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The Edmond branch of an organization that helps orphans worldwide focuses its attention on a boys' home in Uganda

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A contribution of $50 for utilities, or $25 for art supplies could help a former street child for a month in Uganda.

Through The HALO (Helping Art Liberate Orphans) Foundation, homeless youth have shelter, food and water in Kenya, India, Mexico, Nicaragua and the U.S. They are also provided clothing, education, art therapy and mentors. The youth submit their art to be sold at fundraising events, and the money goes directly back to the orphanage.

One of The HALO Foundation's branches is in Edmond and is led by Cody Pepper, who owns four ICAN Martial Arts Schools. It's one of the martial arts' tenets " leadership " that led his students to chose to support a boys' home in Uganda.

"We take a proactive approach to leadership, to world and philanthropic issues," Pepper said. "We are focused on the Makarere house."

Currently, 16 boys live at the Makarere Home in Uganda, which has the capacity to help 25 escape the streets. There is a big leap from street life to orphanage life, as some must be convinced to stay and to know it is their home. Since many come from broken homes due to militia killings, poverty, AIDS and bombings, having a bed, and being fed and educated are new concepts.  

"It is a broken culture right now," Pepper said.

When the boys settle into their home and basic needs are met, they begin to grow more than physically. That's when the leadership skills begin to shine, which parallels with martial arts. The Edmond HALO branch has held fundraising events, including martial arts exhibitions, golf tournaments and social gatherings.

"It costs $1,000 a year per boy," Pepper said. "One-hundred percent goes straight to the orphanage. That is one of the benefits of a smaller organization."

Headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., the foundation has two employees. In addition to the Edmond branch, three are located in Denver, Jefferson City, Mo., and Nashville, Tenn.

Rebecca Welsh founded the organization in 2004 after success with several student-led fundraising events. Welsh, who had developed compassion curriculum as part of her own martial arts program, informed her students about street kids. Students responded and formed an event.

"The kids raised $5,000," she said. "(They) raised $40,000 at the next fundraiser. I had no expectations, no plan."

Welsh mentioned an example of one boy who raised $600 by running a hot chocolate stand.

"That can build a mud hut in Kenya," she said. "Giving time or funding toward a home does make a huge difference."

For more information contact codypepper@haloworldwide.org or visit www.haloworldwide.org. "Gina A. Dabney

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