$93,472 of $200,000 goal

Raised by 320 people in 14 months
Created June 25, 2018

In December of 2016, Caitlin O’Hara died. She was thirty-three years old and my best friend. When I spoke at her funeraI, I promised that I would do something extraordinary. I promised that I would make her proud and I promised to keep her light and her spirit alive. Because of my own two and a half year struggle with breast cancer, it took time to put everything together but - despite delay - I am proud to introduce The Leo Project in honor of Caitlin E. O’Hara. 


The Leo Project moves beyond the classroom and provides supportive services, creative outlets, and opportunities not traditionally available to vulnerable youth in Nanyuki, Kenya.

In Kenya, the education system is based entirely on national exams.  Anything not included in the standardized test curriculum is deemed unnecessary. Consequentially, children are not exposed to art, art therapy, music, performance, financial literacy, basic coding, or other schooling that enriches life and culture.

Our resource center will put paintbrushes in hands, keyboards beneath fingers, and encourage confident voices. We will support creativity and self-expression and foster an environment where kids can be kids. We will employ a full-time Kenyan administrator and social worker who will help us move away from “Band-Aid” solutions by providing sustainable support.


For years, Kenya has called to my soul. In February of 2013, I left my job in finance and moved to Nanyuki, which is located three hours north of Nairobi, Kenya's capital city. I lived there for two years working with street kids and other vulnerable children.

Beryl Markham said, “Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just ‘home.’ It is all these things but one thing - it is never dull.”

Kenya - to me - embodies home. It’s the smell of the air and the illusion of timelessness. It’s the genuine joy and it’s the resilience. It’s the dusty roads and the sky and the people. Above all, it's the kids. 

Caitlin longed to visit me there and meet the kids. To see, with her own eyes, the big cats, the elephants, and watch the equatorial sun rise up over Mt. Kenya. She dreamed of seeing the endless night sky, pinpricked with silvery stars. She was an adventurer at heart but she had cystic fibrosis, a genetic, progressive lung disease, and by her twenties, she could no longer stray too far from her medical team.  

In February of 2014, her health plummeted. She was transferred by med-flight from Brigham & Women’s in Boston to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center where she was listed for a lung transplant. The surgery was filled with uncertainty and side effects, but if successful – like so many were – it would provide her with the opportunity to do many of the things that, before this time, had never been an option. She would finally be able to travel to Africa.

While she was in Pittsburgh waiting for the “call” that a donor had become available, the thousands of miles between us felt more expansive than ever and I was desperate to be in constant communication with her. I started sharing the stories of the kids that I was spending my time with. Simba was one of them. Although he had never celebrated a birthday, he was a doe-eyed, self-proclaimed ten year old (photo below). I connected the two and they sent handwritten letters back and forth. They shared an affinity for tiny winged creatures and their correspondence often included an illustration or two. On June 20th, 2014, Caitlin emailed and said, “Can’t WAIT for Simba’s letter to arrive. Thinking about him and all your little kids a lot. And you smiling at them. It hurts my heart.” 

For many tragic reasons, Caitlin had to wait 2.5 years for her transplant and by then, her chances of success were low. She did not survive. 


Caitlin loved the arts and children, and she advocated for creativity. She viewed the arts as an integral part of education and indeed, public health. She was an art history major, partial to the Northern Renaissance and Early Christian periods. From Joni Mitchell and the Talking Heads to Bob Dylan, she appreciated good music more than anyone. She excelled at graphic design and taught herself basic coding. She painted and sketched and was a brilliant writer. 


In Swahili, Leo means today. Being an astrological Leo was part of what defined Caitlin. She was a lion, as fiery and courageous as they come and she taught us, more than anyone, that all we have is today.

Additionally, Caitlin and I met as  fifteen-year old students while attending St. Mark’s School and will forever be lions, the St. Mark’s mascot. 


We are raising $200k which covers the cost of land (approximately one acre), design, and all construction. The 5,000 square foot resource center will include a large communal space, a multi-purpose amphitheatre/stage which can be used for performances, as well as a place to study, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, two offices, and an art supply room. The bedrooms will be for staff, skilled volunteers and emergency housing for children.

