LA MARQUE — Teenager Samantha Gardner will board a flight for Africa this September, toting luggage crammed with sewing machines, tools, knitting needles and hope.
The 24-hour flight plan will land her in Nairobi, Kenya, for a sewing camp patterned after the Galveston County extension service program.
The goal is to teach a marketable skill to girls and women rescued from abuse.
“I hope to leave them with some skills that they can build upon to enable them to make their own school clothes and gain skills to be able to get a job when they are done with school,” said Gardner, a 15-year-old home-schooler whose family is backing the project.
Gardner spearheaded the project last November with the help of her parents, Nicole and Don Gardner of Alvin. Don will take time off his work at The Woodshop of Texas in Texas City to accompany Samantha on the trip.
The family has gathered donations from throughout the community, but $8,000 more is needed for trip costs.
So, on Aug. 7, they are having a luncheon at the Galveston County Extension Office in La Marque.
The office was the starting point for this story. Starting at age 8, Samantha took sewing lessons there at camps directed by now-retired extension agent Marilyn Simmons and assistant Irene Berry.
“Marilyn took her under her wing,” said Nicole Gardner, a former caterer who now home-schools the majority of the six children in the family. “They had fabulous sewing projects there.”
This past fall, Nicole and her husband were researching mission opportunities at Cindi’s Hope Girl’s Rescue Center in Nairobi. The girls there, in a safe haven from abuse, were teaching themselves how to knit using sticks.
So the Gardners proposed a family project — a drive to supply knitting needles and yarn. But Samantha had a bigger plan.
“I want to teach a sewing camp,” she told them.
“So, we’ve been supporting her,” Nicole said. “This is a vision God has given her.”
The project gained momentum when the founder of the rescue center, Cindy Murphy-Mendoza, happened to be stateside and met with the family.
“Her passion and the way she presented everything showed us this is what we are supposed to do,” Nicole said.
The family gathered donations of thread, sewing machines, fabric, tools and knitting needles.
The supplies will be used in two four-day camps at the rescue center’s two locations outside Nairobi.
The students will be the older girls and adult women, including teachers, at the center.
“We’re hoping the women will gain skills so they can be as self-sufficient as possible,” Nicole said.
For Samantha, the trip already has the makings of a take-home lesson in faith.
“I feel it is important to give back when you have been blessed,” she said.
“When I heard about the girls at Cindi’s Hope in Kenya, I felt in my heart that going there to teach them to sew was how I could give back. ... I know I will come away from this trip a changed person, and I hope to leave a lasting impression on the girls I will teach.”
At a glance
WHAT: Samantha’s Sew Camp luncheon
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 7
DETAILS: The fundraiser is for a weeklong project at Cindi’s Hope Girl’s Rescue Center in Nairobi, Kenya. The lunch program will include a slideshow on Cindi’s Hope. Bags crafted by Samantha Gardner will be on sale at the fundraiser.
WHERE: Galveston County Extension Office, 4102-B Main St. (FM 519), in La Marque
COST: $7.50 per plate of King Ranch chicken, salad, garlic bread and dessert, with tea or lemonade