Just over 10 years ago, Lindsay Tarquinio, a native Atlantan and mother of two, founded LUO with her husband and former Atlanta Falcon, Gavin. After spending some time on a mission trip in Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa, Lindsay knew she wanted to do more at Ithemba, a small ministry that took in children. She began by having children paint t-shirts and selling them stateside with the intention that all proceeds would benefit those at Ithemba. In the beginning, it was simply a way to connect people to children in a faraway land that they had never met. However, after selling out of the t-shirts, Lindsay realized she could do something even bigger. Now, LUO’s mission is to give Ithemba students outstanding education, well-balanced nutrition, the best medical and dental care and one-on-one mentorship and counseling. LUO, which means “to set free and break barriers,” is doing exactly that. Lindsay, Gavin and their overseas South African team work year-round to ensure they are meeting the needs of their small but mighty community. We’re excited to introduce you to Lindsay and LUO and offer you ways to connect with your own inner volunteer. Meet Lindsay Tarquinio, today’s FACE of Atlanta.
LUO is your non-profit organization that benefits children in Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa, and is on a mission to set them free from poverty. How did you get started with LUO?
I spent the summer of 2007 in Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa with a woman named Ria. She had recently retired from the corporate world and started taking in street children in her community, providing them food and taking care of their basic needs. I heard about Ria through a friend and contacted her to ask if I could come help her for the summer. Within the first few days of being with her and the children, I knew that those kids had stolen my heart and that my life would not be the same because of them. They were incredible. Smart, funny and joyful yet had nothing. Sixty percent were HIV positive, 80% had never met their father and 50% were orphaned. I met fifth graders who did not know their ABCs, not because of lack of intelligence, but because of lack of opportunity. The schools that they had access to were terrible. Many children were showing signs of starvation because they were taking care of themselves.
Right before my trip to South Africa, I met my husband Gavin. He was playing football for the Falcons and feeling a sense of unfulfillment even though he had made it to the pinnacle of his career. He was injured right before my trip, and after hearing me tell stories of the children I was meeting, he said, ”Let’s do it. Let’s do everything that we can to help them.” He quit pursuing football, and when I got home from Africa, we put our minds to helping the children of Jeffrey’s Bay. That is how LUO began.
Can you tell us more about what LUO does for the community it serves?
Preschool: Our preschoolers are provided breakfast and lunch everyday, a fun and engaging educational curriculum, medical care, dental care, therapy evaluations, uniforms, all materials and lots of individual love and support.
Afterschool: Kids receive a warm, nutritious, balanced lunch; tutoring; mentorship; extracurricular activities; medical and dental care when needed; birthday and holiday celebrations; and lots of love.
Scholarships: Ithemba is a preschool, kindergarten and after-care center, but once the children graduate kindergarten and have a great educational foundation, there are really amazing private schools that we are able to offer scholarships for. After school, they all come to Ithemba for our after-care program.
LUO House: This is a safe house for orphaned, abandoned and abused children. It is a true home, and the children who live there with their house-mother are a family. We provide for all of their needs.
How is the LUO House an extension of the work your organization does daily?
The LUO House was built out of necessity. We saw a very real need for a safe place for abandoned and abused children. When the kids come to Ithemba, we try very hard to get to know them and their home situation. Many of our children are living on their own or with distant relatives or neighbors. Unfortunately, we often find that our kids are living in terrible, dangerous situations, and we knew that having a place for them in a stable, loving home environment was key.
I can imagine there is a lot of red tape when beginning a non-profit like LUO. What are some of the things you’ve had to overcome, and how did you push through without giving up?
There is a lot of red tape, but we were incredibly fortunate to meet an extremely generous lawyer with a true heart for the work that we were trying to do almost as soon as I got home from my first trip from South Africa. He offered to incorporate us and file for our 501(c)3 status pro bono. He was our very first board member and has been an integral part of our organization ever since. We have been very blessed that he has dealt with all of the red tape for us!
If people want to get involved with LUO, what’s the best way for them to use their resources to help you with your mission and to make a difference?
As simple as it sounds, the number one way to get involved is to give financially! We run a full-time preschool and kindergarten with 12 teachers, a cook and a cleaning person. We provide two meals a day for 300+ children. Each child gets medical care, dental care, counseling, mentorship, extracurricular activities and access to a library. We have the safe house and provide all living expenses for the house-mother and all of the children, and we also have many children on scholarship to local private schools through high school along with all of their uniforms, nutrition and additional tutoring. Our budget grows every year because the number of students grows every year. Our biggest need is absolutely financial resources to provide all of those things. We also love to help facilitate volunteer trips to do projects at the school and in the community.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
Does something that I read in a book count? It changed my life and shifted my perspective on so many things. In Crazy Love, Francis Chan says, “But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”
Excluding faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My phone. Really it’s the camera in the phone. Time flies, and there are so many moments that I just want to press pause on: expressions that my kids make or the joy that they have when doing simple things; I am a photo-aholic! I am definitely guilty of putting my kids to bed at night and then flipping through my phone looking at pictures of them.
My dining table. It truly is the heart of our home. It fosters family time, intentional time with friends and brings people together from all parts of our lives to take time out of the hustle and bustle and enjoy food, wine and most importantly, each other. My husband and I wanted our table to be a special, central piece in our home. We drew plans for it on a piece of paper and had it made by a very talented friend. It’s beautiful and functional and was so fun to dream up.
Airplanes. I am so thankful for air travel and its ability to make our world feel small and connected.