Bringing MORE to Ethiopian children

Ethio Kids
Randolph’s Anthony Zecca meets with many of the kids he has met- and helped- in Ethiopia.

Randolph’s Anthony Zecca meets with many of the kids he has met- and helped- in Ethiopia. Group now cares for more than 600 orphaned children.

By NEIL PALEY, Contributing Writer, Recorder Newspapers

RANDOLPH TWP. – The smiling faces of dozens of children of all ages in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia, only tell part of the story.

But you’d never know from watching them play what real poverty is until you learn their stories.

MORE, the Medhan Orphans Relief Effort, is a non-profit organization, whose goal is to support orphans and vulnerable children and educate them. Too often, diseases such as HIV/AIDS and leprosy have made far too many of those children orphans with little hope of ever becoming adults.

The Orphans and Vulnerable Children Program (OVC) of MORE raises money for the Medhen Social Center in Addis Adaba, while at the same time providing educational, nutritional, housing, medical and financial support to nearly 600 of those orphaned children.

Residents may know Tony Zecca from the dozen years he spent on the Randolph Board of Education, but he’s accomplished much more than that.

A senior partner in J.H. Cohn, a large accounting firm, with offices in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, California and the Cayman Islands, he’s a co-founder of MORE and continues, along with other members of the organization, to take trips to Ethiopia to do whatever he can to help the children there break the poverty cycle.

The formation of the organization, you might say, was inspired by divine guidance. Zecca saw an article in a Morris County newspaper about Jim Miller, who is now the president of MORE.

Miller, the executive director of the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, located in New York City, has been involved in volunteer work in connection with HIV/AIDS since 1984.

In 1999, Miller made his first trip to Ethiopia and founded the U.S. funding of the program that has evolved into MORE.

‘’Jim was pretty much single-handedly supporting a small office in Ethiopia,’’ Zecca related.

Zecca contacted Miller, and the end result was the beginnings of a fund-raising apparatus, where a group of women, who included Tony’s wife, Barbara, Maureen Strenk, Christine Dzuibla, Diane Padula and Adele Leeds got together monthly to make donations of funds.

‘’Maureen invited Jim Miller to her home,’’ Zecca said. ‘’We all listened to how he got started. He came and told us his story. He sold his business and Catholic Charities sent him to Ethiopia.’’

That’s when the story gets even more compelling.

When Miller was in Ethiopia, he met a nun, Sister Senkenesh G. Mariam, who is with the Sisters of Charity.

The group started a clinic for those with leprosy. Amazingly, over 40,000 people in Ethiopia have leprosy.

‘’While visiting with Sister, a young woman came up and begged Sister Senkenesh to take her children,’’ Zecca said.

‘’Then Jim knew it was an epiphany. He told Sister to take the children and he’d provide the funding. From that, it was the beginning,’’ he added.

MORE now cares for almost  600 orphaned children in Ethiopia.

‘’At Maureen’s house, Jim told us the story,’’ Zecca said. ‘’We discussed that we should do more and we named the organization MORE. It’s just a bunch of Randolph residents who want to do something. There’s so many areas of the world like that.’’

So in September of 2007, Tony and Barbara hosted their first fund-raiser at their home, which Tony estimates included about 100 people. That initial effort raised about $28,000. In September 2008, another fund-raiser that included 150 people raised $45,000.

On Sept. 25, still another fund-raiser, Tony hopes, will produce $50,000.

‘’We’d like to focus on the fact that Sister’s coming (to the fund-raiser),’’ Chris said.

‘’We do it as a big party,’’ said Barbara Zecca, who does most of the work responding to people on the organization’s Web site.

‘’We have speakers and Jim has a lot of contacts.’’

‘We continue to raise money,’’ Tony Zecca added.

And after that, the trips to Ethiopia began.

‘’We never thought we’d be going to Ethiopia,’’ Dziubla, MORE’s public relations director, said. ‘’It’s a win, win. You get a family and the kids get cared for,’’ she added, noting that the efforts began in Ethiopia to get the orphaned children into foster homes.

The next step was to get the children in school. Tony Zecca said that involved getting the kids uniforms, which are required to attend school in Ethiopia. ‘’Some of the children are 17 or 18 now and getting to college,’’ he said. ‘’We have to support them. The whole purpose of the program is getting them out of poverty.’’

‘’Hopefully, some day we will go back there after a child has come back from college,’’ Chris said.

Last year, Tony went on his first trip to Ethiopia, accompanied by Miller.

‘’It’s hard even to describe,’’ Zecca said. ‘’We’re walking through the village. The people are living in huts,’’ he said.

‘’A little girl was standing at the door waiting for me. You look at it and see how they live. You can’t even come up with a word to describe the poverty there.’’

Tony Zecca relates the story of a 3-year-old who was sold by her parents and had been abused. Years later, he added, ‘’she finally got away from her family, got married. She’s got AIDS and her husband and children have AIDS. The stuff she has faced in 10 years, most people never face that in a lifetime.’’

Zecca said he’ll be going back to Ethiopia at the end of August, along with Miller and John Conover, one of his partners at J.H. Cohn.

‘’Jim and I were talking to Sister and we asked how we can make things better for the children,’’ he said. ‘’What she really needs is a new building, a decent shelter. We said to her we’re going to move ahead with plans to buy this. We’ll figure out how to do it later.’’

Magically, the money appeared.

‘’J.H. Cohen, my firm, gave us a grant of $100,000 to finish the building,’’ Tony said. ‘’The unique thing about this, Dzuibla added, ‘’is this goes directly to them.’’ She said that 100 percent of the donations collected goes to where the money is intended to be used.

‘’We know exactly where the money goes and how it’s used,’’ Zecca said. ‘’We provide all the medical, food and counseling.’’

The organization has also had two golf outings, where they raised about $20,000 at Panther Valley Golf Club in Hackettstown.

The MacMillan Foundation donated $25,000. They also received over $300 from the Channcelor Avenue School of Newark, whose donors apparently were students and faculty who contributed their nickels and dimes.

A very generous donation of $175,000 over three years from an anonymous organization, has also helped tremendously.

‘’They don’t want any publicity,’’ Zecca explained.

‘’We’ve done well for a not for profit organization,’’ Zecca commented. ‘’A lot of our board members do a a lot of things.’’

Zecca said from his trips to Ethiopia, he can already see the difference. ‘’One of our members (Cheryl Francisconi) lives in Addis Adaba,’’ he explained. ‘’They’re in poverty, but they’re smiling happily.’’

‘’Once a year, they might get new clothing,’’ Chris said. ‘’They treasure anything you give them. It’s a big part of our lives. Once you’ve been there, you play it back in your mind.’’

‘’We’d like to support more,’’ Tony Zecca responded. ‘’The challenge is to continue raising funds. It’s gone down an interesting road for us the last three years. We all feel that responsibility.’’

MORE is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt, nonprofit organization and is located at 36 Heather Lane in Randolph. Call 973-361-2558, or on the Internet at If you want to help or donate to MORE, email the organization at