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April 11, 2013

Sandra’s dream: Local woman seeks funding to complete Ugandan school

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

Sandra Crane, left, and a Ugandan student stand in one
of the culinary arts classrooms during a recent trip to
Uganda.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Sandra Crane has the type of moxie where it’s not enough to go to Uganda 19 times — and counting — for Christian mission trips and to build a vocational school. Her first time was in 2001, and four years later, she purchased property to build The Crane Centre in the southwestern Ugandan town of Mbarara, nicknamed the land of milk and honey.

“I believe that God wants me there,” she said in an emailed statement shortly before taking a roughly 20 hour plane ride to Uganda April 7. “The people I have met there have been inspiring,” she said. “They have so little and ask for little. The people I have met have a strong faith and are always willing to give you a smile.”

It is also not enough that the 74-year-old West Bloomfield native has built the vocational school, with the help of people as zealous as she is. And it is certainly not enough that a woman readily described as a “ball of fire” petitions others on her charitable quest. Because when Crane gets an itch to do good, other people can’t help but scratch, too.

In 2010, Crane celebrated the school’s first graduating class in the 90-day program; the school broke ground in 2006. About three more classes have gone through since then. The class sizes are roughly eight to 10 people.

Crane expects the final building to enroll as many as 40-50 students in long-term classes.

Sleeping facilities are on hand for the students, as many of them live long distances from the school.

Crane initially put in about $100,000 of her money to purchase the land for the career campus, which educates youth in the hospitality trade. It is still being built and needs about $100,000 for completion. The project was scaled back due to budget constraints.

Crane is also the founder of the eponymous nonprofit organization, The Crane Centre, a 501(c)(3) educational charity; she is the driving force behind funding the 5,000-square-foot school in Mbarara, an area located in the main municipal, administrative and commercial center of Mbarara District.

Crane said the school’s Creative Life Wing was recently completed, and the school has offered classes in catering and culinary arts, among other skills, to both young women and men who have a high school education. 

“We hope to soon complete the ground-floor of our campus and include hotel and restaurant classes in our curriculum,” she said in the emailed statement.

Crane said that what makes her passionate is the knowledge that Uganda’s youth deserve an educational boost.

“I believe they deserve to have a safe, stable life which includes food, shelter, medical care, clean water and, very importantly, an education to help them attain those things,” she said.

Those assisting her with the endeavor include an architect, a property manager, Ugandan volunteers, metro Detroiters and members of the Orchard Lake Community Church, Presbyterian, in Orchard Lake.

Church member and friend Steve Orr, 66, said he and his wife went to Uganda with Crane in October 2008. During his visit, he painted part of the center.

“One day, she said, ‘I am going back (to Uganda) and how would you and your wife like to go with me and help over there?’” Orr said. “When Sandra asks you to do something, you normally say ‘yes.’ She is very convincing.”

Crane’s persuasiveness influenced Orr — who is on a board that oversees the financial aspect of the school — and his wife to help in different capacities with the school. A Ugandan-based advisory board assists The Crane Centre board with decisions on things such as teacher salaries, among other topics.

“We formed an advisory board because we can’t be there all the time. Our goal is … to finish it quickly and make it a gift. We want to finish this school and we want to give it to the people of Uganda,” he said. “(It is) Sandra’s dream, and we caught on to Sandra’s dream. And we are excited about it, ourselves.”

A nondescript DVD holds the images Orr said encapsulate the time he and his wife went to Uganda — an indelible experience he still cherishes, which includes the people and their unmarred gratefulness, despite a number of Ugandans dealing with AIDS and bouts of poverty.

“There was a huge AIDS epidemic years ago, and you would never know it by visiting with the people,” Orr said. “It is hard to explain the joy you feel when you are among these people. The way they are, they will give you their food and not eat because they are so thankful what people are doing (by building the school).”

The DVD shows a picture slideshow of children in powder blue uniforms with handcrafted school projects posted on walls high around their classrooms on pink construction paper. In another picture, young girls and boys in similar uniforms have their knees raised and smiles on their faces with bits of dust flying nearby from dancing on a dirt road.

Orr, who is in the process of organizing an annual fundraiser for the school’s building efforts, said he plans to show a video about the school at the June 21 event at the Lafayette Banquet Facility.

“Hopefully the fundraiser is bigger and better than the past,” Orr said. “We want to create more interest.”

The fundraiser will feature live entertainment, wine and hors d’oeuvres.

Crane, who plans to come back to Michigan by the end of April, said the purpose of building the school is to give the students vital tools to survive.

“Our purpose is to give them a fishing pole and not the fish,” she said. “Our goal is to offer opportunities in the hospitality industry. It is an industry that always needs people in every dimension. We want to produce the cream of the crop in that industry.”

The fundraiser event is scheduled 7-10 p.m. June 21 at the Lafayette Banquet Facility, 1 Lafayette, Pontiac. Tickets are $35 each.

For more information, visit www.thecranecentre.org or call (248) 682-2762.