Readers responded with an outpouring of letters and emails, asking Keown how they could give a little to help Mulongo and the children. Keown had never expected or intended to start a nonprofit, but when he saw how eager people were to do what he’d encouraged them to do—sacrifice something for someone else—he decided to create an outlet for their goodwill.

Keown responded to the enthusiastic Metro readers and sent emails to his own circle of friends and acquaintances, encouraging them to come to the first meeting of a new nonprofit and to bring three friends. Mulongo envisioned a group of Kenyan women coming together in the future to discuss how to be the change they wish to see in the world; Keown brought together a group of Americans in the present to discuss how to make Mulongo’s vision a reality.

Squeezed around small tables and enjoying homemade snacks, the 40 or 50 people in the Irish Immigration Center listened to Keown’s idea that they band together and raise money to help Mulongo and the Kenyan girls. Supportive and willing to help, people offered to help out where they could.

“I work for a public relations firm,” said one. “I could help get the word out.”

“I’ve never designed a website before,” said another. “But I’m sure I could learn how.”

“I’m a lawyer, and I know that if we want to become a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, we’ll need by-laws and a board,” said a third.

“Well, who wants to be on our board?” Keown asked. Several people volunteered, including Lydia Bradley, who became Director of Operations and became one of the core leaders of the new nonprofit.

Keown concluded with a message for everyone in the small room. “You all came here tonight because you heard a story. If you’re interested, start telling this story to others.” And they did. People began spreading the story through email, wine and cheese parties, art shows, and small social gatherings.

The nonprofit now known as One Home Many Hopes was born. In its first month, the volunteers raised $7,000 through their grassroots efforts. Though a relatively small amount, that $7,000 came at exactly the right time for Mulongo and the children.

Just after the newly formed nonprofit had finished its first fundraising campaign, Kenya was torn apart by rioting in the wake of a fierce presidential election. Despite evidence of ballot rigging, the incumbent Mwai Kibaki assumed office once again. Protesters marched in the streets and some were shot by the police; hate crimes were perpetrated against the Kikuyu people, to whom Kibaki traced his roots; and looters—some desperate, some opportunistic—took advantage of the chaos, stealing from stores and homes. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, wounded, or displaced. The price of food and other necessities skyrocketed. Without the money raised by One Home Many Hopes, Mulongo would not have been able to buy enough food, water, and supplies for the children.

Because of that first fundraising campaign’s impact, One Home Many Hopes gained momentum and the story continued to spread. The organization began getting press coverage, including in The Boston Globe. It officially became a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit. More and more individuals did their little bit to help the cause by telling the story to their family and friends.

In the fall of 2008, One Home Many Hopes applied to be a “test case” nonprofit for Universal Synergy, LLC. Kristy Hall, a professional fundraiser who worked at Universal Synergy, was looking for small nonprofits who were willing to film themselves trying to raise $20,000 in 30 days. Of course, they would have the benefit of her expertise and she would get a wealth of positive PR and name recognition for herself and her methods.

One Home Many Hopes was one of two nonprofits chosen for this challenge out of over a hundred applicants. Harnessing the power of social media and Web 2.0, One Home Many Hopes launched its Race to 20K campaign. Though $20,000 initially sounded like an impossible fortune to the volunteers at this fledgling nonprofit, One Home Many Hopes ended up raising over two times that amount: $46,000 in just one month.

When Keown, Bradley, and the others witnessed how enthusiastically people were responding to their mission, they decided that it was time to help the story spread even further. And where better to bring the story than the hub of words and ideas, New York City? Keown gathered the handful of people he knew who lived in the city and told them about One Home Many Hopes. The New Yorkers agreed to tell others and try to get enough people to start a New York chapter.

One of the people at the New York meeting, Teach for America recruiter Daniel Grant, decided to accompany Keown, and a few others on a visit to Mudzini Kwetu in May 2009. Keown figured that it would be good if other people besides him had the opportunity to meet Mulongo and see how their fundraising efforts translated into tangible benefits in Kenya.

The group of seven volunteers arrived in Mombasa and drove north through the town of Mtwapa and down a bumpy dirt road bordered by subsistence farms. As they approached Mudzini Kwetu, they saw a large number of women outside the three-acre compound’s wide blue gates. They were lined up, carrying large jugs to be filled with clean water from the taps constructed outside of Mudzini Kwetu’s gates in an effort to be good neighbors to the surrounding community.

Mulongo later explained that these women would often travel eight or nine miles just to get this free, clean water instead of having to drink dirty river water or purchase water elsewhere. He also explained that the water taps had helped the community to trust that Mudzini Kwetu really did mean well. Like the girls inside its gates, those who lived outside had seen their share of betrayal and were cynical of “do-gooders” as a result. In fact, when donations from One Home Many Hopes paid for a telephone line to be installed in the compound, someone stole the telephone wires and guard dogs had to be stationed to keep other building materials from being stolen. But the community’s attitude toward Mudzini Kwetu changed after the water taps were built and after they saw that those living at Mudzini Kwetu purchased local goods and employed local staff.

