St. Louis students lend a helping hand to Haiti

In 2010, a devastating earthquake ravaged Haiti. Just a few months ago, Hurricane Matthew ripped through Haiti, further damaging a country that was in the process of rebuilding. Haiti’s need for help is as pressing and dire as ever.

Students from one local Catholic school are taking the lead and working to raise money to help Haiti from afar. For the 8th grade class of St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville, doing what they can for the people of Haiti isn’t just an act of Christian charity; it’s an act of love toward a people whom they consider to be like an extended family.

The story begins with St. Louis parishioner Wynn Walent, who works for the St. Luke Foundation, a Catholic humanitarian organization founded by Father Rick Frechette in 2000 that’s based in Haiti. Walent lived in Haiti for two years, and while down there in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, he came to know two boys, Vlad and Belony. After a time, Walent decided to adopt the boys.

In 2012, St. Louis and then-principal Karen Herlihy opened the school’s doors to the Haitian boys without hesitation when Walent brought them back to the U.S., and thus began a relationship that has since affected the teachers and students of St. Louis in profound ways, not to mention the lives of Vlad and Belony. Vlad is now in 7th grade, and Belony just started his first year of high school.

“Since day one the staff, students and families of St. Louis have welcomed the boys with open arms,” Walent said. “It’s a very generous community.”

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St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville has a link to Haiti through two of its students, Vlad (pictured) and Belony, who were adopted by St. Louis parishioner and philanthropist Wynn Walent. The 8th grade class, with the help of the whole school, hopes to raise $5,000 by the end of the school year to donate to the St. Luke Foundation, a Catholic humanitarian organization based in Haiti. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

The boys have made quite an impression on the students and teachers of St. Louis. No matter who you ask, they’ll all say that Vlad and Belony “are very humble and have big hearts.” Not only that, many of the students are quick to point out that they’re incredibly talented soccer players.

Ultimately, the students said, Vlad and Belony are like family to the St. Louis community, and they want to help them and their brothers and sisters back in Haiti.

During the school year, each class at St. Louis is required to do some sort of outreach or stewardship project. With a tangible connection to Haiti through Vlad and Belony, the 8th grade class began brainstorming ways they could help those affected by the hurricane. While the 8th graders are currently leading the charge, they hope for it to become a school-wide initiative, with the goal of establishing a more long-term relationship between St. Louis and the St. Luke Foundation.

We’re in such a self-centered world, and I love the idea of kids helping kids and feeling good that they can make a difference in somebody else’s life.”

“We’re always looking to see how we can get our children to be involved in projects that take them away from themselves,” St. Louis principal Kathy Byrnes told the Denver Catholic. “We’re in such a self-centered world, and I love the idea of kids helping kids and feeling good that they can make a difference in somebody else’s life.”

Luckily for them, they have a direct line to Haiti and the St. Luke Foundation through Walent, Vlad and Belony. Walent can articulate the needs of the foundation to the students, and they can raise the money accordingly. Their goal is to raise $5,000 by the end of the school year to donate to St. Luke, but they hope to exceed that goal. As of this writing, they’ve raised nearly $3,000.

The school has also started a Razoo crowdfunding page for anybody to donate to, and one of the first donors was none other than Belony.

The St. Luke Foundation started with simple clinics in 2000 and has since grown to entail two hospitals, three clinics and 32 schools. They provide jobs for 1,000 Haitian people, and Walent said that it is 100 percent Haitian led. The organization empowers the Haitian people to help themselves and provides them the necessary resources to do so.

The resolve of the St. Louis Catholic School to raise money to give to Haiti is a testament to their reputation of being, as Byrnes says, “The little school with the big heart.”

More information

To learn more about Father Rick Frechette, the founder of St. Luke, visit http://www.stlukehaiti.org/watch

To learn about St. Louis’ efforts to support St. Luke, visit stlukehaiti.org/stlouis

To contact Wynn Walent about the work in Haiti, please email wynn.walent@stlukehaiti.org

COMING UP: Rebuilding dignity in Haiti

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Bolstered by the words of Pope Francis to fight a “throwaway culture,” a Denver Catholic moved to Haiti—a country still recovering from a devastating earthquake nearly five years ago—to start a company that upcycles trash into durable products for everyday use, such as bags, aprons and pencil cases.

PeaceCycle, the brain child of Amber Heimann, a graduate of Purdue University, started in late 2013 to provide dignified employment for local Haitians by creating a culture of empowerment and creativity.

“The Haitians have a lot of idle time in their life because there is little opportunity, so they lack hope,” Heimann told the Denver Catholic Register during a recent visit to Denver. “PeaceCycle provides them with a sense of being needed. It’s what dignity is all about.”

In the aftermath of a Jan. 12, 2010, 7.0 magnitude earthquake, estimated to have killed more than 230,000 people and displaced 1.5 million, pollution is a devastating issue.

“One major source of this is the 4 million water bags that are sold and disposed of every single day,” according to Heimann. “These water bags enable locals to consume clean and safe water … but they cause an unsightly living space, and are later burned in piles, adding to the horrible air quality.”

The labor that goes into the PeaceCycle process is arduous, as the trash must be collected, cut, washed, dried, sorted, ironed, cut and sewn. All work is done with no electricity.

“Most locals have never held scissors,” she said, “and this alone is a long education process.”

Yolene, a mother of three living in a one-room house, is a PeaceCyle employee.

“When (Yolene) first started I briefly explained the first part of the process to her, but then she took the initiative to do the remaining steps without knowing how. She did them wrong, but I almost cried because I saw her initiative!” said Heimann. “I offered her the tools to do the rest of the process the right way, and she was excited. She is still working for PeaceCycle today.”

The purchase of each item directly supports nine Haitians with employment, and indirectly supports the local economy with subsequent expenditure from their employment. But Heimann’s greatest joy isn’t in the financial benefit. It’s in seeing the Haitians grow in understanding their dignity.

“The Lord wipes away all that dirt,” she explained as a metaphor for spiritual life, “and makes something beautiful out of yourself.”

PeaceCycle will have a booth at the Colorado Country Christmas Gift Show Nov. 7-9 at the Denver Mart at 451 E. 58th Ave. For more information, visit www.coloradochristmasgiftshow.com. For more about PeaceCycle, visit www.peacecycle.com or like them on Facebook.