Lesotho supporters

Supporters of the Lesotho Connection gathered at Burntwood Tavern in South Russell last week for a fundraiser. From left, Nigel Pinnell, 25, of Akron and Deborah Pinnell, 59, of Stow visit with Linda Henry, founder of the Lesotho Connection.

An event in South Russell Village to raise funds to help orphans in the Kingdom of Lesotho was so successful that it generated $15,000 for the cause. Spearheaded by Chagrin Falls resident Linda Henry, members of the Henry family and many others, the event featured teams of bartenders who earned tips that went into the funds for the orphanage.

Among the guest bartenders at Burntwood Tavern were Chagrin Falls Mayor WilliamTomko and his wife Susan.

Mrs. Henry thanked the supporters in the Chagrin Valley area. “Because of them these children have a home, food to eat, a future and hope that they would not have had fending for themselves.”

She and her late husband, Charles “Chip” Henry, who was the Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Court judge, had a special connection with Lesotho. They met while serving in the Peace Corp in the 1980s.

They were in the same training group in the Kingdom of Lesotho which has a king and queen. It is an independent nation landlocked within South Africa, she said. They spent time learning the language and culture.

The country is beset by poverty. Adults battling HIV and the AIDS virus is the main reason for so many orphaned children there. Some are neglected by impoverished parents who cannot feed or care for their children. There are few jobs and food and water is scarce.

The Henrys were living in Auburn Township and celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2007 and had made plans to go back to Lesotho. That all changed when Judge Henry was riding his bike in 2011 and was fatally struck by a person driving drunk.

Mrs. Henry decided to continue that plan, going back to South Africa in 2013. Her trip on Sept. 25 will be her seventh time back. Another trip with a medical mission group is planned for April of 2020.

The Lesotho Connection was formed in 2006 by friends of the Henrys, and Mrs. Henry joined the organization. She and others have worked to fund the construction of a new building for the St. Camillus Centre for orphaned and abandoned children. They have installed beds for a vegetable garden and built a playground as part of the project.

The Lesotho Connection supports a variety of projects with the goal of training and equipping the local people to become self-sustaining and independent. They raise donations for the children’s daily needs of food, clothing, school fees and education. The group just finished building a library that is the first in the district, she said. They sent books along with medical supplies to the site last year.

She said she had set a goal of about $10,000 for the fundraiser last week and was overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity. “It was wonderful. The money we raised last week will go a very long way,” Mrs. Henry said.

Her son, Adam Henry, a South Russell resident, was bartending at the event to raise donations. He said his father was passionate about kids and Geauga County youth and continuing to improve their lives.

“He loved helping kids and giving them an equal opportunity to achieve their best,” he said, noting the event was a way to offer that help. His wife Ashley helped out and his sister Kimberly and her husband Andrew Erdman were involved as well.

Dodie Henry Lee, Judge Henry’s sister, also a South Russell resident, said the Peace Corp brought her brother and Linda together. “And Lesotho was an important part of their lives. Linda has continued to support Lesotho in Chip’s memory. Linda organizes doctors to go there.”

On the patio at Burntwood last week, Ryerson Henry, 6, and her sister Emmy, 4, sold lemonade and cookies baked by their mom Michaela to help raise funds. They were assisted by their brother Charlie, 8, and father Mike Henry, who is a member of the Lesotho Connection board. His father Rick and Chip Henry were first cousins, he said.

Dave Chittock, a friend of the Henrys, noted that Linda Henry has a passion for kids, and through her leadership, a new building for the orphanage was built to give the children a healthier and happier life. “They are well fed because of Linda and all the others who are part of the Lesotho Connection,” he said.

“I’m here to support the cause,” Mr. Chittock noted. “It’s an amazing story. People are offering life changing support for the kids.”

Scott Henry, a cousin of Chip Henry, was a member of a bartending team as well. “It was great the way the whole community came together. I was told by the management it was the biggest crowd Burntwood has ever had. It was a great combined effort by the whole community,” Mr. Henry said.

Linda Hein, former Kenston Local School District treasurer, said she has known the Henry family for many years. “What Linda does for the children is amazing. She’s a very giving person.”

Dr. Margie Wenz of Bainbridge has gone to Lesotho three times with Mrs. Henry. As a physician, she did health checks on the children and adults in the community. There are usually about 20 children in the orphanage, but that number can climb to 35, she said. She is hoping to go back in the spring.

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