Our Champion for Fund: Healthy Beginnings

An African American daughter and father smiling. Fund: Healthy Beginnings is now open and Melanie Gross is the Fund Champion who’s raising the roof for children living with HIV in Zambia. Here’s why Melanie chose Fund: Healthy Beginnings and why it’s important to her.

“Firelight provided me the opportunity to give back in a way that was impactful and personally meaningful in a community that is near and dear to me.”

Why did you choose Fund: Healthy Beginnings?

My life mission and purpose has always been to find ways that I can help to make an impact in the lives of women and children. My mom was a strong advocate for women and she focused on domestic violence. I branched out into the public health space. I hadn’t focused on HIV and AIDS before this, but the partners in Fund: Healthy Beginnings work on a number of issues that excite me. I like that they ask moms, “What do you need to be successful?” When women feel empowered and have access to resources it helps them to be better mothers and to provide a healthy environment for their children and families.

I love the community approach of the partners. It resonates with the values of the communities being served and it’s what helps them to be a sustaining organization. I personally wanted to help communities in Zambia to provide mothers and their children what they need to have a healthy approach to parenthood and life.

Why is Zambia important to you?

I’ve always heard that Zambia has a strong community of empowered women. I’m Zambian and from the U.S. so learning more about Zambia has been a part of my own quest to understand where I come from.

In 2002, I studied in South Africa and we had a break that allowed us to go off on our own. On a whim, I decided to go to Lusaka. I met a lot of people, women, who were part of public health research, including HIV and AIDS education, who were identifying what’s working. I’ve been interested in returning to Zambia and giving back there since then.

I thought about building a library, but my heart is women and health issues so I kept looking for a way to give in that way. A colleague of mine, Mary Yoo, told me I had to meet Firelight. When I talked with Peter and Zanele, we discussed Fund: Healthy Beginnings and it gave me the chance to be more connected to the country of my origins.

Read Mary Yoo’s Story: Why I give to Firelight

What are your big hopes for Fund: Healthy Beginnings?

That I can raise all the money! I also hope this is the beginning of a lifelong partnership with the two Firelight partners. That this is a part of their success story in Lusaka and countrywide.

What’s your favorite part of the Fund?

I like that the organizations serve as mentors to other groups. They’ve received all the training and support from Firelight and are now paying it forward. It’s very easy in this work to feel like this is a drop in the barrel and that’s not the mentality of these partners.

Why did you choose to work with Firelight?

When I tell people a little about Firelight, their eyes light up. They want to hear more and learn how they can get involved. If that were all I did, this would be a huge success. I want Firelight to receive a ton of calls from people asking how they can get involved.

What advice do you have for others who want to make a difference for children and families in Africa?

Don’t overthink it. There are a lot of organizations that are in dire need of your passions, interest, and resources. Don’t underestimate the value of what you bring. There are a lot of unmet needs out there. Send that email and take the next step. Do what I did – contact Firelight, they have lots and lots of organizations that need your help.

Support Melanie’s fundraising campaign

Fund: Healthy Beginnings raises $15,000 to end pediatric AIDS and build community support for children living with HIV in Zambia. Learn more.