Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dust and grime at St. Vincent's

The dirt was flying at St. Vincent’s (SV) today. After making the short trek from the hotel, three of our volunteers dove into a large, messy project: sorting through mountains of donated supplies that filled a cavernous storage space. John, a volunteer from New Orleans, worked side-by-side with Sally and Brian, both clergy from their Episcopal churches in Washington state, as they methodically dug their way through an overstuffed 10 x 25’ storage area.

"It’s a mess, baby girl"

When the door was first opened, you couldn't even walk in the space. John stepped right up and took the lead in the separation and organization process. Areas along the classroom walls were designated for unusable items, questionable goods, school supplies, materials for the blind, kitchen items and medical equipment. Moving the materials kicked up so much dust and dirt that masks were a requirement. They disposed of huge spiders, dead rats and animal droppings while they meticulously sorted everything.

Sally (left), John (center), Brian right taking everything out of the storage space

Mountains of materials

Bed frames, wheelchair parts, mattresses... you name it

When asked what John might tell his daughter about the job, he simply stated, “It’s a mess, baby girl”.

Some of our discoveries were:
  • hundreds of pounds of Braille paper
  • boxes full of Braille workbooks (which delighted the blind teachers!)
  • dozens of unassembled bed frames, bunk beds and mattresses
  • cartons full of boy’s dress shirts
  • enough t-shirts for every child and then some
  • at least a dozen hospital beds
  • huge cooking kettles and kitchen implements
  • stacks of bright blue buckets
  • fifteen manual air pumps
Some of the more interesting finds included:
  • seventeen boxes of greeting cards (all in English)
  • cases and cases of cloth diapers and baby overalls (keep in mind that SV only serves children ages 5 and up)
  • thousands of dish rags
  • hundreds of plastic colanders
  • and the list goes on
You might be wondering why we took on this “little” project – how does this fit with The Red Thread’s mission to provide hope and healing to needy and orphaned children.

The reason is multi-faceted. As with many organizations, St. Vincent’s is running at full capacity with a minimal staff and even less resources. There is simply no time for anyone to go through the space, to determine what is truly of value to the children and facility. Sadly, the area in which the trio worked had become a huge catch all for everything that was not an immediate necessity after the earthquake.

One of The Red Thread’s goals while working in Haiti (or any other country) is to truly access the needs of our partner organizations before fundraising or sending anything. We talk to the partners to determine their highest priorities that fall within the scope of our mission. We do not guess or speculate about what we “think” they may need. We ask questions, and lots of them, long before a single purchase is made.

We also have a commitment to our supporters to use their funds as judiciously as possible and we take this responsibility seriously. Until we knew what was in that storage space, how could we determine what St. Vincent’s truly needs vs. what they already have?

Last but not least, we do not try to Westernize our partners in other countries, placing our perceived “necessities” on them. Rather we respect our differences and follow their lead on what needs to be done.

So, while this may seem like an odd project for us, we feel that it is critical in determining the next steps in our relationship with St. Vincent’s. To best serve the children, we need to know what items are already available so we do not duplicate things, thus wasting our time and resources.

John, Sally and Brian will be hard at it again tomorrow. Wishing them sweet dreams and no sore muscles tomorrow!

Serious progress!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

From Columbus, with love

Wow. What a long day it has been for those of our team who originated in Columbus, Ohio. After nearly 12 hours we weren’t even half way to Port-au-Prince (PAP). Had all gone as planned, we would have arrived in PAP by 2:00pm, gone through immigration and customs, gathered our bags and met our fellow teammates. But alas, the timing was not in our hands, reminding us of our motto when working in Haiti: be flexible.

Our 6:30am flight out of Columbus was on time, headed for Chicago O’Hare, normally less than an hour soaring in the sky. Next would be Ft. Lauderdale and then PAP – simple, right?

