girl. The girl’s mother had mentioned to
Hecht that she had no friends. Hecht
called a high school friend of her daughter’s and asked if she would get together
with the younger girl.
“I thought it would be a nice gesture of
friendship and a one-time thing,” she
recalls. “The play date was spectacular,
and it became a weekly play date.”
Soon, “another family called me,”
Hecht says, “and they asked me if their
son, who had autism, could also have a
weekly play date. I paired up two teen boys
to go to his home once a week. Before I
knew it, families were calling me for play
dates and high school kids were calling me
The weekly play dates grew into Circle
of Friends (
in September 2004, with eight teen and
five adult volunteers, the organization
now serves 120-plus families with chil-
dren, teens and young adults with special
needs, and involves more than 130 teen-
age and adult volunteers and more than 32
programs and events.
Although training is provided for volunteers, Hecht says, “at the end of the day,
the most important requirement for a teen
Circle of Friends founder Freida Hecht (black
dress) and some of the play-date partners.
Through Star of Hope, Leonard Muyelele and
his wife, Gladwell (above), provide a loving
home to more than 30 children and schooling
to 120 children from the village (above left).
SOMETIMES PEOPLE find a cause; sometimes the cause finds them.
“In 2004, when our son, Kyle, was 19,
he went to Africa for six months,” says
Vicki Legman, a Costco member in
Newcastle, Washington. “He volunteered
at an orphanage in Kenya, and while he was
there he became friends with the head
teacher, Leonard Muyelele.”
Via the internet, Legman and her hus-
band, Dana Sullivan, kindled a friendship
with Muyelele, who had gone back to his
home village of Chebukuyi to start his own
orphanage, the Star of Hope Centre.
In the 2009 holiday season, rather
than, as Legman says, “giving and getting
presents that no one would care about or
remember in a few months,” they decided
to spend that holiday money on giving
these kids a holiday celebration.
“Our friends found out what we were
doing and asked to join us,” adds Sullivan.
The kids had a celebration and each
received a pair of shoes—for many, their
first—and Sullivan and Legman had a
cause. The Star of Hope Centre (starof
hopecentre.org) was founded and run by
Muyelele, but was struggling, financially.
He had a rented building and about 16 kids
who were in dire need of help.
“One very sick child was abandoned in
a hovel with no food or water, essentially
left to die,” explains Legman. “Several children were homeless and living on handouts
and sleeping nearby. Leonard was in fear
for these kids’ safety, especially the girls’. ”
Legman and Sullivan set out to raise
funds but had no confidence in their abilities to run a charity.
Friends with accounting and organiza-
tional skills came on board, and the Star of
Hope Centre achieved 501(c)( 3) status in
2012. An annual Seattle party and auction,
Dancing for the Stars, was begun in 2010.
Since the organization’s inception, Muyelele
has moved the orphanage to family prop-
erty in the village and, with the money
raised, built 10 classrooms, a boys’ and girls’
dorm, a kitchen, a meeting hall and a well.
A generator was recently added to pro-
vide a small bit of electricity, something
sorely lacking in the area. To date, the small
grass-roots organization has raised more
“People ask us why do this for Kenya
[when] there’s adversity and tremendous
need in this country,” says Legman. “There
is no safety net in Kenya; there is nothing
to help these children. Now we know their
faces; now we know their names. We can’t
not help.”—Steve Fisher
OUR DIGITAL EDITIONS
Click here to watch a video about the
Star of Hope. (See page 14 for details.)
volunteer is a big smile, a compassionate
heart and the willingness to be a friend.
That doesn’t require a degree.”—SF