By Chris Smith/The Press Democrat
This alone is remarkable: The foundation that operates a school in a slum in Kenya has spontaneously named itself for a generous, lifelong benefactor from Sonoma County.
And Riley Orton, the honoree, is just 9 years old.
The Sonoma County native was born a bit prematurely and, it seems, with a potent urge to help others. His family in Kenwood is by no means wealthy, but Riley hadn't been walking long when his folks first noticed his inclination to share whatever he has.
His mother, Jennifer Fee, says he was maybe 2 when he started inviting the postal carrier and door-to-door evangelists to come in, take a rest on the couch and have a drink of water.
A community solicitor who knocked on the door seeking donations to Kenwood's Independence Day parade went speechless when Riley fetched his piggy bank from his room and gave her every penny.
“It's just kind of in him,” said admirer and fellow Kenwood resident Karen Borgfeldt. Earlier this year, she acknowledged Riley's many acts of aiding others by hauling him in front a large Kenwood Education Foundation luncheon, thanking him and presenting him with a drum set.
Borgfeldt noted in her praise at the banquet that Riley had conceived the idea for a holiday gift drive that sent a great shipment of presents to distressed kids who spent Christmas 2012 at Valley of the Moon Children's Home.
“You just don't see second-graders doing that every day,” Borgfeldt said.
“He's just so unusual and so sweet.”
Also as a Kenwood School second-grader, Riley instigated a school-supplies campaign that shipped badly needed books and other classroom items to the non-profit Develop Africa.
He didn't return to Kenwood School this past fall. Though his family lives still in Kenwood, he's now receiving assistance with congenital learning disorders as a third-grader at Prestwood School in Sonoma.
It surprised Riley and his mother when they received a message via Facebook from David Omondi, co-founder of the Akili Preparatory School in the Obunga slums of Kisumu, Kenya.
Omondi wrote that he'd read Jennifer Fee's postings about her son's school-supply drives for Africa and he wanted them both to know he was deeply impressed and thankful that a boy of 8 would undertake such as act of caring.
Omondi made no requests of Fee and her son, except to ask if they would know of anyone who might like to volunteer at the school. The Facebook connection left Riley feeling determined to do something for Akili School.
He took the cash he'd been saving up to buy a game and bought more school supplies. A few others kicked in, too. Riley and his mom purchased supplies and the lad's grandmother, Gretchen Charnas, paid to ship them to Akili Preparatory School.
Today, school co-founder Omondi is a confirmed fan of the kid in Kenwood.
Omondi said in an e-mail from Kenya that he and his best friend, Erick Oduor, grew up in Obunga and were fortunate to go away to college.