Suburban residents keep Haiti in their hearts
When Luke Hasan of Naperville learned that people in Haiti were getting sick from drinking dirty water, his 6-year-old heart rebelled.
"He got really upset," his mom, Allison Hasan, recalled. "He wanted to know what it was about, why they didn't have clean water."
If you go
What: HeArts for Haiti silent art auction and sale
Why: Proceeds help supply clean water to people in Haiti
When: 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11
Where: Naperville Woman's Club, 14 S. Washington St., Naperville
Info: (630) 212-1705 or impactforjesus.org
Luke did more than get upset. He used a lemonade stand he received for his birthday to raise more than $2,100 for a clean water project for Haiti.
That project, spearheaded by Naperville resident Patty Meyer and Bolingbrook resident Renee Plaza, will have its main fundraiser, a HeArts for Haiti silent art auction and sale, from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, in the Naperville Woman's Club, 14 S. Washington St., Naperville.
The initial aim is to raise $10,000 to help buy water filtration systems for 200 families in the remote mountainous Pestel area of Haiti. Residents of the Pestel region walk up to an hour to fetch water from a spring-fed lake that has tested positive for cholera, Plaza said. Cholera outbreaks occur every rainy season, she said.
"Small kids, especially, die of cholera within 24 hours," she said.
Both women visited the region while on a medical mission to Haiti last October, and Plaza returned there early this year. Meyer said people walked for miles to get to the medical clinic that served the area.
"Carrying children, they died on the way," she said. "If we had clean water, that's part of eliminating the problem."
Gravity-fed water filtration systems that cost $65 each could filter up to 30 gallons of water a day for a year, she said. The manufacturer has agreed to come to Haiti to help set up the systems, and those involved with the clean water project plan to go door-to-door to distribute the systems and teach people how to use them, Meyer said.
"It's really a very simple solution," she said.
The solution is temporary, though. The ultimate goal is to dig a 40-foot well ringed with concrete at an estimated cost of $3,000 to $5,000, Plaza said.
"We'd like to provide a permanent solution for them and something that doesn't require a lot of maintenance," she said.
Art and beyond
The women have enlisted the people of Haiti themselves to help with the clean water fundraiser. Both women are involved with the New Life Children's Home and Rescue Center in Port-au-Prince, where they find sponsors for children in the orphanage. Meyer said the art auction will include 15 pieces created by boys from the center.
"The boys were so thrilled. They couldn't believe that there would be people looking at their paintings," she said. "They are self-taught and their talent just amazes me."
Sixty pieces for the auction also have been purchased from a group called the Metalworkers in Port-au-Prince, who cut up old metal drums to shape their art. Other pieces come from a woman who employs people to fashion jewelry, purses and clothing out of recycled materials.
"They make sandals out of old tires," Meyer said.
Students from several art schools and artists from South Carolina and the West Coast also have contributed work, she said. The fundraiser will feature at least 300 pieces of art, some of which will be auctioned and some marked with a price tag for sale.
"They're priced from $5," Meyer said. "There's sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, jewelry, purses. We have quite a range of things."
Plaza said the fundraiser began as a little idea that grew. Sponsors include Impact for Jesus, a nonprofit organization led by Meyer and her husband; Knox Presbyterian Church in Naperville; and Naperville Women's Club, which is providing the space for the event.
"I know it's something God wants us to do because it's amazing how things have fallen into place," Plaza said.
Luke said his lemonade sales on behalf of the water project also far exceeded his expectations. He told his mother that he originally had a goal of raising $500 and thought 75 people might come to his lemonade stand, which he named a LemonAIDE Stand.
The family put signs around their South Pointe neighborhood at Route 59 and 111th Street, and talked up the event. Hasan, who also put up a Facebook page, said her son seemed to lose his normal shyness with strangers.
"He would tell random strangers he was having a lemonade stand," she said.
On July 2 when Luke opened his stand, more than 100 people came, with adults writing checks and kids contributing their allowances. Luke collected $1,7778.08 in two hours and more donations have come in online at impactforjesus.org.
"A lot of people came because God does great things," Luke told his mom. "I want people in Haiti to have clean water, not have dirty water and get sick."
Help for Haiti
Luke plans more lemonade stands in the future to raise money for Haiti, and Meyer and Plaza are continuing their multipronged efforts to help people in the impoverished country. Meyer became involved with Haiti after visiting it on a church mission trip in 2007.
"I felt like I had just witnessed a tragic accident and people were screaming at me for help and I turned and ran," she said. "How could I come home and not want to do something about this."
Meyer, who returns to Haiti four or five times a year, found herself spearheading a sponsorship program for the 102 children in New Life Children's Center and Rescue Center. She seeks to find six sponsors to pay $25 a month for each child to provide for their food, shelter, schooling and personal needs.
On her trips to Haiti she takes photos of the children and provides information about them to their sponsors. Meyer said she now has 425 sponsors in 30 states and still needs 150 more.
"I want every child to know that they're an individual who is loved deeply just for who they are," she said. "That's my passion: to let children know they matter."
Meyer's husband, Jim, also became involved with Haiti, and through them, more church members and friends started helping. Plaza, a fellow member of Wheatland Salem United Methodist Church in Naperville, became a child sponsor and then started teaching English to children in the New Life orphanage. She recently led a group of young people from Wheatland Salem on a mission trip to Haiti.
"It was quite a life-changing experience for them," she said. "The people of Haiti don't have much of anything. (But) they have much to teach us."
Naperville resident Jeneane Ryan, a friend of Meyer's, started visiting Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and has gotten her church, Knox Presbyterian, involved as well. Meyer said much of the aid given for Haiti after the 2010 earthquake has yet to reach the people because relief organizations want to see a plan for how it will be used.
"Some of the tent cities are gone, but there's still probably a half million people living in tents," she said.
The women know they can't solve all the problems of Haiti, but if they have their way the people of Pestel will have clean water that could save them from dying of cholera.
"If it eliminates one death, we feel like all of our efforts have been worth every moment," Meyer said.
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