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?Chosen' to help African orphans

By Clay Wilson

In 1993, Heather Reynolds of England was moved with compassion to build an orphanage for African children bereft of their parents by the continent's HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In 2003, Chosen Heirs Inc. founder Karen Nichols of Stockbridge announced her intention to form a link between the teenage girls she leads and youth in South Africa.

This year, that link has crystallized with Chosen Heirs' toy drive for God's Golden Acre.

God's Golden Acre is an orphanage at Cato Ridge, South Africa, for children who are abandoned or have lost their parents to AIDS. The program was founded by Reynolds, a humanitarian whose work earned her a 1996 award presented by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Chosen Heirs, Inc. is a faith-based, non-profit organization focusing on developing leadership and life skills in girls ages 9 to 17. It was incorporated in 2001 by Nichols, who had been laid off from a corporate job.

Each month, God's Golden Acre holds a birthday party for the orphans. The Chosen Heirs girls, who come from Henry, Clayton, Rockdale and DeKalb counties, decided they want to help make sure each child has at least one special gift on his birthday.

The Chosen Heirs worked in various ways to raise money for the toys. They held a candy sale and car wash, solicited donations from individuals and wrote letters to local businesses.

On April 17, National Youth Service Day, the girls boxed up the toys for shipping to South Africa.

"It has really been a great learning experience for us," said Nichols. "The participants have really been able to demonstrate their leadership skills through planning the activities and writing letters to raise money for the project."

And according to Nichols, the project may be helping the orphans to learn leadership and responsibility, too. She said she learned through e-mail correspondence with an orphanage official that the orphanage has placed pictures of the Chosen Heirs conducting their project on the dining room wall.

"They want to try and inspire a sense of community responsibility in their children, too, because they are always on the receiving end and need to learn to give," Nichols said.

She said the Chosen Heirs want to ship the toys within the next couple of weeks. They can still use monetary donations for the shipping.

Besides the joy the girls want to impart to the orphans, Nichols notes that they get a great feeling of satisfaction from the project, too.

"It gives our girls a sense of accomplishment to know they can affect the lives of others in another country," she said.