By Karen Kane / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
What would you do to save a life?
Two recent North Allegheny High School graduates are willing to jump into a freezing Allegheny River, run the Pittsburgh marathon and even bungee jump off Victoria Falls in Africa.
Jessica “Jessi” Mazzoni, 21, of Marshall and Natalie Geer, 21, of McCandless have teamed up on a fundraising project that couples the silly and sublime, all in an effort to save the lives of some of the neediest people in the world.
Ms. Mazzoni, a senior at Allegheny College double-majoring in biology and global health, and Ms. Geer, a junior at Ohio Wesleyan University majoring in early childhood education, are determined to raise enough money to renovate a medical clinic in Zimbabwe.
They’re taking an increasingly popular avenue known as crowd funding, listing their fundraising efforts and goals on the indiegogo.com website that allows Internet users to scan the website listing an array of funding appeals and adopt an effort that suits them.
The young women are pledging a range of reciprocal activities based on the amount of money pledged to their effort, from double clapping and making shoutouts to donors while taking the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Plunge in December to hosting a luncheon at a restaurant of a benefactor’s choice.
It’s all contingent on achieving their fundraising goal of at least $30,000 by Oct. 24. And while the young women will be pleased if that goal is achieved, they’re really hoping to meet it tenfold and then some: $347,000. And, if they do, they’ve promised to bungee jump off Victoria Falls — an African landmark near Zimbabwe.
The roots of their efforts began half a world away at the Nyadire United Methodist Mission, an outreach of the United Methodist Church. The mission property in Zimbabwe supports a half-dozen outlying medical clinics. The mission is in partnership with the nonprofit group The Nyadire Connection, known by its acronym TNC, which is seeking to renovate the half-dozen medical clinics. Ms. Mazzoni and Ms. Geer are determined to raise enough money to complete one top-to-bottom medical clinic overhaul.
Why would they pose such a challenge for themselves?
Ms. Geer, the daughter of Paul and Faith Geer, summed it up: “I couldn’t help myself.”
The young women’s story begins, in a sense, with Ms. Geer and a dinner-table conversation with her mom when the young woman was 16. A woman they knew who was associated with Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park was leading a trip to the Nyadire Mission in Zimbabwe, and Ms. Geer wanted to go. She stayed for three weeks on the mission property, which hosts a hospital, a teachers college, a nurses college, primary and secondary schools, an orphanage and single-family homes.
“I got to know the people, the community. I fell in love with it all,” she recalled.
From the day she returned, she wanted to go back and set out to raise the funds to do so. But, political climates changed and when she was ready to go a year ago, it was deemed unsafe to travel there. So, the return trip was postponed to spring/summer 2014.
Meanwhile, Ms. Mazzoni’s parents, John and Nancy Mazzoni, heard at Dutihl United Methodist Church in Cranberry, of the TNC effort and mentioned it to their daughter. At about the same time, Ms. Mazzoni learned of her former schoolmate’s plans. The trip to the Nyadire Mission seemed to fit both with her educational interests in global health and her spiritual interests as a member of the United Methodist Church.
The young women left the U.S. on May 12 and stayed for two months. Initially, they traveled with a Methodist group from the South Hills but stayed on after the group members left.
Ms. Geer spent her days in a second-grade classroom, volunteering and working with the teacher. Ms. Mazzoni worked in the mission hospital. Ms. Geer also got to see the hospital up close when she was treated there for malaria.
“I went to the hospital and it was a very functional hospital,” she said. The same could not be said for the outlying medical clinics she and Ms. Mazzoni toured. Located miles from the mission property, the clinics were dilapidated by any standard — except for one. The Chikwizo clinic had been successfully renovated through the TNC project, at a cost of about $347,000, and was dedicated July 25.
“It was very impressive,” Ms. Geer said.
The young women determined that the Nyahuku Clinic, about three hours from the Nyadire Mission, was in the worst condition. Surrounded by landmines from the independence war of the 1980s, the clinic is a three-room structure that’s being eaten away by termites, Ms. Mazzoni said.
“It’s incredibly small and overcrowded. Children who need vaccines are seen outside the clinic on a bench because there’s no room inside. The walls are falling apart. The ceilings are falling down. A toilet is a hole in the ground, and medical waste is thrown in an open pit behind the clinic. It’s so remote there’s no cell phone signal. There’s no running water or electricity,” Ms. Mazzoni said.
She was saddened to see the quality of health care so low in the 21st century, Ms. Mazzoni said. “People are suffering and dying from diseases that can be easily treated. I saw someone pass away at the [mission] hospital from a respiratory problem that, ideally, should have been treated [successfully], but the resources weren’t available,” she said. And that care was superior to that available at the outlying clinics, she said.
When the young women got back to the U.S., they agreed they needed to do something. The something was crowd funding.
Ms. Mazzoni did research into which efforts were most successful and determined that they should mix the seriousness of their goal — to renovate a medical clinic — with some fun and silliness, said Ms. Mazzoni. They determined that potential benefactors on indiegogo.com “liked to see young people involved in an adventure and doing some fun and silly things,” Ms. Geer explained.
“Basically, we made a website with a video that shows that we’re willing to do ridiculous and crazy things to get money for this project,” she said. And all contributions are tax deductible.
Their site can be reached at www.indiegogo.com/project/the-adventure-for-clinics.
For a $22 donation, Ms. Mazzoni and Ms. Geer will be videoed double clapping as they make the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Plunge in December, if they meet their total goal. For $100, the benefactor gets a shoutout while the women jump into the river.
For a donation of $375, the donor gets “before and after times two” — a video of the medical clinic before and after renovation, and a video of the two jumping into the freezing river, before and after. For $750, the young women will take the donor to lunch, give him or her a thank you note, and present that person with a video of the plunge.
The official goal is $30,000 by Oct. 24, but they really want $347,000. If they reach their goal, they will take the Plunge; if they hit $100,000, they’ll run the Pittsburgh marathon; and if they achieve $300,000, they’ll swing or bungee jump off Victoria Falls.
Their campaign began Sept. 8 and within four days, they had raised more than $8,000.
The young women said they expect Zimbabwe and its people to be a part of their lives forever.
“It just so happens my heart is encrypted with Zimbabwe,” Ms. Geer said.
As for Ms. Mazzoni, she would like to return and begin her professional life there, aiming to bring better health care to a country she, too, loves.
Karen Kane: email@example.com or at 724-772-9180.
Source: Academics, Publications & Research