Instead of using her savings to enjoy retirement, West Bloomfield resident Sandra Crane, 75, used most of the money she saved throughout her married life to open a school in Uganda.
Crane bought the property in 2005 after visiting Uganda for the first time four years prior. She first traveled to the country on a mission trip and now visits at least once a year for three weeks.
"I didn't pick Uganda — God did," Crane said. "Africa is very, very poor. There are a lot of people who live in brick homes with no paint, no indoor plumbing and no running water. It's a tough life. It's not like here."
When she first saw the living conditions, she said she "wanted to sell everything I owned."
"I felt the people were so wonderful and they live with so much less than we do," she said. "It put me to shame."
The Crane Centre gives young adults age 18 to 20 a vocational education after high school. Crane said two full-time teachers from Uganda have been hired to teach at the school.
Through her own savings and annual fundraisers, she has put about $150,000 into the project to build one wing of the school, which is currently open, and pay for most of the tuition cost. She needs between $125,000 to $150,000 to finish the project.
Right now, eight students are enrolled for a three-month class. The girls live on the campus of the building, and nearby residents opened their homes to the boys. Crane said most students live about four hours away in small villages where several of her missionary friends visit.
When the school is completed, it will be able to hold 40 students each year.
"I'm trying to give these young people the opportunity to have a career that doesn't require them to go to the university, doesn't require that kind of an expense. We're teaching them the hospitality industry — catering and culinary arts so far," she said.
Crane said students are taught to run a business at the school and after the first class, one of the graduating students opened her own tea shop.
"At 22-years-old, she felt confident enough to open up her own store from the training she had," Crane said. "The students are learning how to bake in an oven, which they've never seen before ... they work so hard and they are so grateful."
Crane said The Crane Centre will be one story, with the ability to expand in the future. She hopes construction will be completed within the year.
She and Chicago resident Marj Dolbeer, the school's vice president, will be visiting Uganda in August to meet with architects.
A catering service will be built within the school so students can have hands-on experience. Crane also is looking into partnering with nearby hotels to house the students while they are there studying.
"Our goal is, when we do get the school fully staffed and the full curriculum in place, we are going to turn it over to Ugandans," she said. "They will run it. The object is to help these people be in control of their own lives."
Crane, whose husband John died 14 years ago, said she's never regretted using their savings to open this school and has never taken a tax reduction for her donations.
"We were good savers," said Crane, who used to own an antique shop.
She recently got a part-time job so she can afford her living expenses after donating her savings.
"I just felt that was where the money belonged," she said.