In late July of 2018, I traveled to Nanyuki, Kenya to secure land. Although the formal agreement is yet to be signed, we came to a verbal understanding with the seller and will hopefully have the land deed in a matter of weeks. We are starting with an acre of land and, if funding permits, will purchase a second. Formal architectural renderings of the structure have been drafted and we are working with the Kenyan-based construction team on next steps. Our goal is to open doors in 2019.  


Please donate in honor of Caitlin and in honor of the lives that will be changed through The Leo Project.

*The Leo Project is in the process of securing 501(c)(3) status and, in the meantime, the venerable Flying Kites  is our fiscal sponsor. Donations to this campaign are fully tax-deductible. GoFundMe contributions are processed via PayPal Giving and, upon donation, you will receive a tax-deductible receipt.

Caitlin was never able to fulfill her post-transplant dream of throwing on a backpack, flying to Africa, and finally meeting Simba. Through The Leo Project her spirit will live. Like Caitlin, if you have dreamed of traveling to Kenya, please book a ticket. It will change your life.

From my heart with gratitude and appreciation, asante sana  - Jess Danforth

"You think all this is important but all that really matters is loving people and being kind" - Caitlin O'Hara.


Simba, age 10. In Swahili, Simba means Lion.
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CONSTRUCTION UPDATE: As of today, we have purchased supplies, excavated the site, constructed a perimeter fence and gate, set-up water tanks and poured the foundation for our 4,500 sq. ft. resource center. In March, I will travel to Kenya to work with the construction team and hire two social workers who will begin working with the local community and designing pilot programs that we hope to implement once doors open this summer. Please stay tuned for frequent updates! You can also follow us on Instagram (@theleoprojectkenya). Thank you all for your continued support.
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It's that time of year! An incredibly generous donor has pledged to match $50,000 of donations but ONLY for the month of November. Please consider a contribution of any amount and you will DOUBLE your impact. Finally, if you prefer to donate to The Leo Project via check, contributions can be made out to our fiscal sponsor, "Flying Kites" and mailed to:

Flying Kites
attn. The Leo Project
103 Central Street, Suite G
Wellesley, MA 02482

Please be sure to add "The Leo Project in honor of Caitlin O'Hara" to the check's memo. Flying Kites is a 501(c)(3) organization and, whether online or via check, your donation is tax-deductible. Please help us to spread the word. Thank you in advance!
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This week we launched The Leo Project's website (and logo)! You can now read more about the organization at www.theleoproject.org. As always, we welcome any thoughts/feedback that you might have.

We have now raised the funds to buy land and have almost finalized the design with a Kenyan-based architecture team. As soon as we hit our fundraising goal, will proceed with construction. We are hoping to open doors ASAP so plan your trips to Kenya!

Thank you so very much for all that you have done thus far! In honor of Caitlin O'Hara, please consider making a donation of ANY amount and share the project with as many as possible. x
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I spent this past week in Nanyuki, Kenya securing land for The Leo Project. Although the formal agreement is yet to be signed, we came to a verbal understanding with the seller and will hopefully have the land deed in a matter of weeks. We are starting with an acre of land and, if funding permits, will purchase a second. I also received formal architectural renderings of the structure and will be working with the Kenyan-based construction team on next steps. Thank you all for your continued support!
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$93,472 of $200,000 goal

Raised by 320 people in 14 months
Created June 25, 2018
Funds raised will benefit:
Flying Kites Global
Certified Charity
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Wellesley, MA
EIN: 205946832
How it Works
  1. You make a donation using a PayPal account or a credit/debit card to PayPal Giving Fund (a 501(c)(3) charitable organization).
  2. After the deduction of payment processing fees, PayPal Giving Fund delivers the funds it receives to the chosen charity on a monthly basis.*
* If, after reasonable efforts, PayPal Giving Fund cannot deliver donations to this charity, the funds may be donated to another charity per PayPal Giving Fund’s policies.
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