Pair of races help Lan Vwa take on poverty

Fred McCormick

On Saturday, May 14, runners will gather around a starting line in Zelienople, Pennsylvania while the smell of coffee fills the air. When the starting gun sounds, the third annual Jumping for Java 5K and 1-mile run will get underway.

For many around the Swannanoa Valley the name of the annual spring race may sound familiar. That’s because its fall counterpart is held yearly in Black Mountain (Oct. 1 this year). Both races benefit Lan Vwa, a local nonprofit organization with a far-reaching impact.

The race in Zelienople, a borough 28 miles north of Pittsburgh, takes place just minutes from where Lan Vwa founder, Kelly Waugaman, grew up.

“We got started in Pennsylvania, and the (Lan Vwa) board decided we would do a race up there,” Waugaman said. “I started to think ‘well, there are a lot of runners down here, and it just seemed like a good fit.’”

The races are just one of the ways that Lan Vwa goes about raising money for the work that the organization does in countries like Haiti and Guatemala, where children do not always have access to quality education.

Lan Vwa has received substantial support in Black Mountain, according to Waugaman. In fact, she said that local help was overwhelming as the nonprofit recently secured a grant that will shape the future of Lan Vwa.

“We received a grant last year in March and were given $25,000,” she said. “The goal was for us to raise $50,000, and the grant would match that total. A lot of people in Black Mountain really came along to support us in raising the remainder. Bud (Rainey) did an event at Louise’s, and that received a lot of local support. And John Richardson, the owner of the (Black Mountain) Ale House, did a Super Bowl party that helped raise money for Lan Vwa and ended up putting us over the top for our $50,000 goal.”

The money raised by fundraisers like the races in Zelienople and Black Mountain helps sustain Lan Vwa’s ventures abroad, such as Project Joconal in Guatemala. The school provides access to the Internet in a remote region of the country, and students receive curriculum online.

The goal is to create a self-sustaining education system in Joconal, a small coffee-growing village, that allows students an opportunity to choose their career goals.

This year Project Joconal will produce its first graduating class of five students, a benchmark for the program.

“I’m so excited to see these students graduate and be part of this,” Waugaman said. “It gives me chills. I’m so proud of them because they are like the pioneers of all of this.”

Lan Vwa recently implemented a reading program in Joconal that promotes literacy for young children.

“The students there aren’t starting school until they are seven,” Waugaman said. “They go straight to first grade and a lot their parents don’t have books in the house. So we had to find a way to help them start to develop an interest in reading earlier.”

Students in the secondary school were given a project in which they wrote a book about their experiences and illustrated it. The students then read the story to the young children.

“That will help the little kids develop an interest in reading at an earlier age,” Waugaman said. “It also helps our students develop their reading skills.”

Lan Vwa plans to offer a tour of classrooms in Joconal on May 25 by way of a virtual open house, according to Waugaman.

“We did this in October of last year,” she said. “People can log in from wherever they want in the country and the students do a presentation to share a little of what they have learned.”

And plans are already underway to bring the Jumping for Java 5K and 1-mile run back to Black Mountain this October for a third year. Registration is open; the race will be held on Oct. 1.

To learn more about Lan Vwa visit or like LanVwa on Facebook. To register for the third annual Jumping for Java 5K and 1-mile run in October visit