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Founder of HIV Support Nonprofit Talks to Bedford Students

While volunteering at an orphanage during a term studying abroad in Khayelitsha, South Africa, former Bedford resident Whitney Johnson said she was horrified by the number of HIV positive children who were uncared for.

Johnson’s experience inspired her enough to start a nonprofit organization: Ubuntu Africa, a volunteer foundation that sponsors an HIV support center for children and teens living in Khayelitsha.

Johnson recently spoke about her work at area schools, including Fox Lane High School, the Harvey School, the Hackley School, John Jay High School and Cross River High School.

“It was a really hard thing to witness but I also knew that there was so much that could be done and I felt like there was so much love that could be added to this situation,” said Johnson, who serves as the organization’s executive director. “I was really inspired to change what I had seen.”

Henry Rosenberg, an eighth-grader at the Harvey School, was inspired by Johnson's work. He assembled a group of students from local schools to plan “Party for a Purpose: Ubuntu Africa Black Light Dance Party,” a $50 ticket fundraiser for local eighth, ninth and 10th-graders, which will take place at the Bedford Historical House on Friday at 8 p.m.

“A lot of fundraising events are geared toward adults, so it’s great to have people at that age get involved,” Johnson said, who went to the Rippowam Cisqua School when she lived in Bedford.

Operating out of its office in Khayelitsha, the organization provides health care, social work, nutrition, counseling, HIV education and recreational activities like art and soccer to infected children and teens, most of whom have lost one or both parents and live in poverty.

“It really becomes like a second home for them where they get the care and support that they need to overcome all the challenges that they have living with the disease,” Johnson said.

The center currently serves 200 children and still has a waitlist. “We’re desperate to grow,” Johnson said of the need for more funding in order to expand operation and hire new staff.

Rosenberg helped put together Friday’s fundraiser and said he expects at least 150 kids to attend.

“I had a trip to Africa also, so I saw it. It’s hard to ignore and you feel bad. I was really shocked by this,” he said. “Even though I knew about it, it was another thing to see it firsthand. I really wanted to do something.”

Students are invited to join a local Ubuntu Africa chapter to help fundraise and raise awareness. Those interested in learning more or donating to the organization can go to the group’s website .

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