“You think all this is important but all that really matters is loving people and being kind.” – Caitlin Elizabeth O’Hara
While Caitlin was waiting for transplant, her best friend got bad news of her own. In October of 2015, Jess Danforth was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Suddenly she found herself wrenched from life––her job in San Francisco, her frequent visits to her beloved Kenya, a land that had long called to her soul––and dumped into the world of biopsies and PET scans and genetic testing and egg freezing.
Over the next few years, Jess would experience many complications. One mastectomy, then another. A chest wound that refused to heal. Thirteen surgeries. Ongoing chemo. And most crushingly: the loss of her closest friend.
In the summer of 2018, Jess decided to build The Leo Project in Honor of Caitlin O’Hara, a resource center that would provide supportive services, creative outlets, and opportunities not traditionally available to vulnerable youth in Kenya.
“When I spoke at Caitlin’s funeral, I promised that I would do something extraordinary. I promised that I would make her proud and I promised to keep her light and her spirit alive,” Jess announced. She then proceeded to raise funds and purchase an acre of land in Nanyuki, about 4 hours north of Nairobi.
In January 2019, a Kenyan-based construction team broke ground and began constructing a 5,000-square foot resource center that includes a large communal space, a multi-purpose amphitheater/stage, a computer lab, four bedrooms for staff, volunteers, and emergency housing for children, bathrooms, a kitchen, two offices, and a supply room.
The Leo Project will officially open its doors in January 2020, but Jess has already begun hiring staff and coordinating programs with local schools. She fundraises tirelessly, and is grateful for every donation.
Jess must report to her San Franciscan oncology team every six weeks so she has impressively managed to do all this mostly from afar. But that is the essence of The Leo Project, which is about love and life and friendship and finding what speaks to your soul and pursuing it. It is about honoring a beloved friend, and about bettering the life of even one person, if you can. The Leo Project is about every participant becoming a more purposeful human.