by Caroline Colwell
The J.F. Kapnek Trust has been excitedly preparing as their 10th annual family run fundraiser approaches. The run will be held April 21 and will begin at Miramonte.
The run is a family oriented event that was created as a way to gather the community, have a great morning, and celebrate what the trust is about. The run involves everything from a morning brunch to performances by a traditional Shona dance group.
The run is organized to engage families of all ages. Children are able to enjoy drumming lessons among other activities while their parents run. There is also a shorter race for children under the age of 10.
The money raised from the run goes directly to refurbishing preschools in Zimbabwe as part of the trust’s orphan support program. In the past, the run has raised $3,000 to $5,000, enough to open two preschools. The money is raised primarily through entrance-fees, but some funds do come from donations. Sponsorships are encouraged.
The preschools supported by the J.F. Kapnek Trust are able to support on average 120 students. Over the years, the trust has created about 130 preschools in Zimbabwe, and they support over 6,000 students.
The run was originally organized by a group of students from Northgate High School who ran on the track team. They heard about the trust and suggested organizing the run as a way of informing people and generating community involvement.
Most people who do the run have heard about the trust, while others come out for the exercise. It is a great way to inform a wider range of people about what the J.F. Kapnek Trust is doing.
“What is interesting about a project like this is that just having the community involved and getting people aware of what we are up to allows the organization to spread. It starts to reverberate,” Dr. Dan Robbins, head of J.F. Kapnek Trust and former Miramonte parent, said. “It’s not necessarily the direct donation that makes the largest impact, but the true significance is just getting the community aware of what we’re about.”
Robbins explains that through the community involvement created by the run, the trust has made new connections and found new opportunities with which to expand. Moraga Library now donates surplus early-reader books that the trust is able to bring over to the preschools.
The trust has also sent over groups of high school students to live in rural communities for a few weeks and assist in these preschools. They work with a team of builders to put glass panes in windows, lay concrete, paint walls, and fix doors. They refurbish dilapidated classrooms that are unable to be used by the students. The groups range in size anywhere from two to 60 students.
The American students also spend time getting to know the preschoolers who will be using the classroom as well as the other locals. They spend time with children their own age, sharing what life is like in California as well as learning more about life in Zimbabwe. Because the people of Zimbabwe speak English, the Americans are able to converse and build relationships with the locals.
The J.F. Kapnek Trust differs from other organizations in that their funds come predominantly from larger grants. They receive grants from UNICEF, the U.S. government, the European Commission and other smaller foundations within the United States such as the Doris Duke Foundation.
“Although the bulk of our funds come from generous grants, the fundraising really does serve as a catalyst,” Robbins said.
Although it is smaller in amount, the private dollars that are not restricted by a grant are actually much more useful. The trust is able to implement these funds to support a variety of programs that do not fall under the jurisdiction of a grant.
“You are constantly running into challenges or gaps because this funding doesn’t cover this certain piece of the project,” Robbins explained. “One granter doesn’t want to pay for the refurbishment, they want to pay for the training of preschool teachers. Another wants to pay for health check-ups. You end up with gaps.”
Money raised through private fundraisers allows the trust to step in and cover those issues that come up, for example, the refurbishing of the preschools.
Currently, the funding from UNICEF is going to the trust’s program that supports kids with disabilities. They recently collected over 100 wheelchairs, which were shipped to Zimbabwe.
“The disabilities program is another very large program, funded by UNICEF, that allows us to reach out to thousands of children with disabilities throughout Zimbabwe,” Robbins said.
The J.F. Kapnek Trust was named after Robbins’ great uncle, James Kapnek. Having been raised in Philadelphia, Kapnek moved to southern Africa in 1905, where he became a businessman. He was involved in expanding the mining industry and selling farming equipment. He introduced new crops, hiring horticulturalists to come to Zimbabwe to investigate what would be the best kinds of crops to develop. He was knighted by the queen mother for his contributions to education and his assistance in developing Rhodesia, a British Commonwealth Colony at the time.
When he died, Kapnek willed the majority of his fortune to a trust for education and medical research. He left the J.F. Kapnek Trust in the hands of family and friends from the medical community.
Robbins’ aunt re-established J.F. Kapnek Trust after Zimbabwe declared independence from the United Kingdom. She also expanded the trust’s programs to include the health and education of young women in the country.
Now under the leadership of Robbins, the trust is focused in Zimbabwe, where they employ a full-time staff of over 70.
In the United States, other than small enclaves around the country, the trust’s activities are focused in the Bay Area.
Robbins and his family have traveled to Zimbabwe several times. His daughter Tasia, who graduated from Miramonte in 2012, hopes to travel to the country next summer with a group of students from her college along with the high schoolers.