Basalt student’s semester abroad leads to a gift from the heart |

Basalt student’s semester abroad leads to a gift from the heart

Contributed photoBasalt High School senior Dusty Havens, center, meets some of the South African kids who received the clothes, shoes and toys she collected in the Roaring Fork Valley.

BASALT ” Thousands of kids from South Africa are leading slightly better lives thanks to a Basalt High School student they call “the White Angel.”

Dusty Havens, an 18-year-old senior, collected about 20,000 pounds of clothes, shoes, books and toys in the Roaring Fork Valley last year, then raised $6,000 to ship and distribute them. Havens traveled to South Africa in December to personally help hand out the supplies to kids in various villages. A searing image, she said, was the sight of kids running into the village as her small caravan of vehicles was leaving. They had distributed all the supplies they could carry, but more kids were streaming into town from adjacent villages as word of the giveaways spread.

The sight of expectant kids realizing they wouldn’t receive anything made Havens distraught.

“I was kind of freaking out,” she said.

But her host family promised her they would get more supplies and return to those villages.

The need in South Africa is immense. Havens witnessed it while studying abroad during her junior year. She selected South Africa and attended school there from July through February 2008. While traveling around the Durban area with her host family she was overwhelmed by the number of kids her age and younger begging on the roadsides. She has seen some adults begging back home near Carbondale, but never was exposed to so many kids seeking handouts. She wanted to help; her host family discouraged her because the demand is so great.

Havens’ urge to help kicked into high gear when she returned to the Roaring Fork Valley. As president of the Kids to Kids International Club at Basalt High School, she wasted no time organizing a collection drive. By March, collection bins were set up in the Alpine Banks and City Markets throughout the valley. Supplies were collected through June and shipped to South Africa in July. A delay at customs prevented the items from being distributed until December.

“I can’t even explain” how rewarding it was, she said of handing out the items. “That was my Christmas present to myself.”

The kids were so gracious about receiving an article of clothing, a pair of shoes or a toy that it had a life-altering effect on Havens. She said she is much more thankful for what she has and no longer takes the western lifestyle for granted.

Havens was recognized for her efforts by the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday. The board members read a proclamation that said all Basalt residents “are beneficiaries of Dusty Havens’ dedicated volunteerism and citizenship.”

She was also selected as an honoree in Colorado for the “Prudential Spirit of Community” awards program.

Havens graduates in May and plans to attend college to pursue a major in international relations and psychology. She has applied to 17 colleges and is still weighing her options.

Havens’ international relief effort isn’t quite over. The customs department in South Africa still wants to be paid $2,000 for the release of the goods. She was only able to get the supplies released before paying that fee because of connections through her host family.

The Kids to Kids International club will host a “ham bingo” benefit at 7 p.m. Friday, April 10 at Basalt High School. The winner of the bingo night will receive a ham to bake for Easter.

Contributions can also be sent to Kids to Kids International Club, in care of Basalt High School, 600 Southside Dr., Basalt, CO 81621.

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