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The Hope Continues…

Notre Dame Academy Group Helps Haiti Again

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spirit of Hope

GROUP FROM NOTRE DAME HELPS HAITI AGAIN

Former Notre Dame Academy students Amy E. Coe, left, and Rochelle M. Bard, right, stand with their former teacher, Pamela Reidy. The three are participating in a fundraising effort for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. (T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN)

By Jacqueline Reis TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF jreis@telegram.com

WORCESTER

It has been 20 years since Amy E. Coe graduated from Notre Dame Academy, but she knew just whom to contact when she heard about the earthquake in Haiti in January: Pamela J. Reidy, her religious studies teacher at the academy.

“She would help me to know what I could do”, said Ms. Coe, who lives in Boston.
Turns out, there was plenty. Ms. Reidy had received more than 130 e-mails in the wake of the earthquake, and she, Ms. Coe and others helped turn those offers of help into Spirit of Hope, a nonprofit to help volunteers visiting and living in Haiti. That country is still in the throes of disaster recovery, with the death toll estimated at 200,000 to 300,000 and 1.3 million people displaced.
Ms. Reidy has been traveling to Haiti since 1991, when she was at Notre Dame. Students were interested in going, and she agreed.  “I wanted to say the world is not only what we know,” she said. Through a group called HANDS, Haiti and Notre Dame Side-by-Side, the school sent school supplies, medicine and volunteers.

Ms. Reidy left the academy in 2000 and is director of mission integration at Notre Dame du Lac Assisted Living in Worcester. It has been a long time since her students were students, but their collaboration has given Ms. Reidy’s lessons new life.

On May 16, the group will hold a benefit concert to raise money for Spirit of Hope.
The group has already raised $36,000. The first grant will go to Peter and Linda Faford, originally of Charlton, who work at an orphanage outside Les Cayes.

Other grants will go to people who hope to travel there as aid workers and who would otherwise have to pay their own way, which typically costs $1,500 to $2,500, Ms. Reidy said. She hopes that those who go will include unemployed people who have time and skills but need funding for the trip. Construction, well digging and medical help are particularly needed, she said.

The group’s website, http://www.spiritofhopehaiti.org/, should be ready for applications on May 15.
“Our mission is to fund people,” Ms. Reidy said.  “Lives of service depend on lives of support.”
Haiti is the type of place that inspires visitors to go to great lengths to help, Ms. Reidy said. She noted that Britney Gengel, the 19-year-old Rutland resident who was killed in the earthquake while in Haiti on a mission trip, had told her mother that she wanted to open an orphanage there.

Rochelle M. Bard of Holland had a similar experience. When she visited Haiti with Ms. Reidy in 1993, she decided she wanted to become a doctor and return to Haiti. She went to the College of the Holy Cross and graduated with a degree in biology, but somewhere between there and medical school she became a professional opera singer instead. She and her husband, Kenneth Mattice, are the lead performers in the benefit concert.  Her visit to Haiti as a teenager “changed my whole life,” she said.

Tammy Rives Smolansky, a Worcester native who lives in New Jersey, went to Haiti on the same trip. She was 15 at the time, and the memory of what she saw made her mobilize immediately after the earthquake, joining Spirit of Hope and helping to organize the concert.  “It’s one thing to hear about how people are living, and it’s another thing to see it,” she said of that trip in 1993.   “Pam brought me to a friend of hers who was living in a shack that was very small with a dirt floor, and there was a baby there”¦I remember wanting to cry and throw up at the same time”because I couldn’t believe that a child would be living in those types of conditions.”

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Kirstin (Izzard) Keiser had similar memories. Now living in Kentucky, she contacted Ms. Reidy shortly after the earthquake.  “I think the earthquake woke me back up and kind of nudged me into realizing I do have time to be involved,  “ she said.   She is a manager at a handmade linens company, but she asked local car dealers she knew whether they could spare a vehicle for the orphanage, and she got in touch with a friend who is a consultant for nonprofit organizations.

Another former student, Jen Anderson, is a teacher in Florida and collected money for Spirit of Hope at her school.

Responses like that make it clear how vivid those lessons from high school remain.  “I truly believe that when you educate someone, you educate them for life,” said Ms. Reidy, who still considers herself a teacher, even if it isn’t the title of her day job.   “Never underestimate what a teacher can do,” Ms. Coe added.

The concert aims to reflect the hope Ms. Bard saw in the country. “It’s going to be a place for people to come and smile together,” she said.   Ms. Bard and Mr. Mattice will sing Gershwin, show tunes and opera, and other performers will include the Grace Christian Centre Gospel Choir.

The concert will be at 3 p.m. at the First Baptist Church, 111 Park Ave. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $10 for seniors and students and $5 for children 12 and younger. They can be bought at http://www.spiritofhopehaiti.org/ or at the door.

Also on the website, tickets can be bought and donated back to the organization, which will use them for concertgoers from three groups in Worcester: Abby’s House, the Refugee Apostolate and the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program.

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