VCCF Donor Spotlight: Interview with Larry Hines
by Lauren Graf
VCCF donor client Larry Hines has transformed his passion for helping others into the creation of his “pride and joy,” the Nadine Griffey Academy of Kenya. The goal of this nonprofit organization is to “break the cycle of poverty” through education and sponsoring orphaned children from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya to attend private boarding schools. Larry is the founder and president of the academy, which was named after Larry’s late wife Nadine, a teacher and an inspiration to the project.
Larry is a retired lawyer who began practicing with the Oxnard-based Nordman Cormany Hair & Compton firm in 1969. He is no stranger to the importance of education in a young person’s life. Larry attended California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt and the University of California, Berkeley for his undergraduate degrees, returning to Humboldt again for his masters, and finally to Willamette College for his law degree. As a trial lawyer for 53 years, he is also an author who draws on decades of experience to write about “the dark side of the justice system.”
The current plan for the academy’s future is to build a home outside Nairobi for the students, with a couple taking care of the kids while they are on break from school. The children can visit their families in the slums during those four and a half months, but they know they’ll have much better living conditions at the academy home. Most importantly, Larry said, they will often go for days without eating in the slums. He shared that the public elementary school in the Mathare slum had a big metal pot with a communal stew shared around all the children.
“Half the kids here, that’s the only food they get for the week,” Larry said. “So, if they’re not in school from Friday to Monday, they don’t eat, or they eat very little. It’s hard to describe that; you just have to see it and smell it.”
Describe your first time giving back to your community, whether it was philanthropy, volunteering, or otherwise.
Ben Nordman, the founder of the law firm, was very encouraging to get involved in community charitable activity, and if you didn’t do it on your own, he’d put you on something. So, the first one he put me on was the board of directors – it doesn’t exist anymore; it was called the Twelve Step House. It was for [people recovering from alcoholism] in Oxnard, and I served on that board for a lot of years. And then I got involved with FoodShare, and I served 12 or 15 years on that board.
What inspired your decision to sponsor the young girl in the Mathare slum with Nadine back in 2002?
Nadine and I sponsored several children through Compassion International, where you give a monthly donation. We had four children, but one of them lived in the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya. After Nadine passed, I went on a safari over there. She had lupus, so she could never go to Africa. So, I became friends with a guy; he had a ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, and all the animals that were used in Hollywood films in the 1950s and 60s were his animals. And he married a Kenyan. So, after the safari, I stayed with them for three or four days, and Susie, his wife, figured out how to find where Lucy [the child sponsored by Larry and Nadine] was located. So, I went down to the Mathare slum and into Lucy’s home. She was living with an aunt, and there were five children living with this aunt. And just a dirt floor, a little hut, no water, no heat, no nothing. The way she cooked was with a pile of stones. I had been in the slums in different parts of Mexico and so forth, but I had never seen slums like that before. And it was pretty evident that sending them $40 or $60 a month was just allowing them to stay in the slum. So, that’s what sparked the idea.
Our model is “changing lives, one child at a time.” And we change their lives by breaking the cycle of poverty through education. I was at a school out of town a little bit. A church out of somewhere in Virginia supported this school; they built it. And they had a doctor, several nurses, they had a dentist, and they had eight or nine of them from the church. And they had been there for a week. And they did that once a year. And so, it just hit me, these really good folks doing wonderful things, great hearts, they go there, and they help the people, and they leave town, and they leave them in the slum. And that doesn’t work. You’ve got to grab a hold of their hands, hold on tight. That’s the key: hold on tight and don’t let loose, and drag them out of there.
What’s been the most exciting development in the academy’s growth over the years?
Our amazing success with some of these. Joyce Ngaare is now graduated. She has her Bachelor of Law degree. She’s currently working for a Kenyan law firm. So, she can actually apply for a certificate at the end of the year, and she’ll be able to be a licensed lawyer. I mean, that’s just amazing.
And Diana got her degree in education. She’ll be getting her certificate sometime between now and the end of the year. And Lydia Ayiechia has almost finished her degree as a paralegal, and she’ll get her certificate between now and the end of the year. Three people that are at the end and are moving into the workforce. And you’ve got Samuel, who’s a genius. He’s in medical school. We have one kid at Mombasa Technical Institute, he’s going to be an IT specialist of some sort.
What do you see as the overall goal for the future of this academy? Are there any future project goals that you’d like to accomplish once the housing development has been completed?
We have only two students left in the secondary school, and we have four that will be out of the program and getting their university degrees. So, we’re going to be adding either four or six new students out of the third or fourth grade at the elementary level, so our second generation of the kids. And we may, depending on fundraising, be able to add more, but I’ve already authorized four for sure.
We really are changing lives. That’s what’s so fun.
What’s your best advice for others who would like to make a difference?
Just do it.
Larry welcomes everyone to visit the academy’s new website at nadinegriffeyacademy.com. The organization is looking for partners to team up with them and help change lives. Please click the link if you are interested.