Penny Project Aids Africa

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When a group of U.S. teens heard reports about children orphaned by AIDS in Africa, and that life expectancy there had dropped to age 40 they wanted to help. So they reached in their pockets and found an innovative way that anyone-rich or poor-could be part of a solution. Reed Galin reports.   

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(Locator: Birmingham, Michigan)

Jamie Hinz lights luminary: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

Jamie Hinz (“hines”) hopes these luminaries will shed light on a health crisis.

Her youth group at First United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Michigan wants to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

It’s all part of their penny project.

That’s what the teens named an ambitious effort to collect 23 million pennies to symbolically represent the 23 million people in Africa infected with AIDS.

The youth began collecting the copper coins in 2005.

The Rev. Jeff Nelson, First United Methodist Church: “Kids reached into their pockets, threw about $4 of spare change on the table that day and that’s how the Penny Project was born. Hardly a day goes by at the office now where I don’t get a baggie with a dozen pennies in my mailbox. Sometimes it’s a mayonnaise jar.”

Jamie Hinz, Age 14, Penny Project: “When I see a penny in the street, I pick it up. When I see a dime, I pick it up. Because a dime is ten people in Africa.”

The youth group traveled to Ghana to see where to spend their money.

A visit to an AIDS orphanage led to one donation.

Emily Reynolds, Penny Project Co-Founder: “It was probably the best experience of my life, just going there. We played with the kids at the orphanage and it was joyful and heartbreaking.”

The teens also helped HIV-infected women start a sewing business and they even set-up a scholarship fund at Africa University to educate ten future doctors.

The Rev. Jeff Nelson, First United Methodist Church: “They’ll be on the front lines in community health of their communities because of these kids’ pennies.”

This luminary fundraiser will push the Penny Project past its $230,000 goal.

Proof that pocket change can enact real change.

The Rev. Jeff Nelson, First United Methodist, Birmingham, MI: “They’ve impacted generations beyond themselves. It’s a pretty remarkable, remarkable thing.”


First United Methodist Church plans to continue collecting pennies to fund other AIDS causes in Africa.

To find out how to make a donation, go to the church’s Web site or call 248-646-6407 ext. 3147.

Also, see: Penny Project uses pocket change to enact change

Posted: Dec. 10, 2008