Lacy Voight '06 puts art talent to work helping orphans and at-risk children worldwide.
Lacy Voight grew up in Jefferson City, the quiet capital of Missouri. She attended Jefferson City High School, showing a marked talent in art and photography. She graduated from Columbia College in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts with an emphasis on photography, and was poised for a lucrative, fulfilling career.
She found half of that equation. By her reckoning it's by far the better half.
"I make a passion salary," she says from Kansas City, where she is program director at the HALO (Helping Art Liberate Orphans) Foundation headquarters. "That's what I call it, because you better be passionate about what you do. The reward is the fulfillment you get, not the salary."
HALO is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity founded in Kansas City in 2005 that provides food, water, shelter, clothing, education, art therapy, caretakers and medical support to orphanages and residential care facilities in Kenya, Uganda, Mexico, Nicaragua, India and two educational centers in Denver and Kansas City.
Voight moved to Kansas City four years ago and became the group's volunteer art director. The group recognized her passion and organizational skills and a year later, when HALO finally had sufficient financial resources, hired her as full-time program director.
And she has traveled to Uganda, Kenya, India and Nicaragua with HALO.
"I had never been to India before and didn't know what to expect – could I freely take photos?" she wondered. "Would they be welcoming? They don’t get a lot of tourism [in rural India]. But everyone I met was so welcoming! If they saw the camera, they asked me to take their picture. It turned out to be a very positive experience."
She adds that she loved Nicaragua and hopes to go back this year, with a very special ukulele. "It wasn't that hard to learn. And it's the perfect size to travel with and the perfect size for little hands."
She is the only full-time employee at HALO headquarters; there is only one other part-time employee. HALO is dependent on interns, hundreds of volunteers and donations. HALO is a proud 80/20 organization where 80 percent of funding goes directly to the programs they support.
"It’s not enough to have compassion; you must put it to work.Her nonstop fundraising efforts take her all over the Midwest, including her old high school last year to speak to seniors. You have to do more than feel compassion, she said at the event. You have to act.
“Compassion changed my life,” Voight said. “It’s not enough to have compassion; you must put it to work.”
Voight has been doing so since she was a teen. She says it's addictive and contagious: "Once you start volunteering," she says, "you find more outlets, more for you to do. I just had to get more involved. Then I found out about HALO, and it was the perfect opportunity to utilize multiple things I felt passionate about—art, international travel, helping kids."
So what's a day in the life like for a worldwide orphanage and underprivileged kids program director?
"I do so many different things!" she says. "In the morning I might be doing art with a groups of kids in KC, talking to the U.S. ambassador in Uganda in the afternoon. My biggest focus is managing our international programs, reviewing the homes' budgets and kids' scholarships." Voight admits that funding is a constant struggle.
The need could not be more urgent. According to the group, there are more than 120 million orphans worldwide. HALO'S Timau Orphanage and Naibor Home in Kenya host as many as 60 orphans, many of whom have lost both parents to AIDS and some of whom are HIV-positive. The Bukesa and Gulu Girls homes in Uganda harbor children orphaned by that country's brutal, seemingly endless civil war with the Lord's Resistance Army, a ruthless group who conscript child soldiers.
But why art?"We focus on art because it's a good expressive outlet," she says. "Most, if not all, these kids have gone through something traumatic in life, so we use art as a tool to express things they may not be able to express easily. We try to get them to think about the future – where do you see yourself in five , 10 years? – and painting, drawing, crafts, really helps them toward creative, expressive ways of thinking about things like that." HALO also invests in medical care and education and helps the children secure scholarships.
As for her ukulele, you will just have to read Voight's blog with its luminous photography from India, Nicaragua and other places at lacyvoight.blogspot.com.
To learn more about HALO, check for HALO events near you or to donate, go to www.haloworldwide.org.