funds for the pump within weeks, his family shared the good news: Scott and the elders would have to dream bigger. Scott knew that the village frequently discussed building a school, but they had been unsuccessful raising funds, so he pitched the idea of selling enough shirts in the U.S. to build that school. The elders enthusiastically approved, and the Lacy's continued selling hundreds and hundreds of shirts as the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Akron Beacon Journal, the St. Louis Dispatch, the Cleveland Browns, and even Sports Illustrated helped spread the word to Northeast Ohio and beyond. Buy a shirt, build a school. In just three months, the campaign raised enough funds to build the primary school in Dissan, and a year later, students enjoyed their first day of class in their new school.

With this first miracle accomplished, Scott thought, "Why stop now?" Seeing so many pressing needs facing his hard-working Malian friends and adoptive family, and wanting to help so much more, the seed of his dream flowered and African Sky was born. With his family, friends, Peace Corps contacts and others, Scott began laying the groundwork for developing African Sky into a volunteer charitable organization. He founded African Sky in 2004, and the first two years of projects were primarily funded by his credit cards. Then his mother and sister teamed up with an amazing group of friends to organize African Sky's very first Silent Auction to raise funds to support more projects, including the construction of additional schools.

From this modest beginning, African Sky has blossomed into a vibrant, multi-faceted organization. In ten years we have completed hundreds of projects, big and small, and we have raised funds to build additional schools. We recently completed our second school in Soumabougou (sponsored by students, parents, and teachers from the Winter Springs School District in Florida), and our team is headed back to Dissan to make bricks and build a secondary school. We are creating a team and a process that will eventually allow us to build schools well into the future. In addition to the schools, African Sky manages three adult literacy classes (one for women only), we hosted a Mothers and Daughters Summit in Mali, we support income-generating activities to reduce poverty, we collaborate with farmers to promote food security, and we did some crisis intervention to respond to the recent political upheaval in Mali, to name just a few areas.

The scope of African Sky's work in Mali has become too wide-ranging for one individual to manage alone. This past year, we have been privileged to welcome Kate Lechner as our new Managing Director. Scott and Kate have determined that a more formalized and efficient organizational structure was needed to ensure that all of African Sky's diverse projects would be carried out in the most productive manner possible. To this end he and Kate created a Board of Trustees, a Founder's Council, and a Council of Advisors.

The Board of Trustees will meet monthly and is responsible for setting the overall general direction of the organization, as well as providing financial oversight. Its first action was to create a Mission Statement for African Sky:

" African Sky is a social profit organization working to
lessen the effects of extreme poverty in Mali. "

The current members of the Board of Trustees are as follows:

Kevin Dreslinski, President Linda Peshina, Treasurer
Kathy Lacy, Vice President Cherie Wade
Susan Schunk, Secretary Rita-Clare LeBlanc
Gabe Ritzert Scott Lacy (ex officio, non-voting)

The Founders' Council will create and carry out fund raising projects, reaching out to community groups in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere. They will review ideas that are brought to African Sky for feasibility and possible implementation. The members of the Founders' Council are as follows:

Christine Lacy Helen McKee
Kathy Dreslinski Cat Potter
Ron Lacy * Kathy Lacy *
Scott Lacy * Linda Peshina *
* denotes members on leave from the Founders' Council to serve either on the Board of Trustees or the Council of Advisors.

The Council of Advisors will provide advice and guidance according to their areas of specialization.
Current members are as follows:

David Bothman – Engineering and Technology
Kristy Baddley – Women's Summit, Women's Associations
Ron Lacy – Schools, Organization's Mission

We are also very pleased to welcome two talented women who have agreed to volunteer their time and expertise to serve as Program Directors. These new directors will be responsible for creating annual project calendars, setting priorities, and establishing program budgets. They will each manage and specialize in one specific area of our Mali operations. Scott will be mentoring them through the end of this fiscal year, helping them to develop their program goals and objectives. By August 2013 they will each manage their own sector of African Sky programs.

Colleen Naughton, currently a doctoral candidate in Civil Engineering at the University of South Florida, has agreed to join African Sky as Program Director of Education. Colleen returned from Mali in November of 2012 after serving there in the Peace Corps as a Water and Sanitation Extension Agent for over three years. The majority of her Peace Corps work took place in Zeala, a small village of about 700 people just 50 miles north of Bamako. She first worked with African Sky as the National Coordinator of the Gender and Development Committee when efforts were being made to develop a closer partnership between African Sky and the Peace Corps. This has unfortunately been postponed due to recent political instability in Mali and the subsequent evacuation of the Peace Corps. Colleen returned to Mali after the evacuation to finish her research and is currently working with African Sky to manage a cereal bank and a literacy project. As the new Program Director of Education, she will be managing our current education projects (school construction and literacy training) while developing her program's mission and objectives and designing future projects. She is "thrilled to begin her new role with African Sky."

Laura Vest has accepted the position as Program Director of Income-Generating Activities with African Sky. Laura graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Journalism. Following graduation she worked as Communication Team Leader for a congressional campaign in Kansas and then left for "the life-changing" role as Community Economic Development Volunteer with the Peace Corps in Mali. Laura served for 18 months in the city of Kita. She was introduced "to the humble and determined efforts of African Sky and Scott Lacy" through her position as President of Peace Corps Mali's Gender and Development Committee (GAD). In Mali she consulted a women's shea butter cooperative on marketing, ran a Bambara language radio show and taught basic business classes with a women's empowerment focus to a group of 50 Malian women breaking into the male-dominated field of tailoring. As Program Director of Income-Generating Activities, Laura will be piloting a way to sell Malian-made products in the U.S. and developing a plan for a social enterprise with a girl's and women's empowerment focus. She recently secured a full-time position working with children and families in the Bronx, New York City. Laura is also very enthusiastic about officially joining the African Sky family.

Once Colleen and Laura have assumed full responsibility for their specific program areas, Scott will begin the process of recruiting volunteer directors for projects relating to Health and Food Security. He, Kate, and the Board of Trustees are currently prioritizing those areas of need that will be the focus of future fund raising activities. It is an exciting time to be a part of African Sky. We hope that you will continue to offer your support as we continue our life-changing work. Thank you again for your part in helping the seed of a dream to grow and flower. I will close with a quotation shared with me by Laura Vest.

" Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. " - Margaret Mead

Susan Schunk
Secretary, Board of Trustees