A cause close to the hearts of Gahanna Lincoln High School students and Mifflin Presbyterian Church will be the focus of a benefit Saturday, Sept. 15, at Creekside, 117 Mill St.

Montana de Luz, a Columbus-based nonprofit improving the lives of children and families affected by HIV/AIDS in Honduras, will host a walk and rubber-duck race to pay for food, clothing, medicine and education expenses for children in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Located on a mountain east of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the Montana de Luz facility has cared for more than 65 children since 2001.

Gahanna Lincoln High School Spanish teacher Laura Thomas said she has seven students who will volunteer at the fundraiser known as Walk & Waddle for HIV in Honduras.

"Students and teachers of the international language department, including Spanish, French and German students and their respective teachers, have been raising funds for Montana de Luz for 10 years," Thomas said.

"We believe in the value of global awareness, and of helping our students to understand how their actions can directly benefit and have a vital impact on the lives of others," she said.

Overall, Thomas said, the high school has raised about $25,000 for new dormitories and furniture at the Honduras facility; a new potable water system; general funds for school supplies, medicines and other daily needs; and sponsorship of two children at the facility annually.

"To raise funds, we hold our main event, a walk-a-thon each spring," she said. "International language students donate money to walk the track during that class period."

The school hosts other fundraisers, as well.

Thomas said Spanish classes have participated in letter-writing exchanges with children at the Honduras facility, and AP Spanish classes hand-made blankets for each child resident.

"MdL and certain issues are worked into our Spanish class curriculum (global citizenship, poverty cycle and dynamics, history and current events, immigration)," she said.

Cathy Morrison said Mifflin Presbyterian Church, 123 Granville St., first sent a service team to Montana de Luz in 2009.

"The service team of 11 fell in love with the children and the mission of providing a home for children affected by HIV -- a place where they were loved and cared for," she said.

Morrison said Mifflin also sent service teams to Honduras in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.

"Thirty-nine people have served on a Mifflin team, and 25 have gone multiple times with Mifflin as well as with other groups," Morrison said. "I have gone 12 times since that first trip in 2009."

She said the church members sponsor children and host a fundraiser every spring.

"Many needed projects are completed in Honduras, but it's not just about a work project," Morrison said. "Bonds are established with the kids and caregivers. Connections are made when we experience and learn about another culture."

She said church members get the chance to grow together and focus on their faith journey without the distractions of home.

"Mifflin Presbyterian Church continues to support the changing mission of MdL," Morrison said. "Our hope is our children, who are getting older, will find success away from their mountaintop home, and use what they have learned to manage their medications and educate others about HIV."

She said people with HIV experience discrimination in Honduras.

"People are afraid when they don't know the facts," Morrison said. "Our children and staff in Honduras have given presentations at schools, conferences, churches and in nearby communities, because knowledge (equals) less discrimination."

Morgan Brown, executive director of Montana de Luz, said the walk has been going on for four years, but this is the first year the "waddle," or duck race, has been incorporated.

It also marks the first time the fundraiser has been held in Gahanna.

"Over $75,000 has been raised at our walk over the past four years," Brown said. "MdL has been present in the Columbus community for almost 20 years, and has sent over 1,000 individuals to Honduras to serve children affected by HIV/AIDS."

She said the children at the facility in Honduras are just like American children, but they have faced unimaginable challenges because of HIV/AIDS, including lack of access to life-saving treatment, family separation and severe social stigma.

"Due to the poor state of the healthcare system in Honduras, children faced with HIV/AIDS would not get life-saving medical treatment without Montana de Luz," Brown said.

The 5K and half-mile walk will begin at 10 a.m. and participants may register, join a walk team, become a sponsor or purchase ducks online at montanadeluz.org/events.

Registrants will receive a T-shirt and may enjoy music and food before the walk.

Proceeds from "adopting" a rubber duck will help support the cause. A single duck is $5, with six available for $25. Other options include 12 for $50 or 25 for $100.

Hundreds of ducks will float down the Big Walnut Creek and the buyer of the winning duck wins a free service trip to Montana de Luz, valued at $1,000.

The second-placed duck wins $500 cash, and the third-placed duck wins $250 cash.

Winners need not be present to win.

Montana de Luz was created in 1998 as a response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Honduras, according to Brown.

Honduras has 60 percent of the HIV/AIDS cases in Central America, according to a statement from the organization.

Brown said the facility began as a place for children with HIV/AIDS to live with dignity, free from stigma and poverty, in the best care possible.

When HIV treatment became available in 2003, Brown said, the focus switched from hospice to hope, with education and emotional support.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla