Worthington, Minn., golfers to play golf all day to raise money for Africa
WORTHINGTON -- Last year Kate Lesnar had the idea of playing as much golf as she could in one day to raise money for the St. Stanislaus school in Kibeho, Rwanda, an event she named 'All Day Fore Africa.'
Back then she had no way of telling how big the event would eventually become.
She started with modest fundraising goals, but before she knew it she had raised $10,380, which was more than enough to pay for a new water system for the school.
"My first goal was $1,000 and my mom told me afterwards that she thought maybe I'd raise $500 and she'd have to pay the rest of it," Lesnar said. "Then after the first day and a half we already had $1,000 and after a week and a half or two weeks we already had over $10,000."
After personally travelling to Kibeho to deliver the money last August, Lesnar realized that her connection to the cause had only just begun.
Making the trip with her mother Kathy and Immaculée Ilibagiza -- a Rwandan genocide survivor, best-selling author and colleague and close friend of Kathy's -- Kate saw the gratitude that her efforts received from the children, who cemented a golf ball she had brought with her in the wall of the school to recognize her contribution.
However, she also saw how much more work needed to be done.
"Last year when I went to Rwanda and brought over the money I saw how it helped, but I also saw the great need that there still was, even after bringing that much money," Kate Lesnar said. "I decided that it would be fun and helpful if we made ('All Day Fore Africa') a bigger thing and more kids could help out."
This year Lesnar is getting the help she was hoping for.
Whereas last year it was only Lesnar participating in the challenge of completing as many holes as she could in one day (she ended up finishing an even 100 holes), this year a number of other golfers have signed up to play and help multiply the fundraising efforts.
"We're trying to make it more of a family affair," All Day Fore Africa Executive Director Thai Hua said. "Our slogan is, 'Kids playing for kids.' There are a ton of kids, but there are also some adults that will be playing as well -- so to speak they're bringing out the inner kid in them. We're just trying to get the focus from just Kate and expand it to more kids."
'All Day Fore Africa' has grown so much over the past year that it is already on its way to becoming a non-profit organization.
So far around 14 people have committed to playing in this year's event, which will be held Wednesday at Worthington Country Club from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Though Lesnar is a rising junior with a wealth of competitive golf under her belt -- including a trip to this year's high school state tournament -- some of the participants will be much younger, including 11-year-old Ben Koepsell.
Last year Koepsell unexpectedly became involved in the event when he tagged along to play with Lesnar for a few holes late in the day, vowing to donate the $100 he had been saving up for an Xbox if he made a par.
He ended up making that par on Hole 10, landing his tee shot on the green and successfully two-putting in front of the large crowd that had steadily gathered throughout the day to witness Lesnar's efforts.
"It felt good once I made it on number 10," Koepsell said. "People were out watching from the deck. It felt pretty good to donate it."
After hearing about Koepsell's sacrifice, Ilibagiza ended up buying him an Xbox to show her appreciation for his act.
This year Koepsell has a goal to meet the "birdie" level of fundraising ($1,500 to $2,999), with other competitors aiming to attain either the "par" ($500 to $1,499) or "eagle" ($3,000 and over) levels.
Fundraising is currently ongoing, with those interested in donating either to the cause overall or to an individual participant able to do so at www.alldayforeafrica.com.
Another 11-year-old will be competing in Alyssa Johnson, who said it was an easy decision to play "just to help the people in Africa."
Although the increase in number of participants seems likely to help the event far exceed its goal of raising more money than last year's event, having more kids actually playing in the event will also make it a much more fun experience.
"As many kids that are playing it will help them support each other," Hua said. "They can play against each other and just have friendly little games that will encourage them to play and they can also remind each other, 'Hey, we're not just out here to play for ourselves, we're here to play to get money to help support a school in Africa.'
"We're proud to have these kids on board to support the kids in Africa. We really couldn't do it without them."
Although playing golf all throughout the heat of the day can become exhausting, none of the golfers seemed worried about the challenge.
"Especially when you're having fun it goes past pretty fast," Kyle Wendland said.
Wendland -- who competes for the Southwestern United golf team -- caddied for Lesnar during last year's event and will continue his involvement by playing this year.
The event has also had help growing thanks to the involvement of sponsors such as KM Graphics. The company did all the printing for this year's event and a number of its workers will be on hand on Wednesday to watch.
Also there to witness the event will be Father Leszek Czelusniak, a Polish priest who is superintendant of the St. Stanislaus school, who arrived yesterday for a 12-day stay in the area.
Father Lescek lives in Kibeho and has overseen the creation and improvement of the school as it has gone through its various stages.
Although the physical structure of the building has been completed, as well as a recently completed athletic field, there is still a long way to go with fundraising for the school and its children.
"This year the money's going to go for improving the quality of the education, with an emphasis on the teachers," Kathy Lesnar said.
Rwanda recently switched its official language from French to English, meaning that extra emphasis has to be made in funding the necessary materials to implement such a big change.
"We're exploring those options and what's best for the school and getting quality teachers there so the kids can really excel and not just have a nice building," Kathy Lesnar said. "A lot of times people just stop at bricks and mortar and want to go put bricks and mortar somewhere else, whereas what I think we're looking at right now for 'All Day Fore Africa' is staying dedicated to this project and looking to improve the quality of education for these kids."
Kathy Lesnar has made several trips to Rwanda and has been able to see the progress of the school, most recently this past March.
On her trip in March she saw kids wearing 'All Day Fore Africa' t-shirts that were donated along with other clothing when Kathy and Kate made the trip to donate the proceeds from last year's event, noting that the children's clothing was already showing signs of getting worn out.
Last year Kate committed herself whole-heartedly to the cause without having even met any of the kids in Kibeho, but now after meeting them and understanding exactly what their lives are like she can't wait to bring further help and even more hope to children who are so much less fortunate than those in southwest Minnesota.
"Now I know some of the faces of the kids who it's going to help and it's so cool to see how we're directly helping them and making a difference in their life," Kate Lesnar said. "I'm excited to go back and see them again."