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Businessman heads to African orphanage

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  • | 4:00 a.m. July 1, 2009
  • East County
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EAST COUNTY — Jack Wolff spins around in his seat and turns his attention to a glass globe at the desk behind him.

Wolff has loved this small view of the world ever since he bought it 25 years ago. In a way, it’s always represented that he’s a global thinker. But now, it also allows him to point a finger on a place he intends to help.

On July 9, Wolff will be leaving everything he finds familiar to volunteer at an orphanage in Malawi, Africa. There, he and a team of volunteers with Ambassadors for Children will spend about two weeks spending time with the children and helping with whatever tasks they can.

“I have spent half my life in this land of plenty, and I need to see what life is like where people have nothing,” said Wolff, president of Investment Financial Services in Lakewood Ranch. “I just think it’s really neat and really important to bridge the cultures and for us to get an appreciation for what their lives are like.”

The adventure will start with about 32 hours of traveling with stops in Rome and Ethiopia before Wolff finally reaches his destination. The Sarasota resident says he isn’t nervous at all.

“It’s going to be fun,” he says. “It’s an adventure. I’m nothing but excited.”

Although Wolff is heavily involved in charity work locally, this will be his first major volunteer trip oversees besides a trip to Costa Rica with his wife six years ago through an organization called Global Volunteers.
Wolff never planned on going to Africa, but what he read in an airport last October took his charitable ambitions to a new level.

Although Wolff professes that he isn’t much of a reader, a title caught his eye. Within minutes of reading portions of “The 100 Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life,” Wolff was determined to volunteer at an orphanage in Malawi, Africa.

“As I read it, I was like, ‘I have to do this,’” he said.

And within days, he’d signed up online to go on a trip in May. He contacted the project’s team leader, Erin Hempen, and began figuring out what vaccinations and other things he needed to prepare.

Through e-mail conversations, the two became friends, and Wolff’s excitement for the trip only grew when Hempen shared her vision to have a playground system for the children at the orphanage.

“They’ve got one slide that’s all rusted and a broken swing,” Wolff said.

Wolff joined in on Hempen’s fundraising efforts, and the duo raised enough money to purchase a customized playground set for the orphanage. The equipment currently is on a container ship to Malawi. Wolff said they still aren’t sure whether it will arrive on time to be installed during the visit, but he remains optimistic.

Regardless of whether the playground arrives on time, Wolff said the experience promises to be one of a lifetime.

“It’s something I have to do for me,” Wolff said. “You know ‘The Bucket List?’ My bucket list doesn’t have travel the world types of things. I’ve always been in pursuit of living my life in a way that has the most meaning and is most meaningful to me. It’s an experience I have a compelling need to have.”

Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].


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