Hands United gala in Rancho Santa Fe to help needy children here and abroad

From preschoolers in Africa to high schoolers in San Diego, Hands United for Children helps underprivileged children around the world. To fund projects at home and abroad, the Rancho Santa Fe-based nonprofit is holding its fourth annual fundraising gala May 29 at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club.

“It’s wonderful to make an impact,” said Agnes Barrelet, executive director of Hands United for Children. “We are growing and want to make an even bigger impact in the future.”

Founded in 2006, Hands United for Children aims to provide education, shelter, health and individual welfare to underprivileged children. Since Barrelet became executive director in 2011, the organization has built a preschool for children in Sapone, a town in the West African country of Burkina Faso. The entirely volunteer-driven organization has also constructed a dental clinic at O’Farrell Charter School in San Diego.

“It’s very rewarding,” Barrelet said. ”This is why I do it every day.”

Hands United for Children raised $50,000 in 2012 to begin construction on Sapone’s first preschool. The first classroom, restrooms, kitchen and playground were completed that same year.

In June 2013, Barrelet visited the school’s first class, which included 36 children ages 3-5. Today, the preschool serves about 90 children, with the capacity to serve up to 110 kids in the now three-classroom school.

The students learn French, the country’s official language, as well as other preschool-centered curriculum. The school also provides lunch for the children, which is funded by Hands United for Children and the students’ parents.

Since opening the school, Hands United for Children also partnered with O’Farrell Charter School, which is in a San Diego neighborhood where 100 percent of students qualify for free lunch.

Funds raised at last year’s gala helped buy equipment and complete the plumbing and electrical work for a dental clinic on the campus, which is set to open next month. The goal is to eventually provide students with free dental, medical and vision care, Barrelet said.

“People aboard, in Africa, really need our help,” Barrelet said. “But at the same time, we have kids here that need our help. My heart is in Africa, but my heart is here, too.”

Funds from this year’s gala will help build a nursery at the Sapone preschool and purchase supplies for the San Diego high school clinic.

With the preschool nearly complete and the dental clinic in its final phase, however, this year’s event will also help launch a new project: The Children’s Nature Retreat.

Hands United for Children recently purchased property in Alpine to create a nature retreat for children. The 20-acre parcel will feature a farm with animals, where children will visit to learn about animals and spend time in nature, Barrelet said.

“It’s our new project for 2016 and beyond,” Barrelet said. “I’m bringing nature, animals and children in one place.”

Hands United for Children will offer free daylong and overnight retreats to underprivileged children, including those at O’Farrell Charter School.

Donations will cover the cost of the retreats. A three-bedroom house that sits on the property will also be used as a bed and breakfast to cover the cost of staff. Retreats will be available to the public for a fee.

“We are a small organization, but we are making a difference as if we were a bigger organization,” Barrelet said. “Every dollar that people donate goes to the programs.”

The gala takes place at 6:30 p.m. May 29 at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, 15150 San Dieguito Road in Rancho Santa Fe. The event will feature a cocktail reception, hosted bar, three-course dinner, and a silent and live auction.

Tickets cost $175 per person or $1,400 per table. To buy tickets, email agnes@handsunited4children.org or visit www.handsunited4children.org.

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