July 27, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Livingston Co. family spurred to help raise money for Liberian school

'Every penny that we raise is going to the cause,' said volunteer Bill Layton of the car show, which will include his 1966 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. (Lauren Abdel-Razzaq / The Detroit News)

Fowlerville— A Livingston County pastor, his daughter who teachesin Liberia and a classic car owner are teaming up to raise money to build a modern school for a village in the war-torn African nation.

Taking a page from the Woodward Dream Cruise, the three have organized a car show Saturday at the Fowlerville fairgrounds to help raise the $30,000 needed to replace a one-room mud schoolhouse in the Liberian village of Gbanga.

“Every penny that we raise is going to the cause,” said volunteer Bill Layton, who’s spearheading the show, which will include his 1966 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. “Over there, the kids know they won’t get anywhere without an education, and their parents know that, too. They want to go to school, and that’s what has compelled us.”

Pastor Dan VanderVelde of Fowlerville Freedom Center and church said he and his congregation were moved to help the villagers after his daughter, who was teaching in Liberia, visited Gbanga and saw the town’s tiny, primitive school.

“From the first day, it was insufficient. We had kids sitting outside the door looking in,” Sara VanderVelde said. “We knew we needed something bigger.”

The teacher, who was born in West Africa and also has taught in South America and Asia, said she saw a big need for improved education among Liberia’s young people.

“Once I was out there, I realized that due to the two civil wars in the last decade, everyone around my age just entering the workforce is uneducated,” said VanderVelde, a 27-year-old from Fowlerville. “People now that are a generation or two ahead of me, you are finding more doctors, lawyers, educated people, while people in their 20s really don’t have that.”

After seeing Gbanga’s schoolhouse, VanderVelde called home and spoke to her father. Educating the village’s children has become the family’s mission.

“It’s less about charity and more about equipping,” said Dan VanderVelde.

So far, the VanderVeldes and the congregation have raised about $7,000 for the project. To help raise the rest, they asked Layton to come up with a fundraiser.

He settled on a classic car show and neighborhood garage sale.

Layton has a 1960s open wheel race car and his “baby,” the ’66 Olds, which he bought smashed to pieces 11 years ago and fully restored. The retired GM quality engineer says he’s hoping the August car craze brought out by the Dream Cruise and other auto events across the state will bolster their classic car show in Fowlerville.

“I know cars, I know people who have cars,” he said. “I’m hoping we can get them together to raise some money.”

The event is geared at gearheads and families. They also plan to have a petting zoo, horse rides, face painting, a silent auction and a 50-50 raffle. Trophies will be given out for Best in Show, People’s Choice and Pastor’s Choice.

The Fowlerville Freedom Center plans to send 10 people to the Liberian village over Christmas break to lay blocks and frame in windows for what will be a four-room school. Other organizations are working on the project and will complete the school.

A clinic, library and a center for youth sports is planned for the future. The villagers are also involved and some of the land set aside for the school will grow rice and rubber, meaning they won’t have to rely on outside funds to operate.

“Education is the future of any country. If you can educate the youth, you’re going to have a society that is self-sustaining and not living in poverty,” said the pastor.

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Bill Layton sits in his 1968 Alley Oop open race car (Lauren Abdel-Razzaq / The Detroit News)
Sara VanderVelde, front, inside the school in Gbanga, Liberia. (Photos from Sara VanderVelde)
Sara VanderVelde with students at the dedication of the school. (Sara VanderVelde)