In the Novemeber 23 Edition of the Chico News & Review, Natalie Huberman was featured as a local hero. We all know this is the case, and Natalie’s humble demeanor prohibits her from bragging outright, so let me step in here and share the story with you. Please take the time to read it, and share it in FaceBook, Twitter and the like, and perhaps, our extended friends and family will feel compelled to acknowledge her accomplishment with a holiday donation for LeapingStone’s next project? I can’t imagine a more appropriate way to tell Natalie how very much you agree that she IS a hero in the most authentic sense!
Below is the article in its entirety. As Natalie always says: “Cheers!” And I will add, may this holiday season find you all happy and well.
Natalie Huberman, in one of the classrooms she helped build in Togo.
PHOTO COURTESY OF NATALIE HUBERMAN
Following her heart
When the CN&R last checked in with Natalie Huberman, the pretty, well-spoken Pilates teacher had a dream: She wanted to build a school in a village in the West African country of Togo. That was nearly three years ago. This month, she broke ground on the third and final stage of her project, which she expects to be completed by the end of the year.
“I was bound and determined to do this,” said Huberman recently over a cup of tea in downtown Chico.
Huberman’s dream started to take form during a vacation she and her husband, Robert, took to West Africa. They visited the small village of Dédéké in Togo, which is wedged between Ghana and Benin. Some of the villagers expressed a desire for new classrooms to replace their thatch-roofed ones. Suddenly, Huberman found her calling. When she returned to Chico, she started the nonprofit LeapingStone (www.leapingstone.org). With the help of dedicated Chicoans who joined her Board of Directors as well as Togo-Americans she met via the Internet, LeapingStone started attracting donations.
“The people of Chico have been extremely generous,” she said. The nonprofit raised nearly $11,000 during this year’s Annie B’s Community Drive alone. That gave LeapingStone the push it needed to enter the final stage of the Dédéké school project. The first stage included three classrooms; the second added latrines and hand-washing stations for the students; and the third includes three more classrooms and an office for teachers. The $11,000 was actually enough, Huberman noted, to add a second set of latrines and hand-washing stations, which were recently finished.
Huberman, whose background is not in philanthropy or business, but rather acting and dancing, said a lot of the experiences she’s had running LeapingStone have been eye-opening.
“I was willing to listen, and I was willing to admit I didn’t know things,” she said. “And when money came in, I protected it like a mother bear. I never viewed it as my money; it’s the donors’ money, and then it’s the village’s money. That’s part of why I don’t take a salary—I don’t feel it’s appropriate.”
Huberman hopes to visit Dédéké in the next couple of months to see her building project completed. Every time she returns—she’s been there three times now—she says it’s “always a reason for a party.” When she sees the fruits of her labors, it brings it all home.
LeapingStone’s mission is more than just about building buildings, however. Huberman’s also been working with the villagers to sustain the community. For example, LeapingStone has helped a group of women start their own nonprofits to raise money to buy school supplies.
“They want to be autonomous,” she said. “They’ve just never had anyone show them how. These people are subsistence farmers—that’s what their parents did; that’s what they learned how to do. If you don’t give people the skills, they might not be able to think outside the box.”