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Hope for Limpopo is proof positive everyone can make a difference: Viewpoint
Article By Cynthia Simison, The Republican, November 19, 2018
How about Brynn Cartelli," Nancy M. Amanti said in the midst of our catching up last week.
The singing success of the teen-age winner of "The Voice" from Longmeadow is pretty special, but it will be her father, Damon S. Cartelli, whose kindness Amanti will long remember.
When Amanti gives thanks this Thursday at her home in Westfield, she says she'll be grateful for far more than her husband, children, grandchildren, extended family and good friends she holds dear.
There's a group of young people in South Africa, all of them HIV-positive, who run marathons as a team to draw attention to how they can live lives of fulfillment and positivity while dealing with the virus that causes AIDS. They may be poor, but they are proud.
There is Sue-Anne "Susie" Cook, who died just two weeks ago, the woman who founded the Vhutshilo Mountain School in the Limpopo province of South Africa to bring nutrition, care and education to AIDS orphans. Cook initially turned her mobile home into a schoolhouse and used her pick-up truck as the "bus" to cart her kids to classes.
There are the people too numerous to mention and many of whom she doesn't even know who find their way to the Hope for Limpopo website (hopeforlimpopo.org) to donate a dollar or two or more. Last Lenten season, members of Westfield's Blessed Sacrament Church welcomed Amanti to share her story of Hope for Limpopo with them.
"It brings tears to me," Amanti said. "I am so grateful beyond my family and immediate friends, so grateful for having an opportunity to share with people I may have met and people I don't even know who have connected with us.
"There are so many people in this world who have the capacity to love, to share, and they do it just through faith, through blind faith. That is a commodity that I feel we are unfortunately losing in this modern world: to reach out and touch someone in a great way," she added.
Amanti, Jo Ann Churchill, of Easthampton, and Churchill's late husband, Vaughn, founded Hope for Limpopo in 1998 following the Churchills' Peace Corps service in South Africa. The mountain school is one of the programs for which Hope for Limpopo raises money. A bricks-and-mortar school became a reality in 2002, thanks to donations from supporters around the globe.
Another of its programs, the Thohoyondou Victim Empowerment Program, an agency that supports and advises women and children who are victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, has become so successful that it is now self-sustaining, an achievement about which Amanti is very proud. "It's what every nonprofit dreams will happen," she said.
"(Our success) just gives you hope (for) every other charity (and) anything anyone wants to support," she said. "You don't have to support us or even believe in our mission, as long as you find something that you support, something you would like to give to. That's what children need to see happen in the world."
It's a program known as PTOR, Positive Teens on the Run, about which Amanti is most enthusiastic these days and for which she's networking many a connection in hopes of getting them international attention.
"They are near and dear to my heart," she said. "They are all HIV-positive teens, who work very hard to encourage each other to take their meds and to not let the stigma of HIV affect them any longer."
Originally organized three years ago by a Peace Corps volunteer, Teresa Beroncin, Positive Teens on the Run includes young people from impoverished and underprivileged homes who come together to compete in marathons and other long-distance runs. The group's motto, according to a Hope for Limpopo blog post, is "empowering strides to end stigma and discrimination."
"They are so good, such incredible runners," Amanti said. "They go to these races all over South Africa, and they spread the word that having HIV doesn't have to be a death sentence. They say, 'We are strong and we are going to make a difference in this world.' It is just a great, great story."
So great a story, in fact, that Amanti, with the help of some TV producers she's come to know through the years, has been pitching it to national TV morning shows in hopes someone will give it attention. Don't be surprised if that doesn't happen one of these days.
Not so many years ago, Amanti, Churchill and Hope for Limpopo caught the interest of Oprah Winfrey and wound up with an invitation to one of Winfrey's final syndicated TV shows that was to honor "Hometown Heroes." That's where Damon Cartelli came into her life. Members of the audience at that show were gifted with some of Winfrey's "favorite things," which happened to include brand-new Volkswagen Beetles.
Amanti didn't need a new car, so she asked Cartelli, president of the Fathers & Sons dealerships in West Springfield, if he would consider buying it back from her. "He did it without even a question. He didn't have to (do it). He lost money, but he helped Hope for Limpopo." The money went straight into the charity's coffers.
Cartelli's actions, she says, are yet another example of the random acts of kindness which bring her joy whenever she experiences or hears about them.
"You hear these small stories of acts of kindness, and it just makes your day. It just gives you hope. That's what we're all looking for these days, and, when I hear them, I know the future is going to be bright."
Cynthia G. Simison is assistant to the publisher and managing editor of The Republican. She may be reached by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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