Retiree’s journey proved life-changing

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George McGee '71, left, traveled to Kenya to meet Stephen Omondi Okongo. The two have profoundly impacted each other.

You may think you can’t do much with $30.

George McGee knows $30 can change lives.

McGee ’71 (business administration) recently traveled to Kenya, where he met Stephen Omondi Okongo – a young man McGee has been sponsoring for the past five years through Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA). Okongo’s parents died of AIDS, leaving him – a teenager – to care for two younger brothers and a sister.

McGee’s support of $30 a month has allowed the family to survive. They recently moved into a new house, and although it has no electricity or running water, it is a vast improvement over the mud hut they previously called home. Most important, Okongo has been able to return to school, where he is now studying electrical engineering.

“The power of a few American dollars is just mind-boggling,” says McGee. “In Kenya, we saw wretched poverty. It’s overwhelming; you can feel like it’s hopeless. I know I can’t solve it all, but I can help a few people.”

CFCA helps people in need financially, but the organization also provides counseling and other services to help get people out of poverty, explains McGee. “The focus is to put people on their feet.”

He got the idea of supporting a child overseas after seeing About Schmidt, a 2002 movie starring Jack Nicholson. McGee researched agencies through Charity Navigator, ultimately connecting with CFCA. In addition to Okongo, McGee is now supporting a young girl in Bolivia, where he hopes to travel in October 2010.

McGee is a Rochester native and graduate of St. John Fisher College. He earned his master’s degree in business administration at RIT while working as a manager at Bausch & Lomb. The company transferred him to California, and he later worked for Bell & Howell in Chicago and Balzers in New Hampshire before becoming a vice president at Mine Safety Appliances in Pittsburgh. He retired from that job – and life as a self-described “corporate gypsy” – nine years ago. He and his wife still reside in the Pittsburgh area.

McGee has stayed busy with numerous pursuits, including writing, songwriting and performing. He takes classes and volunteers with local organizations. Among his activities, the involvement with CFCA and the trip to Kenya stand out, he says. “It was a life-changing experience.”

McGee’s account of the 10-day trip was published Dec. 13 by Pittsburgh The story has generated numerous e-mails, mostly from strangers, many who want to help.

“I think that’s true of many people. They’d like to do something, but they don’t know how,” says McGee. “This is something many people can do, either on their own or maybe as part of a group. We’re trying to change the world, one step at a time.”