By Jenn LoConte
For the past fourteen years, DLP Investor Lee Mulder has been changing the lives of hundreds of orphaned children living in Uganda, East Africa. In fact, he has 842 grandchildren, only two of which are from his own children.
In 2003, Lee, a marketing consultant in the high tech industry, first became aware of the plight of these suffering children from a man attending his church in Chicago. Ben, who was in the U.S. from his native Uganda, was working on his third Master’s degree and planning to start an organization to help save children in his home village. He gathered a group of church friends to visit the country so they could see, first-hand, the desperate needs of the people. The AIDS epidemic was rampant with more than 30% of the population infected at its peak. Lee was compelled to be a part of the group and his life forever changed after that initial visit. Lee says, “In a place that is breathtaking in its natural beauty, the suffering we witnessed was unbelievable. More than one million parents died, leaving their children behind, now homeless, starving, and wearing rags. There was no welfare system and child-headed families led by 12-year olds were common. They would do whatever it took to survive.” After spending three weeks there, the group returned, presented their findings to church members, and the financial help that was desperately needed began to pour in.
Within six weeks, Ben was able to secure a furnished home with a trained staff of and fourteen rescued children. Now calling themselves “The Pioneers,” these children not only received food, clothing, and medical care, they also received what would help propel them forward, a solid education. Just three months after the initial donations, Lee returned to Uganda and was astounded at the transformation in such a short time. He comments, “Those same kids who had been sickly with a blank glaze from hunger were now happily singing, dancing, going to school and so full of life.” And, the Ugandan people did the work. Soon after, Juna Amagara (Saving Life) Ministries was formed and since then, the lives of over 1,000 children have been transformed. The ministry operates in five locations within Uganda, with 850 children who are sponsored by caring individuals. Years later, The Pioneers are now college graduates (and spectacular adults), living successful lives and generously giving back to their communities.
Since his first trip, Lee has been back to Uganda many times, once taking his 16-year old daughter, Emily, to help open a school. (Lee has also volunteered on mission trips to Egypt, Peru, Honduras, Mexico, and several Caribbean islands). Lee’s partner Clara Leonard, who was a healthcare administrator in the Chicago area, now manages the extensive donor/sponsor database for Juna Amagara Ministries. She has visited Uganda twice since meeting Lee. She comments, “It is a deeply emotional experience when, after years of corresponding through letters and photos with a young girl I sponsored, I was able to look into her beautiful eyes and give her a heartfelt hug. These kids really do look to their sponsors as parents.”
Lee wrote a book about his time in Uganda, called They Call Me Mzee: One Man’s Safari into Brightest Africa. (available at Amazon.com) Over the years, he’s learned the local language and the kids call him Shwenkulu (grandfather). He loves the hospitality and culture and is astounded by the beauty of the country. From snow-capped mountains on the equator to beautiful savannahs with elephants, and Lake Bunyonyi, one of the deepest volcanic lakes in the world, Uganda has become a second home to Lee and Clara. Lee says, “The subsistence farmers, mostly women, are extremely strong, eating food from their own gardens; many live into their eighties and nineties. Their life philosophy is: if you don’t dig, you don’t eat. The people may have few possessions but they are abundant in faith, hospitality, and community. “
Lee says working in Uganda has given him a different worldview. He comments, “Knowing that $35 per month can literally save a child’s life and then seeing people spend thousands of dollars on an expensive watch or a new car…or hearing kids argue about who has more sprinkles on their Dairy Queen ice cream is sometimes not easy to absorb.” Even vacation destinations have changed for the couple, who now prefer to enjoy adventures with natives of the land they visit vs. staying in a big hotel resort. On a trip to Jamaica, they ended up in the back jungles of a little town with the townspeople sharing their life stories.
So, how did this worldly man become an Investor with DLP Capital Partners? Lee had worked with professional money managers for 25 years, living through the ups and downs of the market with its related anxiety. He had always sought some kind of safe, reliable investment opportunity that could match or beat the long-term return from securities investments. After hearing a radio ad for DLP in Jacksonville, FL, he picked up the phone, spoke to Don, and set up a time to meet at the local Panera. Lee jokes, “I was looking for a starched man in a suit and tie, instead I met a casual young genius wearing a faded black polo.” Lee did his own due diligence – attended several investment dinners, spoke with fellow investors; and, after eight months, became one, himself. He continues, “Two things make me believe in DLP. First, is Don Wenner. I’m convinced that early on, Don found his perfect sandbox and just loves the business. Second, is the company’s focus and persistence. ‘Never lose money’ works for me. DLP is made up of excellent people who know exactly what they need to do to fulfill their leader’s vision and are passionate about it every single day. I feel like I’ve discovered an investment secret and look forward to watching DLP grow.”
Likewise, Larry Hickernell, Jr., DLP Senior Investment Success Manager states, “One of the reasons Lee has become so close to us at DLP is the shared values and how much we admire all of the things he and Clara have done for others over the years. We have so many wonderful Investors like this, it is amazing to have the opportunity to interact with them and get to know these selfless and truly genuine people.”
Lee and Clara, both officially retired, continue to live a life full of learning, adventure, and transforming lives throughout the world. Lee has recently been asked to lead the missions committee at Amelia Plantation Chapel where 30% of the church’s budget goes to support Christian missions. He says, “We have seen some amazing things happen when people reach out to each other in the world. We really do have more similarities than differences.”