South Charlotte

She's passing her blessings on to others

For her 50th birthday, in 2002, Monique Boekhout of Lake Wylie told her husband she wanted to run a marathon to raise money for impoverished children in Kenya.

Almost 10 years later, Boekhout's nonprofit Kenya Orphanage Project is supporting 30 children from the Kenyan slums and providing education from primary school through college.

Boekhout, originally from Belgium and whose native tongue is French, came to the United States in 1987 when she married her husband, Bob, who is from upstate New York.

The couple moved to the River Hills community in Lake Wylie in December 1988, where Bob served as vice president of manufacturing for Okuma America. He retired in 1998.

"I feel so blessed in life," Monique Boekhout said. "I'm healthy, have a wonderful husband, live in a great community - it's just normal to return a little bit.

"I think if everyone could return a tenth of what they get, this would be a much better world."

That feeling, said Boekhout, inspired her to run the Chicago Marathon, where she raised more than $50,000.

She then went on a mission trip with Child of Destiny, an organization that planned to build an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya.

Boekhout and 10 volunteers went to inspect the Jubilee Children's Center, the orphanage built by Child of Destiny with the funds Boekhout raised. The volunteers helped complete 25 bunk beds and witnessed the arrival of 32 children from the Korogocho slum.

"On the way home we thought, 'This is great, but who is going to feed them, pay for their teachers?' and so on. When we got back we decided to form the KOP to continue to raise money for construction and maintenance of the orphanage," Boekhout said.

For the next six years, KOP funded the construction of dorms, an elementary school, a secondary school with science and computer labs, a full kitchen with dining room and an assembly hall at the Jubilee Children's Center.

KOP found individual donors in the Charlotte area to support the cost of each child: A one-year scholarship for a child costs $1,500.

"In 2006 we thought, 'These kids will eventually graduate from high school, and what if they want to go to college?' " Boekhout said. "We had a major fundraising event where 13 people climbed Kilimanjaro and raised $150,000. That is totally restricted to college education. ... This year we will have the first girl graduating from high school to go to college next year."

Every year, Boekhout and volunteers travel to Kenya to make sure everything is running smoothly and their money is being used properly. In 2009, they terminated their partnership with the Jubilee Children's Center, due to mismanagement, and relocated many of the children into boarding schools around Kenya.

"Our sponsors continued to back us up when we explained the situation," Boekhout said.

In the coming years, Boekhout said, she hopes to send many KOP children to either Kenyatta University, a vocational school, or college in the United States.

Boekhout says she is very clear as to she expects from the students.

"Most strive to meet that standard because they don't want to go back to the slums," said Lisa McCarthy, a member of the KOP board and a friend of Boekhout.

Boekhout has made KOP her full-time, unpaid job for the past 10 years. KOP has about 75 volunteers who help with fundraisers, mailings, cooking for bake sales, mission trips and other activities.

Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Myers Park United Methodist Church, River Hills Community Church, First Clover UMC and Providence UMC all support KOP financially and have members who serve as volunteers or sponsors.

Despite the rapid growth of KOP as an organization, "the thing that really got me hooked is still vivid in my mind," Boekhout said.

During the first trip to Kenya, before the kids were brought to the orphanage, they were taken to a church where they were bathed and fed. A youth group was playing music in the basement, and Boekhout went to listen.

"I was very tired, I had a headache, it smelled bad and I was sweating and miserable, and I was thinking, why in the world am I doing this?" she said.

"And then I felt something picking up my arm and I looked down and saw this little face with no front teeth going, 'I love you.' "