University Christian Coach Takes on a Bigger Mission; Bob Graham Is Leaving the School to Help South African Children Affected by AIDS

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Byline: JEFF ELLIOTT, The Times-Union

The next time a basketball coach complains about having to make a 300-mile excursion for a playoff game, consider University Christian coach Bob Graham's upcoming road trip.

He'll soon be making an 8,500-mile trip for basketball games against the likes of Umbogintwini, Amanzimtoti and Hammarsdale. All are neighboring towns of Durban, South Africa, which will be the home of Graham, his wife and their two youngest children.

Graham has spent 15 years at University Christian, including the past 10 seasons as the boys basketball coach. But he'll step down from that position at the end of this season to take on a much bigger challenge, one that will make a game against top-ranked Arlington Country Day seem like a walk in the park.

A year from this spring, after his daughter Julie's graduation from Wolfson, Graham and his wife, Joanna, and children, Julie, 16, and Jordan, 2, will depart for Durban, a city the size of Jacksonville on the Indian Ocean that's often referred to as the surfing capital of the world. Graham is the director of a foundation called the Children's Resiliency Project, a research-based, non-profit ministry that exists to improve the quality of life for AIDS-affected orphans in South Africa.

The foundation aims to provide orphans with Christian parents, a home, a church, a school and community-based organizations. Graham will spearhead the drive to build the homes and to find caregivers -- typically African parents or grandparents -- who agree to raise these orphans in the new homes with financial assistance from the foundation.

It's a monumental task. There are an estimated 1 1/2 million orphans in South Africa and 300,000 orphan-headed households.

"What you have is children raising children," Graham said. "If something isn't done with regards to the AIDS-affected orphans, it's just a matter of time when the AIDS problem wipes out a whole generation of people.

"In my mind, there's only two options. One you can say, 'Oh, what a shame,' and then send a check to Oprah's Angel Network group as they continue to try and combat the situation. Or you can attack the problem head on, like I'm doing, by impacting the lives of 42 children at a time.

"That may seem like a small number, but within two generations, those 42 children will be over 25,000 people. As the Chinese proverb says: 'It's a mountain, but you can't move the mountain unless you pick up a few pebbles.' "

For the next 16 months, until the Grahams make their permanent move, Graham will become what he refers to as a "professional begger." His goal before leaving is to have a minimum of 1,000 members in the foundation who, along with donations from churches across the country, will have pledged $200,000 to his foundation. …