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Young philanthropist hopes to build on success

This week found Ray Wipfli, who just wrapped up his sixth-grade year at Paradise Canyon Elementary School, enjoying the freedoms and privileges of summer break.

Meanwhile, 9,394 miles away in the Ugandan region of Mpigi, the work Ray has done with the help of mom Heather Wipfli to bring long-lasting and meaningful change to an underserved population is still bearing fruit.

Last March, Ray began a mission to raise $20,000 to start a soccer camp in rural Uganda, where impoverished children would have access to food, health education and improved school facilities. He created the nonprofit Ray United FC, and got support from area soccer clubs, classmates and La Cañada friends and family members to build a new school building and soccer field for that purpose.

"We hit our original goal, and we're having soccer camp in August," Ray said Tuesday. "They're already working on the field."

Heather Wipfli, associate director of USC's Institute for Global Health, arranged for students in that program to travel to Mpigi to provide clean toiletries and basic health information that soccer camp participants could take home and share with their families.

"Soccer is the platform, so that gets kids to come to the camp. But when they come, they're getting so much more than soccer," Heather Wipfli said.

With the school under construction and soccer field taking shape, Ray United's vision is becoming a reality. To keep the momentum going, the 12-year-old created a new, but daunting goal — to replicate what was done in Mpigi in other villages and regions, each year, over the next four years.

On Wednesday, June 10, local residents will have a chance to celebrate the nonprofit's accomplishments and keep the effort going, when Ray United hosts its inaugural family festival fundraiser in La Cañada's Memorial Park from 4 to 9 p.m.

Festival-goers will have a chance to meet Morris Mukabayi, 14, and 11-year-old Miriam Nassanga, two children visiting the Wipflis from Mpigi. The pair head back to Uganda on June 14, just days after the festival.

So far in their three-week stay, Morris and Miriam have gotten the star treatment — watching an L.A. Galaxy game, a trip to Disneyland and the pleasures of pizza and cotton candy are a far cry from the harsh reality of their everyday lives.

They hope to share a bit of their own culture with American children at Wednesday's festival. In addition to playing soccer, participants will be able to try hear Ugandan music while they play games and eat traditional food.

Hand-woven banana-leaf baskets, beaded jewelry and national soccer jerseys will be available for purchase, with all proceeds going to Ray United FC's efforts.

For Ray, the enormity of what Ray United has accomplished so far hasn't fully sunk in. Maybe when the school building is completed, and the first round of camp kids play their first game of soccer on the new field, it will finally hit home.

"My goal isn't to change the world," he clarified. "My goal is to change the attitudes of the people who have the resources to change the world."

One important mission, however, has been accomplished. Ray has made good, lifelong friends with others in need and has leveraged the kindness of his own community to help them. He has been in their homes, and made his home theirs.

"I know not just the facts and the figures and poverty, but I actually know them," he says, looking at Miriam and Morris, who beam smiles back at him.

The trio breaks into spontaneous dance when a video from Ugandan pop star Joseph Mayanja, aka "Chameleone," is queued up on an iPad. Socked feet skid across the wooden floors of the living room as the kids swing their arms to the brass heavy rhythm.

"Wale, wale!" they sing in unison to lyrics in English, Swahili and Luganda, and even Ray knows the words.

Show me the way

Show me every possibility

Others got plenty

Others no opportunity

Show me the way…

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What: Ray Unitied FC's inaugural family festival

Where: Memorial Park, 1301 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada

When: Wednesday, June 10, from 4 to 9 p.m.

Admission: Tickets cost $20 per person or $50 per family

More info: Tickets can be purchased at the event or online at rayunitedfc.org.

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