As Kate Lesnar plays in the Class 2A state golf tournament Tuesday and Wednesday at the Ridges at Sand Creek course near Jordan, she will surely concentrate on each shot but her mind may wander ever so slightly. The student at Worthington High School, who will be a senior in the fall, can be forgiven if her thoughts turn to children and families who live 8,000 miles away but know they can count on their friend Kate.
Kate is passionate about golf and talented at the game, also qualifying for the state tournament a year ago. Her other passion is the village of Kibeho in the African nation of Rwanda and the children who attend St. Stanislaus School there. One week after the state tournament ends, Kate will wake up very early to head for Worthington Country Club and a day of fundraising for the children in Rwanda.
It’s quite the connection; a teenage girl from Minnesota and a small village in Rwanda. It began because Kate’s mother, Kathy Lesnar, works as a personal manager for Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of genocide in Rwanda during the 1990s who has become a best-selling author and one of the world's leading speakers on peace, faith and forgiveness.
As Kate (pictured) learned about Immaculee’s background and her mission to aid people in Rwanda, the idea seemed so natural: Raise money by playing 100 holes of golf in a single day, taking pledges from anyone who wanted to contribute. The first event, in 2010, raised more than $10,000, which paid for a new water system for St. Stanislaus School as well as clothing, shoes and similar items.
“My goal was $1,000,” Kate said. “We thought that was really high but we thought we could get close to it. Every single day we’d get checks in the mail; from a person in Georgia and just random people. It was a miracle how it all came together.”
This year’s event will be held June 20 at Worthington Country Club. The non-profit project is called “All Day Fore Africa” (you can find a website under that name as well as a Facebook page). The project is subtitled “Kids Playing For Kids” because much of the work is done by teens and younger children. An example: Kate’s younger sister Annie and her friend Kailey Wendland will help raise money by performing with their guitars at BenLee's Cafe in downtown Worthington on June 19, with BenLee's donating a portion of each lunch sold to the cause. More than a dozen people have signed up to play 100 holes in Worthington the next day, so the project is growing.
“Lots of people say, ‘This is such a good idea: Kids using their passion to make a difference.’ It’s a super idea,” Kate said. “It’s going to be as big as God wants it to be.”
After all that money was raised in 2010, Kate, Kathy, Immaculee and several others traveled to Kibeho to visit and present the funds to Father Leszek Czelusniak, the Polish-born priest at St. Stanislaus. Last year’s effort spread to similar events in California, Pennsylvania and Nebraska and raised more than $30,000. Each event is followed by a trip to Kibeho.
Kate will never forget her first journey to the village.
“I was so overwhelmed. They have to walk a mile up a hill to the school. Right when we could see the school, the kids saw us and sprinted out to us. It was so cool seeing how happy they were. They were barefoot, in ripped t-shirts. … They realized that something good had happened. They were all so happy.”
Immaculee Ilibagiza and Father Celusniak will attend next week’s event in Worthington. The Lesnars are hoping that more people around the country learn about All Day Fore Africa and plan their own events.
“I feel like it’s starting,” said Kathy. “Some people may want to go bowling all day for Africa or play soccer. For me as a parent it’s so awesome to see the kids realize they can make a difference in the world. As far as building character, we push our kids to be the best they can be. This organization is focused more on shaping kids’ hearts, and the benefit is as much for the kids in the U.S. It’s planting seeds of love in people’s hearts.”
The money raised this year will go toward teachers and a much-needed medical facility. “When someone’s sick they put them on a stretcher and walk them to the nearest place,” Kate said.
Kathy said, “The medical facility is a big one. We’re talking bigger money, and we can do it.”
The Lesnars will have materials about All Day Fore Africa with them at the state tournament this week, and they will accept donations from anyone who wishes to help. They are happy to spearhead the project, but they know they are not alone.
“It seems like a story about Kate,” Kathy said. “But it’s really a story about a bunch of kids.”
To which Kate added, “And without the community support it never would have grown like this.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 664
*Miles John has driven: 8,431
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