‘Hope bearers’ dancing to help others

Dr. Mark Cooper, whose son, Jim, is a missionary in Kitale, said raising chickens is common in Kenya. The eggs can be sold for profit to sustain the ongoing work of the school, orphanage, feeding center and medical center, which also help other children and widows living in the squalid conditions of the slum. There are 31 children in the orphanage and more than 200 in the slum.

“If you’re going to build the capacity, you must build within the capacity a sustainability model,” Cooper said. “That explains the idea about Chicks for Children and the subsequent emergence of the Chicken Dance Marathon.”

Last year, Woodrow Cummins raised $7,000, which, when combined with other resources, allowed missionaries to build a chicken coop and purchase several hundred egg-laying chicks.

This year all nine Conway elementary schools were involved.

“The need continues to be as great,” Cooper said. “It becomes a moral imperative to build more chicken coops, buy more egg-laying chickens and continue providing a home for the orphans.”

“To me it’s about education first. The most important part of this has to do with growing service-minded children. I hope (the students) are old enough to realize they are difference makers in the lives of children who are very severely impoverished. We think children who become more globally service-minded will also become more locally service-minded.”

The Chicks for Children project also involves a global friendship between the children of Kitale and the children of Conway. Children in Conway dancing around 1 p.m. were joined by their counterparts in the orphanage in Kitale, where it was about 9 p.m. At last count, students raised $13,125.34.

On the day of the Chicken Dance Marathon, Woodrow Cummins Elementary School Principal Charlotte Green was on the parking lot with her faculty and parent volunteers, overseeing the dancing mass of students. Also on hand were representatives from Chick-fil-A, which is a partner in the Chicks for Children effort.

Asked about the involvement of all nine elementary schools, Green said, “Conway’s a community, so it’s fitting. Chick-fil-A has expanded to even go beyond Conway.”

She believes the children do understand the situation of the severely impoverished children they are helping. “We have (an) assembly before so they can understand what the other schools are like and that there’s power in giving. It’s our way of showing compassion,” she said.

Dawnel Verkler, marketing director for Chick-fil-A, said, “We’re thrilled to be here. We started this process about a year and a half ago. Last year we had one school.

This year we have 10. Bee Branch Elementary joined at the last minute.”

She said Cooper approached Chick-fil-A with the idea.

“Hopefully we will plant seeds in these children of what they can do. Hopefully we are permanently paired and we will expand,” she said.
Donna Wilchie, counselor at Ida Burns Elementary School, said, “Not every child in the school could financially participate, but they did dance. All this goes into one overall effort of our school.”

Ida Burns raised about $846, which will pay for 169 chicks. Some of the children may have been able to donate only $1, but those children will see the benefit of working together, she said.

“They’ll get to see my dollar added to someone else’s $20, added to someone else’s $100 can go a long way,” she said.

Cooper hopes to see the Chicken Dance Marathon expand to include all of Faulkner County, then Arkansas, and then the nation.

“What I can envision is, in years to come, this will not be limited to Kitale and the Kipsongo slum. My hope is we share our commitment. The potential is great,” he said. “I do want to talk about the children who attend Conway schools. They are becoming the difference makers. The hope bearers.”