Putting smiles on people's faces

2009-09-23 00:00

THE warm-hearted woman in front of me radiates enthusiasm as she speaks: “This is my passion. I would love to do it full time. I have a special passion for the children and always try to help them first.”

The “this” that Leann de Lange is referring to is something she devotes most of her free time to: helping charities. Small of stature, she is a powerhouse of energy, a one-woman aid organisation.

She acts like a facilitator, finding and matching donors, both individuals and businesses, with organisations’ needs. Some of the projects she has worked on include organising funds and prizes for a fun day for the children of the mentoring organisation Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS), taking about 80 children from Umgeni Hospital to the circus by bus with tickets organised by Damon Beard of East Coast Radio, sourcing beds and meal hampers for Reach out for Love in France, finding sponsors to buy paint and people to do repainting at Isabel Beardmore Retirement Home, and collecting groceries for the Natal Children’s Home. She is currently collecting sponsors for an Awards Day for BBBS, helping a programme for children in Sweetwaters affected by HIV and Aids, and collecting blankets, meal hampers, clothes and kitchenware for several organisations.

Conscious of issues of transparency and accountability, De Lange said she researches organisations carefully before approaching people to help them. “I only do this with the written backing of a charity and I make it clear what I am asking for. Once money or goods have been given, I provide a letter from the organisation or receipts to show that it went where it was supposed to. I take nothing from what I do, except the joy of helping others. I have a passion for putting smiles on the faces of less fortunate people. I have so many things to be grateful for. God is good and this work is like my offering to God.”

Does she sometimes get turned down when she asks people to help? “Not often, but I do sometimes come away empty-handed. Although there are just so many people who need help, there are also lots of people who want to help but they aren’t sure how to or don’t have the time to. Many people also want to give anonymously so they don’t want to get involved in projects, but they are happy to support them. That’s where I come in.”

De Lange says she could not do what she does without the support of her employer, friends and family. “If I have to take time off work to fetch supplies or go somewhere, my employer trusts me to make up the time, which I always make sure to do. Some of my colleagues are also very supportive and often get involved in helping me with projects.

“My husband gets concerned sometimes when I’m out late at night. Sometimes he goes with me and I often take my children too. I want them to know how privileged they are.”

She first discovered her passion for helping others in this way when working in the administration at Fort Napier Hospital. “ I got involved in organising functions for hospital patients like a sports day, Valentine’s Day dance, a spring celebration and collecting small Christmas gifts. I suppose it actually started at school when I used to share my lunch with other children who had none. My mother never knew and always asked if I liked the sandwiches she made. I just said ‘Yes’, although I never actually ate them. Sometimes I think she wondered why I was still so thin,” she laughed.

WHO IS LEANN DE LANGE?

Born: Pietermaritzburg

Educated: Alston Primary and Eastwood High

Lives: The Village, near the CBD

Job: Contracts administrator, Eskom

Married: To Bronston for 14 years

Children: Tazlon (13) and Chase (7)

Makes her angry: People wasting food and leaving children unattended

To relax: Handing out donations to less fortunate people puts me in a good mood

Regrets: Not getting my degree in PR

Dream: To become a full- time fundraiser

WHAT MAKES LEANN DE LANGE A HERO?

LESLEY Parkes, the colleague who nominated Leann de Lange said: “She has such a big heart in such a small person. She is always working to help someone and make life easier for others.

“She is always busy with some fund-raising project or charity work of some kind. She is religious but not over-religious and makes a point of going out of her way to help others. She often does all the hard labour involved by herself.

“When I saw the notice in the paper asking for people to nominate everyday heroes I knew that was her. She’s a hero in the office too — for example, she was the one who organised office events for Women’s Day. She has also had an influence on those she works with. She has made us all more aware of the need to help other people.”

DO you know someone who is an everyday hero. We’d like to hear about them. Send his or her name and your reasons for nominating them to features@witness.co.za or phone Shelagh McLoughlin at 033 355 1111 (mornings).

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