Austin Peay State University (APSU)
Clarksville, TN – On a warm afternoon in the African nation of Uganda, two young boys named Elvis and Kalvin took turns writing the words “Be the change” on a piece of paper. That paper eventually made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to Clarksville, Tennessee, where 18-year-old Austin Peay State University freshman Mallory Fundora took it to a tattoo artist and had the mantra permanently written across her forearm.
“They wrote this tattoo; it’s their handwriting,” Fundora said recently. “I heard that quote for the first time when I was 10 years old, and from then on, I decided to live by it.”
It was a decision she took seriously. A year after hearing those words, Fundora created Project Yesu, a nonprofit focusing on orphaned and vulnerable children in Uganda.
Today, the organization’s feeding program provide more than 500 schoolchildren with a meal every weekday, and the sponsorship program is sending 275 children to school. While the nonprofit continues to grow, its young founder and COO is working to expand her skills by attending APSU as a business major, with a focus in nonprofit management.
“I have high expectations for Austin Peay to help me grow as a leader,” she said. “And I’m very excited to see what the future holds.”
In the years before she attended Austin Peay State University, Fundora grew up in a mission-focused church and family, and when she was 11, shortly after hearing “Be the change,” she decided to help children in Uganda rather than receive any Christmas presents.
“When I first started, it was just me helping other nonprofits working on the ground,” she said. “I had never been there, so it was definitely just dipping my toe in that water.”
A year later, when she was 12, she made her first trip to Africa. During that visit, Fundora met two babies named Elvis and Kalvin. She immediately began sponsoring them so they could earn an education, and she examined how Project Yesu could help other children.
“Elvis and Kalvin, they’re very important to me, and they’re the reason the sponsorship program happened in the first place,” she said. “Hearing that children were going to school hungry is why I started a feeding program. We started with 50 children, and within the first week, we had 100, and so it just keeps growing. Now we have 550.”
In order to feed more than 500 children every school day, Fundora spends about $500 a month. That means the APSU freshman is out aggressively raising money for her nonprofit while many of her peers are hanging out with friends.
“It gets a little stressful,” she admitted. “Especially in high school, I was like, ‘I don’t have time for anything.’ Or, ‘I’m sure I’ve done enough.’ But every time that happens, I see that I need to do more.”
But for a brief moment, as her high school career ended, Fundora thought of retiring from her nonprofit. But then, the University’s President’s Emerging Leaders Program (PELP) expressed interest in her work in Uganda.
“Austin Peay State University was very interested in Project Yesu; more than other schools,” she said. “Here, it seemed like I could be a leader and be able to run Project Yesu. Even though I’ve been running it for seven years, I don’t have a lot of business knowledge. I’ve had to have help from other people.”
Fundora decided to grow her nonprofit with a little guidance from Austin Peay. And earlier this summer, before she officially arrived on campus, she made her seventh trip to Uganda. During her stay, she delivered a few special gifts to her boys, Elvis and Kalvin.
“Now they have Austin Peay shirts and hats,” she said. “And they love them.”
For more information or to support Fundora’s efforts, visit www.projectyesu.org