Local race benefits school in Joconal, Guatemala

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Runners in the third annual Jumping for Java 5K, 10K and Fun Run will likely carry a sense of accomplishment across the finish line at the Saturday, Oct. 1 event in the middle of downtown Black Mountain.

However, the achievement of finishing a race may pale in comparison to the feeling that comes with knowing that proceeds from this year's race will help the village of Joconal, Guatemala celebrate its first high school graduation.

Project Joconal, a school started in the coffee farming village by non-profit organization Lan Vwa, is preparing for the Oct. 29 graduation of five students. Kelly Waugaman, founder of Lan Vwa and director of the third annual Jumping for Java race, said the ceremony is a culmination of what her program first set out to do in Joconal.

"My goal is to communicate to everyone that shows up for this race what their participation means," she said. "This year the race will be a huge support for our first graduation. We'll be streaming that live online, but we haven't worked out the details on that part yet."

Waugaman's organization began providing access to secondary education in Joconal in 2012. At the time more than half of the children in the village did not have access to education beyond the sixth grade. This year's graduating class will have opportunities that have not existed in the past for the children in the village.

"All five of the students graduating want to continue their education," she said. "And more importantly they can continue their education."

Two of the students, who Waugaman identified as Wilfredo and Fredy, would like to pursue careers in teaching and nursing, respectively.

"Wilfredo is teaching adults in the village how to read," Waugaman said. "I've been asking these kids for years what they wanted to do when they grow up and he's always wanted to be a teacher."

The graduation, which Waugaman calls Lan Vwa's crowning achievement up to this point, is about more than just the individual achievements of each student.

"What we hope to achieve with this is to get the rest of the village to buy into the idea of secondary education," she said. "This will help sway all of the people in the village that are still on the fence about the importance of education."

Project Joconal students focused on nutrition for their senior projects this year, which Waugaman said ultimately benefited the entire village.

"They decided to plant a community garden," she said. "In doing that they researched what they should grow there and they're harvesting the plants and giving them to people in the village and teaching those people about the nutrients in them. That's exciting."

Waugaman said the Black Mountain community has been a big part of Lan Vwa's success in Joconal. She points to the sponsors of Jumping for Java, like the Black Mountain Rotary Club, as keys to her organization's efforts.

Current Black Mountain Rotary Club president Darrell Johnson said supporting Lan Vwa is a "natural fit" for the organization.

"We're committed to doing international work in addition to the work we do here in Black Mountain," he said. "So when Kelly approached us three years ago and asked if we would be a sponsor we were thrilled to help."

Locally the Rotary Club places an emphasis on educational programs, like Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which promotes early childhood literacy by giving free books to children monthly. The program has around 150 participants locally, according to Johnson.

The club also organizes a backpack program that supplies backpacks for kids in need.

While Jumping for Java only takes place in Black Mountain once a year, the fall version of the race has a spring counterpart in Pennsylvania, Waugaman's place of birth.

"We started these races in 2014 as another way to raise money for Lan Vwa," Waugaman said. "They've been great and very necessary because raising funds is one of the hardest things for a non-profit to do."

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