The end of the Turkey Trot in 2018 was only the beginning for several Palisadian families.
Made possible by trotters who donated to the affiliated Hearts with Hope Foundation, the Houston and Levi families packed their bags and embarked on a medical mission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would be taking our children to Ethiopia and working with orphanages as our family vacation,” Jennifer Levi said.
The trip occurred after a small group of doctors, including Palisadian Dr. Dan Levi, Jennifer’s husband, began going on medical missions to Peru to teach local doctors from small communities more advanced procedures, like open heart surgeries and cauterizations.
Proving successful, the missions expanded well beyond South America, giving the Levi and Houston families the opportunity of a lifetime to take their efforts to Ethiopia.
While the doctors went to work, Abi Houston and Adelle Levi, 9 at the time, formed Abi’s Animals, a nonprofit of their own, aimed at collecting old or unused stuffed animals and clothing from kids in the Palisades and distributing them to children in need.
This year the girls teamed up with local nonprofit Dollies Making A Difference to provide more dolls and stuffed animals.
Their brothers, Braun Levi and Sam Houston, also pitched in with a collection of their own, consisting of soccer balls and sporting equipment.
“Anywhere we went, as soon as we brought a soccer ball out and put it on the ground, it was an immediate connection,” Jennifer said. “They didn’t even need to speak the same language.”
Levi finds that experience priceless and a great way to give her own kids perspective while helping children from a different part of the world.
“I think where we’re living in the Palisades is a bubble and unusual and not a normal place to raise kids,” she explained. “And as soon as you step into this country, I couldn’t even imagine how hard these kids had it.
“I think it was important to show our kids how good they had it.”
The crew is already planning their return, keeping in close communication with the orphanages they visited to get a better sense of what is needed.
“They didn’t even have toilet paper or diapers,” she said. “There’s a strong need for things that we take for granted.”