The volunteers entered Mudzini Kwetu’s gates and saw a joyous scene of girls running around, playing soccer or chasing barking dogs. Keown did a double take when he saw R., the youngest of the three sisters he’d met almost two years ago. This young girl, now three years old, was happily bouncing a basketball, smiling and glowing with health. He got a chance to reconnect with R.’s oldest sister, K., who had lost her bitter edge. Like Gift, she had become a mentor for younger girls who were struggling to overcome the hurt that had been done to them in the past.

Throughout their stay, the volunteers interacted with the girls and saw how they lived together in their home. Like any family, they helped out with chores such as cooking breakfast or doing laundry. Early in the morning, they piled onto a pink school bus to attend school. They had a tutor to help with homework, a social worker to help the girls come to terms with their painful pasts, and house mothers to help with anything else. They enjoyed mangoes, pomegranates, vegetables, eggs, milk, and turkey from Mudzini Kwetu’s small farm. They spent weekends playing and studying, and those who wanted to do so went to church or learned taekwondo.

Though the volunteers spent time and effort planning activities for the girls and building a fence for the farm, the primary reason they went to Kenya was to be equipped to share the story of One Home Many Hopes when they returned home. As a leader of One Home Many Hopes since day one, Bradley had heard about the girls of Mudzini Kwetu many times. But when she actually met them on a volunteer trip, she was transformed, just as Keown had been transformed when holding Macharia and Mulongo had been transformed after meeting Gift. Bradley gushed about her visit: “Mudzini Kwetu really is a miraculous and magical place; so full of love and happiness. It was very special to finally see the place we were working so hard to support; that it was a real place; that our efforts were making an impact; and that absolutely, it is a very worthy cause to support.” Grant was also deeply touched by his time in Kenya. He planned to return home to New York and be an influential leader of the budding chapter forming there. Shortly after the trip, he told Keown, “I was created to do this.”

However, despite the profound experience the volunteers had in Kenya, One Home Many Hopes had come to a rocky crossroads. Though the organization was growing rapidly, it was still relatively small and had no paid staff members. So when Keown lost his job at the Irish Immigration Center, he didn’t know if he could stay in Boston just for One Home Many Hopes. He’d been in America longer than he’d intended, so he considered returning home to Ireland or going to London or China.

As Keown wrestled with this decision, Grant called him from New York to say that he had been offered a much better job as Teach for America’s executive director in Oklahoma. As much as he wanted to stay connected with One Home Many Hopes in New York, he was going to take the job. It was painful, but he felt he had to make the practical choice and accept the paid position.

The very next day, Grant called Keown again. “I changed my mind,” he said. “I just decided that I need to start making decisions that will shape my life. One Home Many Hopes is the most important to me.” After that conversation, Keown knew that he had to find a way to make One Home Many Hopes his life. He decided to follow the examples of Grant and Mulongo, who had both sacrificed their careers to help the girls in Kenya. Keown became the first paid staff member of One Home Many Hopes. Depending on any start-up business for one’s livelihood is a risk; how much greater a risk it is to depend on a new nonprofit in the middle of the greatest recession since the 1920s.

But One Home Many Hopes continued to thrive. The New York chapter was officially launched in August 2009 when a group of 150 people met together at a bar and heard the story that had been changing so many people’s lives, inspiring them to give a little or give it all. After seeing the success One Home Many Hopes had had with Kristy Hall’s methods a year prior, an even larger fundraising organization called Turnkey contacted One Home Many Hopes about participating in another fundraising experiment. Turnkey wanted to know if the fundraising strategies it suggested for big organizations would work for small ones as well. Of course, One Home Many Hopes agreed to be Turnkey’s guinea pig.

The campaign was called Breaking Ground 2009; the target was $70,000. The ultimate goal was to be able to build a new, much larger house in the Mudzini Kwetu compound so that the 30 girls would not have to cram into the three-bedroom tin house. Keown envisioned a beautiful four-story home with four bedrooms per floor—three for girls and one for a house mother. There would be a kitchen, living room, and bathroom on each floor. With no more than 15 girls per floor, the home could house 60 girls, almost doubling the number of children Mulongo would be able to care for.

In keeping with its pattern of exceeding expectations, One Home Many Hopes did not just raise $70,000; it raised $135,000. Construction on the new home was completed a year later, in December 2010. In that same month, One Home Many Hopes completed its Breaking Ground 2010 campaign, in which it raised over $250,000 to construct a school near the Mudzini Kwetu compound. The community that had once stolen building materials now advocated for this school, convincing the authorities to grant Mulongo the required five-acre plot of land where the school will sit.

Reasonably speaking, this shouldn’t have happened. A grassroots nonprofit started by an article written in the Metro shouldn’t be raising a quarter of a million dollars in its third year of existence. But thanks to many people giving a little bit and a few people giving everything, it did. Fittingly, when Keown stumbled upon this George Bernard Shaw quote while flying home from a visit to Mudzini Kwetu, he chose it to be the slogan for One Home Many Hopes: “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”

Photos by: D.J. Glisson, II

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Jessica Colund is a Blast staff writer

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