Former U-46 teacher's scholarship foundation sends Kenyan kids to school

  • Brett Weiss of Naperville, who created the HOPE Weiss Scholarship Foundation to help children in Dago, Kenya, talks to Phancy at Kadika Girls High School in Kenya. They are reviewing her report card and talking about ways to overcome her challenges.

    Brett Weiss of Naperville, who created the HOPE Weiss Scholarship Foundation to help children in Dago, Kenya, talks to Phancy at Kadika Girls High School in Kenya. They are reviewing her report card and talking about ways to overcome her challenges. Courtesy of Brett Weiss

 
Posted9/7/2021 6:00 AM

Brett Weiss taught social studies for more than 12 years at Bartlett High School, where he lined his classroom walls with meaningful quotations from around the world.

Among his class load was teaching international relations, and now, in retirement, he is promoting what he taught: that children around the world need access to a quality education.

 
Preschool children in Dago, Kenya, hold up new toothbrushes that were donated by a local dentist.
Preschool children in Dago, Kenya, hold up new toothbrushes that were donated by a local dentist. - Courtesy of Brett Weiss

While Weiss was still teaching, he took what turned out to be a life-changing trip to the small, rural village of Dago in southwestern Kenya. Visiting one of its schools and meeting the students haunted him until 2011, when he set out to help them.

For the last 10 years, Weiss, a Naperville resident, has run the HOPE Weiss Scholarship Foundation that enables children in this poor village to attend high school.

"The village of Dago is home to around 3,000 people -- virtually all of whom are among the poorest on earth, with an average family income of less than $2 per day," Weiss said.

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"Most children quit school around the fourth grade because they do not see the point in continuing an education that will not extend past primary school.

"Instead of attending school," he added, "they try to get a job working in the fields, making around $1 daily."

Retired Bartlett High School teacher Brett Weiss talks to Julius at Awendo Boys High School in Kenya about how well he's doing after reviewing his report card.
Retired Bartlett High School teacher Brett Weiss talks to Julius at Awendo Boys High School in Kenya about how well he's doing after reviewing his report card. - Courtesy of Brett Weiss

Weiss created the foundation with the goal of sending the village's children to high school. Since its creation, more than 70 children have continued their education. Each scholarship provides not only their tuition, but room and board, books, uniforms and associated costs. Weiss's goal is to provide an equal number of scholarships to girls and boys.

He promotes the scholarship tirelessly in appearances before local organizations, libraries and faith communities. This summer alone, he drew members of the Rotary Club of River Cities -- which takes in Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights -- to sponsor a student.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
A group of the preschool children in Dago excitedly hold up new toothbrushes donated by a local dentist.
A group of the preschool children in Dago excitedly hold up new toothbrushes donated by a local dentist. - Courtesy of Brett Weiss

Weiss also drew the support of the Viatorians, who stepped up to sponsor five students to attend high school.

"We've been doing interfaith work together for about 10 years," said the Rev. Corey Brost, a Viatorian priest who founded the Children of Abraham Coalition to build understanding, respect and relationships between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Weiss serves on its board.

"The scholarship offers these kids an opportunity for everything I took for granted -- an education and opportunity," Brost said.

Andrew Ullman serves as international service chair for the Rotary Club of River Cities. While Rotarians traditionally concentrate on projects that involve health, education, promotion of peace and the environment, their recent projects have focused on education.

"We see this as a way to leverage our resources in an efficient way to create long-term, sustainable changes in people's lives," Ullman said.

The club is sponsoring a young girl named Vans Sheryl Olouch to attend a private high school for the next four years; however, they are doing more than writing a check.

Vans Sheryl Olouch is being sponsored by the Rotary Club of River Cities to attend a private high school for the next four years. Rotarians plan to mentor her as well as contribute financially.
Vans Sheryl Olouch is being sponsored by the Rotary Club of River Cities to attend a private high school for the next four years. Rotarians plan to mentor her as well as contribute financially. - Courtesy of Brett Weiss

With their broad skill sets among its members, they hope to provide her with mentoring as she considers career options and possibly pursuing higher education. 

"Last month we had a Zoom meeting with her and we expect to have regular meetings with her throughout the term of her high school education," Ullman said. "Our goal is to have an active role in her education and development rather than just sending money for her education and having no further involvement." 

To find out more about the Weiss Scholarship Foundation and how to support its mission, visit weissscholarshipfoundation.org.

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