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Teaching their children to serve the world's poorest

In one local family, "listening to mom" means you follow her to Africa, and your own kids do the same.

Christi Romney was 14 the first time her mother took her to South Africa to begin a lifetime of helping people who live in abject poverty. But Romney had no intention of allowing her own children to wait until such a ripe old age.

At age three, her son saves toys and clothes and has been to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Greece, Turkey and Central America. Her one-year-old daughter, is a bit young to understand what’s going on, but has been along to Mexico, and a fundraising trip in Europe.

“We take them everywhere,” says Romney, a Great Falls resident who has a strong connection to Reston through her family members and her church, the Reston Ward of the Oakton Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  “They have a way of opening doors.”

Opening doors to help people around the world have a better life -- with your own children in tow to learn and help --  is simply what Romney’s family does. Romney learned the tradition from her mother, Alisa Cozzens of Great Falls, and her aunt, Christine Troger, of Reston. Cozzens and Troger learned from their mother, Kathryn Hunt, now deceased.

Some families pass down recipes or photographs. This family passes down the tradition that you will spend enormous chunks of your time flying around the world helping the poor, and getting as many people as you can to join you in same.

“We have groups for our spring expeditions in Kenya and South Africa right now,” Romney says. “Our summer expeditions are coming up in August.”

Expeditions frequently include members of the Reston Ward and the Oak Hill Ward, which have long supported Romney and her family in their work. But so many others became involved over time that the family found it needed formal structure even beyond the church. So Romney,  Cozzens and Troger established a nonprofit organization. Called Serve a Village, it is a clearinghouse for cash, supplies and volunteers who wish to help the needy in Africa and many other places around the world.

Serve a Village is global, but over the years the family often been asked why the first focus was South Africa. Again, the root is Hunt, mother to  Cozzens and Troger, grandmother to Romney, and great-grandmother to Romney’s children. Hunt spent much of her life living on a ranch in Magareng, South Africa and caring for the villagers there.

“She just dedicated her life to them,” Cozzens recalls of their mother.

“As we were growing up here in America, she would always tell us stories about South Africa, it was always with her,” Troger says.

Eventually, Hunt simply could not stay away.  She moved back to South Africa, taking Cozzens, Troger and their siblings with her. Hunt’s cause became their cause. When they became adults and moved back to America, they  involved their spouses and children. Every family member has helped in some way, although they, and now Romney among Hunt’s grandchildren, have remained the leaders.

“All our adult lives we’ve been collecting things and planning trips,” Troger says. She thinks the family matriarch, while not part of the founding of Serve a Village, would approve.

“With her, it was just do,” Troger says. “We were never allowed to stop.”

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