Community Foundation completes Haitian relief effort


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ST. THOMAS - When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Virgin Islanders sprang into action to help their Caribbean neighbors.

Now, three years after the earthquake in Haiti, Virgin Islands residents can see the impact made by the generosity of their community and their willingness to help.

Two days after the quake, a team of volunteer doctors, nurses, support staff and more than 2,200 pounds of donated medical supplies left St. Thomas and landed in Haiti.

That was just the beginning.

During the next five months, 20 more relief flights were flown between St. Thomas and Haiti bringing supplies and volunteers to help the earthquake survivors.

Carmen Partridge was one of the people who organized that first relief flight, and she made it her personal mission to continue to provide relief to Haiti. A few days after that initial flight, she approached the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands and asked them to be the fiduciary for all the territory's donations to the Haitian relief efforts.

The foundation agreed and set up the Haitian Relief Fund.

"It was all different part of the community that came together," CFVI President Dee Baecher-Brown said. "There was a lot of generosity and courage."

Donations came pouring in from local businesses, school children and residents wanting to help. Fishing tournaments raised money for the relief effort, businesses set up employee-employer match donation programs, and the religious community stepped forward to help as well.

Donations ranged from $1 to $13,000, according to the Community Foundation.

Pilots donated their time and planes to fly volunteers to Haiti, medical personnel donated their professional expertise, and medical equipment and supplies and other in-kind donations were given to the cause.

Between cash and in-kind donations, the foundation collected more than $1 million from Virgin Islanders to support the Haitian relief effort.

By May 2010, the medical relief flights ended with money left over - a little less than $100,000 - in the Haitian Relief Fund.

"We wanted it to go to Haiti," Foundation Director Beverly Chongasing said.

The foundation formed the Haitian Relief Fund advisory committee, made up of residents who had been instrumental in the relief efforts, to decide how the remainder of the money should be used.

The group decided the money should fund sustainability projects in a number of areas: housing, agriculture, youth and education, and women's and children's health.

Proposals came in to the Community Foundation and were evaluated by the advisory committee and foundation staff.

"For us, it was a big undertaking," Baecher-Brown said. "It took time to vet the programs, but when you have people in the community stepping up in a big way, it's important that the money is going where it is supposed to; otherwise, you can just kill people's willingness to help."

The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands relies on its Angels program to raise funds and fully pay for all of its administrative costs. Baecher-Brown said this allows all the money donated by the community to any of the foundation's special funds to go directly to the intended beneficiaries.

With the Haitian Relief Fund, 100 percent of the donations went to help the people of Haiti, she said.

In October, the last of the money in the Haitian Relief Fund was spent to buy mattresses for a new orphanage under construction and help send two St. Thomas residents to Haiti to work on the construction of the orphanage.

"The money was so close to exactly what they needed," Chongasing said. "I was glad to see that zero balance, and it all went to such fantastic programs."

Here is how some of the money was spent:

Housing

The foundation paid $1,550 to cover travel expenses for a St. Thomas architect to fly to Haiti with Engineering Ministries International, a nonprofit organization. The group went to Haiti to survey and develop a 200-home construction project.

The volunteers investigated soil drainage and types of construction at the site as well as inspected local homes and developed house plan options for the planned housing development.

Agriculture

Local company Fintrac proposed a five-month agricultural pilot project in Haiti that was partially funded by the Haitian Relief Fund.

The Community Foundation awarded $20,000 to the project, which provided training and technical assistance to a farmer's group in San Raphael, Haiti, to help increase yields, improve soil fertility, reduce pest threats, and improve market access.

The money provided by CFVI paid three agronomists to work with and train the farmers, cover costs of seeds, and procure materials for the construction of a greenhouse in which to raise seedlings to sustain the farming operation.

The farmers who participated in the program - 31 men and 11 women - learned about pesticide application and nursery management and can now train other farmers in the community.

Youth and education

The Haitian Relief Fund gave a $15,000 grant to the YWCA of Haiti, which opened the doors of its youth center in April 2010.

Sixty children were chosen to participate in a six-month program aimed at restoring a sense of normalcy to disaster victims by providing psychological and social services and activities.

When many schools in the capital began to reopen in May 2010, the youth center decided to release 24 of the original 60 children who had the means to attend formal schooling, to make room for children who did not.

Children in the program took part in leadership seminars, group therapy sessions, art courses, athletics and other educational and social activities.

Women's and Children's health

The Community Foundation funded a number of projects in the area of women's and children's health.

A donation was made to the Haitian Health and Education Foundation, which manages the Haitian Community Hospital, to help establish a neonatal unit.

CFVI used $13,500 from the Haitian Relief Fund to purchase three incubators and an infant warmer for the hospital. An additional donation of $2,500 was made directly to the hospital for the renovation of the room and for medical supplies to support the new neonatal services.

A $23,500 grant was awarded to the organization Tipa Tipa for the Cheche Lasante (Seek Health) Project to provide assistance to pregnant women who would not typically use the hospital for delivery.

In the pilot program, education and medical services were provided to 30 pregnant women ages 15 to 22. The women took weekly classes to learn about proper prenatal nutrition, health, child rearing and life skills. As part of the program, the women received prenatal vitamins, prenatal care, and the newborn babies were given immunizations and care through their first birthday.

The Haitian Relief Fund also made a contribution to assist doctors traveling to Haiti to provide glaucoma screening.

The last donation made from the fund was to the Be Like Brit Orphanage in Gonave, Haiti.

A $6,600 grant was given to the orphanage to purchase 66 mattresses for the children's bunk beds, and $216 - the rest of the money left in the fund - was given to two St. Thomas residents who traveled to Haiti to help build the orphanage.

For more information about the Haitian Relief Fund or any other fund contact the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands at 774-6031 or go to www.cfvi.net.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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