Dinner to celebrate 10 years of HEART

Auburn-based organization combats AIDS in Kenya
By: Dominique Perkins Special to the Journal
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Vickie Winkler is living proof that one person can make a huge difference. Winkler and her late husband, Kenn, served as missionaries in Kenya almost 30 years ago. A return visit at the height of the AIDS crisis prompted further action. All around her she saw people in need: widows without suitable medical care or ways to support themselves, children left orphaned by HIV or other diseases, and hospitals without access to clean water. Winkler’s reaction was understandable — somebody should help them, she said recently. As she prayed, she felt strongly that she, in fact, was that somebody. And so she started with a small team of family and friends from her local Auburn congregation, and HEART, the Health Education Africa Resource Team was born. Now, HEART is an international non-profit organization and is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a benefit dinner Feb. 27 at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn. The dinner will include an address by keynote speaker Warren Buckingham III, who recently accepted a post in the Washington, D.C. Global AIDS Office. HEART has “expanded its borders a lot,” said Gloria Martinez of the Auburn office. Thousands have gotten involved across the country, giving their time and finances to support Winkler’s mission — to empower the people of Africa to survive the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Wherever Winkler sees a need she fills it, says Bev Brown, Winkler’s sister-in-law who now serves on the HEART board of directors and as the regional coordinator for HEART in Colorado. Winkler now spends most of her year in Kenya. “She calls them God’s thoughts,” Brown said. “He just drops a thought in her heart, and she figures out a way to make it work.” These thoughts have now become specific projects overseen by a Kenyan board of directors that works closely with an American counterpart of volunteer teams and health professionals. “I would go back tomorrow if I had the money,” Martinez said. “It was probably one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had in my life. It’s amazing to see all these wonderful programs and how they’ve succeeded.” Teams traveling to Kenya choose which projects they want to work on. Projects include disease prevention education; providing clean water, basic nutrition and medical care; and empowering women and children to attend school and support themselves. Individual projects are detailed on the HEART Web site, Brown describes one of her favorite volunteer trips to Kenya when her team chose to build a mud hut for an 80-year-old woman. “She had been living in this little — shack isn’t the right word,” she said. “A shack would have been a grade up from what she was living in.” Her team built the hut and also purchased some furnishings. The woman had never slept on a bed before, and Brown said she would never forget this woman’s joy when the home was completed. “It’s just a really rewarding experience and very humbling to go and see how it is there. To see the programs and see all that is being accomplished,” Brown said. “Your work here is much more meaningful once you’ve gone over there.”