By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
BOZEMAN – Josh Allen traveled to Ethiopia in 2012 with two other members of Bozeman’s Journey Church, to help organize a Global Leadership Summit in the capital city, Addis Ababa. While there, he met Levi Benkert, who described to Allen the need orphaned Ethiopian children have for reliable meals.
Benkert is the founder of Bring Love In, a program that cares for 54 orphans in Addis Ababa, coupling them with widows in their local Christian community. He told Allen about how his program houses the children, and how the adopted mothers care for six or seven orphaned kids in each home.
Allen, owner of Bozeman’s Dee-O-Gee pet store with his wife Holly, decided then and there he could use his business experience to help widows and hungry children worldwide. Allen created a new business called WO Design – Widows + Orphans, pronounced “whoa” – and his first product, the WO Bone will assist children in Ethiopia.
“Each [WO Design] product will have a direct correlation with widows or orphans in a developing nation,” Allen said. “There’s just so much need out there. I could probably just focus on [Ethiopia] for a long time and still not help enough.”
On March 19, Allen launched a campaign on the crowdsourcing site rockethub.com to raise the $25,000 startup cost. The campaign allows people to purchase WO Bones as a part of their donation and closes May 1. With the sale of each dog toy, Allen will give the cost of two home-cooked lunches for children previously orphaned, coordinated by Bring Love In.
If the campaign is a success, the bones will be a Montana product, molded in Manhattan or Kalispell, Allen said.
“It’s incredible what Josh is doing,” Brenkert said in an email from Addis Ababa. “We are excited to see what comes of it, and really thankful that he chose to step outside the box and do something creative that will help these kids, while also building a great business in America.”
In Ethiopia, population 93 million, an estimated 13 percent of children have lost one or both parents. That’s about 4.6 million children, and likely 100,000 in Addis Ababa alone said Brenkert, originally from California.
It has become more difficult for westerners to adopt Ethiopian children in recent years, according to Tara Bradford, Director of Encompass Orphan Care in Bozeman.
“About four or five years ago, the adoption process was pretty smooth, when we adopted our own kids from there,” she said. “It wasn’t as expensive as some countries could be, it was approximately an 18-month process start to finish.” But the Ethiopian government has begun regulating the process more to combat unethical adoption, Bradford explained.
“You’ll see that trend,” she said. “A country that doesn’t have an adoption infrastructure, it’s easier, but [then] their government can’t handle the flood. The government reacts and it slows down.”
This trend makes assistance for children in their home country that much more important, since poverty and disease can break up a family even if the parents are still alive, Bradford said.
By caring for kids where they live, WO Bone is getting ahead of that problem.
If Allen reaches his funding goal, it will likely take one to two weeks to make the tooling and another couple weeks for production, he said. WO Bones should be on retail shelves across the country in late June or early July if all goes as planned.
To learn more or find a link to fund the WO Bone, visit wodesign.com.