by Madison Marko – Head Photographer
Nine-year-old Leyla Angelidis, daughter of math teacher Michael Angelidis, has inspired Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund—a fund that has raised about half a million dollars to benefit education in Ethiopia.
“We would have no other connection to Ethiopia if it wasn’t for Leyla. When we brought Leyla into our lives, we wanted to connect to her native country. We want her to have a sense of who she is and where she came from. This is all because of her,” Mr. Angelidis said.
The fund, a nonprofit, was founded by Michael’s wife, Ellenore Angelidis. It held its sixth fundraising gala on Dec. 9 at Hangar 30 in Magnusson Park. The gala featured silent and live auctions, a wine wall, and a raffle. Ethiopian food, art, and poetry were celebrated throughout the event. The Ethiopian Community Center Dancers performed a traditional Ethiopian dance. In total, the gala raised around $100,000.
The money will be divided to support the Early Reader Books Project, Technology and Coding Project, and Art Education Project. The Early Reader Books Project will continue to create Ready Set Go Books that have been translated into four Ethiopian languages. The books will be shipped by Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund to different libraries in Ethiopia.
For the Technology and Coding Project, the fund will work with another nonprofit, UCodeGirl, and support them as they bring more technology and coding to Ethiopia. Mrs. Angelidis is on the advisory board for UCodeGirl, and has been working on locating partners to collaborate with for the project.
The Art Education Project will work with artists and teachers to create curriculum for students to learn to create art that can be used for Ready Set Go Books. The artist will create art while they are in Ethiopia. The fund will sell this art to raise money to be able to provide classrooms with supplies to continue the programs throughout the year.
“The goal of the Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund is to continue to empower people through education. We believe that education is not a privilege, it is a right. You should be able to get educated no matter where you were born— whether that is in Ethiopia, or Kent, Washington, or Athens, Greece. Education is the most empowering thing for people,” Mr. Angelidis said.
Some of Mr. Angelidis’s students, as well as many Key Club members, stepped up to volunteer at the event. Leizllyn Nicolas (11), Key Club member and one of Mr. Angelidis’s calculus students, said, “Mr. Angelidis told our class about the fund, his adopted daughter, and how Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund has helped kids in Ethiopia. I knew I wanted to be a part of that. It was a new experience for me, and I loved seeing so many people come together to help raise money for the cause.”
Mr. Angelidis said, “I am Greek, my wife is Dutch, our boys are American, and our daughter is Ethiopian. We feel like we are more of a ‘world family’. It humbles us to see where we are and what other people are dealing with. Even in our worst days, there is a lot more suffering in the world. If we can make a small difference in somebody’s life, then we are grateful for that. We are all citizens of the world, and if we can help somebody, let’s help somebody.”