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5 Questions for John and Jean Roccanova

5 questions for typography
John and Jean Roccanova
Webutuck Teachers Association retirees

In 2010, you founded Grow Against Poverty, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports schools and educators in Kenya. What inspired you to start this work?
Back in 2004, Jean and I read an article about schools in African nations that had over 100 students per class. We started sending donations through a Dutch non-profit to help those schools so they could, hopefully, reduce class sizes. Then we visited Kenya and saw the great need — for transportation, food for the school lunch program, computers and the level of unemployment in the local community. From there, our involvement just grew.


What programs does GAP provide for the Kenyan schools?
Grow Against Poverty currently provides for four programs: Prevent Period Poverty, which is offered at four all-girl high schools, builds bathrooms and provides students health education classes and feminine hygiene products; Green Fields has established organic gardens at 11 schools, growing food for school lunches and teaching kids about agriculture; Computers in Classrooms, through which we contract with an organization that collects and refurbishes old computers and ships them to Africa; and Pedal Power for Kenyan Education, a program that has provided over 380 bikes, helmets and safety vests to nine high schools to help students, many of whom live some distance away, get to school.

John and Jean Roccanova holding wooden bowl wearing fleece vests and sweaters

How do you raise funds for your nonprofit?
We raise about 40 percent of the funds by selling items that I make in my woodshop. I spend well over 1,000 enjoyable hours in my shop making things, everything from cutting boards and candleholders to toys. We sell those items through farmers markets and other local sales. For the rest, we gather donations directly online through a site called GlobalGiving.org. Last year, we raised over $77,000.


What are your future goals for the organization?
In the coming, year we hope to donate 500 bikes to Kenyan schools and add two additional schools to both the gardening program and to Pedal Power. We also hope to add a school each to the Prevent Period Poverty and Computers in Classrooms programs. Last year we also funded Cycling for Climate Action, a Kenyan event organized by our partner organization Grow Against Poverty — Kenya. It included 70 students, 10 kids each from seven different schools. We’re planning a second event this summer.


Why is this work so important to you?
Jean and I retired in 2017 from the Webutuck School District where I was a middle and high school shop teacher, and she taught remedial reading and writing at the middle school. We believe that education is important worldwide, both for peace and for improving people’s lives. To learn more, visit growagainstpoverty.wixsite.com/Kenya.