Kalyn Willingham, 7; Preston Graber, 8; Makenna Graber, 5; and Naomi Graber, 6; all of Gardner, pose with art projects they sold to raise money to sponsor school children in Ethiopia. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

Kalyn Willingham, 7; Preston Graber, 8; Makenna Graber, 5; and Naomi Graber, 6; all of Gardner, pose with art projects they sold to raise money to sponsor school children in Ethiopia. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

Danedri Thompson
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Shonda Dietz’ passion for a Lifesong project to build a school and sponsor children in Ethiopia is contagious, especially to children.
Four local students have caught the bug, raising money to help build a school and sponsor children who attend there.
Kalyn Willingham, 7; Preston Graber, 8; Naomi Graber, 6; and Makenna Graber, 5; saw Dietz raising funds through things like marathon running and other benefits and decided to get involved.
Initially, the goal was for each family to raise enough money to sponsor one child. Sponsoring a child through Lifesong costs $19 per month. The funding provides school tuition and two meals per day for each students.
One day in October, Staci Graber said her kids came home and wanted to help.
“When your kids decide to do something like this, you need to go with it,” Staci said.
Kristen Willingham’s daughter, Kalyn, decided to create a Christmas picture to sell. The framed artwork features three, brightly-colored fabric Christmas trees.
“We thought we’d sell five pictures,” Kristen said. “And we’re at 90.”
The Grabers also decided to make projects that could be used to decorate at Christmas time. Staci said they sought an affordable project that the kids could do. The family is currently in the process of building a new home, so they chose a project that would use scrap wood from the new construction.
The Grabers’ snowmen are blocks of wood, painted white, with fabric scarves and faces made with stickers.
Naomi said she wanted to help those less fortunate. The six-year-old said her mom helped her make the snowmen.
“I liked putting on the stickers,” she said.
Staci isn’t sure how many snowmen they’ve sold, but she estimates it’s more than 50. Kalyn took her pictures to school and sold to teachers and friends, and both families marketed their handiwork on social media.
“When I went to school with three, I came home with none,” Kayln said. She also took special orders for more. She didn’t charge a specific price for the artwork, just sought donations.
“People were very generous,” Kristen explained. One donor paid $50 for one of Kalyn’s creations. The Willinghams hoped to sponsor one child, Meseret, for one year. Instead, they’re now the sponsors of two children. Meanwhile, additional fundraising they do will help build a high school in Ethiopia.
For Shonda Dietz, the Lifesong project in Ethiopia is very personal. The adoptive mother of two children from Ethiopia, she said wanted to give back to her boys’ country. She specifically dedicated her fundraising activities to Lifesong, because the ministry focuses on keeping families together.
“It’s not an orphanage,” Shonda said. “It gives parents the resources to keep their children.”
Additionally, all funds donated to the Lifesong Ethiopian ministry go directly to the school. None of it is used for U.S. administration. Of $19 per month, $15 goes directly to cover meals and tuition for Ethiopian students, the remainder is used to maintain buildings and for children who don’t have a sponsor. For more information about Lifesong’s project in Ethiopia, visit www.zatproject.com.