About 40 minutes into the first flight, the flight attendant announced that visibility in Chicago was down to ¼ mile and the plane was going to circle the airport waiting for the fog to lift. About 45 min later, we were forced to divert to Indianapolis to wait out the weather. As we sat on the tarmac in Indy, we got to know each other better.

First there’s Bob, a TV producer from Columbus, who we met just a few short months ago. A small business encounter led to an extended conversation about The Red Thread’s work in Haiti – our first glimpse of the red thread of destiny connecting us to Bob. He is an amazingly talented professional whose skills are sought after across the US. (Some of his work was even aired during the last SuperBowl. Check out www.beproductions.com when you have a moment.) Following several meetings, he offered to travel with us to film and produce our first video documenting our work. What an amazing opportunity for us.

Then there’s Al, a Columbus-based cinematographer recruited by Bob specifically for this video shoot. A Filipino who has been stateside since he was 7 years old, Al jumped at the chance to go to Haiti with Bob and the grouop. Having only met at the airport this morning, we feel as if we have known this man for a lifetime.

And finally, there’s Pierré. None of us knew we would meet today – he is not a team member and had never heard of The Red Thread Promise. He was just another passenger on the flight to Chicago who happened to hear us talking about PAP and mentioned that he was also headed to Haiti. And the conversation began.

Pierré lives and works as a business professional in Dublin, a suburb of Columbus. His pregnant wife, the dean of a school and teacher in Haiti, and their 8-year-old daughter live close to PAP. He is headed home to visit for 2 months, thus our shared travel itinerary this foggy / stormy day. During our conversation, he shared the chilling account of watching the news coverage of the earthquake from his home in Columbus and the following 3 days over which he tried desperately to reach his wife in Haiti by phone. He soon learned that she was in the yard when the quake hit and a wall of their house fell on her, pinning her to the ground. Pierré was eventually able to fly into the Dominican Republic and drive across the border to his family, bringing them back to the US for medical care. (A news article in the Columbus Dispatch was published about this amazing couple.) Following her recovery, his wife and daughter returned to Haiti so his wife could continue her role in educating Haiti’s children.

While we waited for hours in Indianapolis and Chicago, we got to know Pierré as we shared lunch and discussed politics (both American and Haitian), education, Haitian music and Kreyol. We told him of our plans in Haiti over the week, including going to Montrois to scout the area for Camp Jake, bringing supplies for the blind to St. Vincent’s and going to the orphanage. We were surprised with his knowledge of St. Vincent’s. He was even able to tell us of some famous musicians who were educated at St. Vincent’s (who we certainly plan to look up) and he expressed an interest in visiting our team at the Center.

It was an amazing encounter that we won’t forget and hope that we have made a friend for life. We are very excited that Pierré has invited our group to his home for dinner during our stay to sample his wife’s “amazing Haitian cooking”. How could we say no to such a fantastic offer?

This kind of friendliness is so indicative of the people we have encountered in Haiti. While Americans would scarcely consider inviting complete strangers to their home for dinner, Pierré never gave it a second thought. Of course, the invitation was extended on our end too, to have his family to our home in Columbus following the birth of his second child in November.

While our day was not what we expected, maybe it was what it was meant to be – something even better. Who knows what the rest of the trip will hold or what kind of new and unexpected connections we will make.

(We’d love to tell you what is going on in Haiti right now, but we don’t know! We pray that the rest of the team made it there safe and sound and look forward to greeting them in the morning. Unfortunately, our new flight leaves at 6:20 so we will be getting up at 3:30, again. Hope to catch some zzz’s driving to Montrois! More tomorrow from Haiti.)

Bon nwit!
(good night in Kreyol)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Jacob!

Glenna, Jacob's grandmother, releasing balloons in his honor

If you saw blue balloons frolicking in the sky over your neighborhood on Saturday, May 21, there’s a chance you got a glimpse of Jacob’s birthday celebration. Saturday was Jacob’s seventh birthday, and his parents and grandparents celebrated by sending balloons to him in heaven from Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio.

We would have preferred a loud, noisy, messy party with all six grandchildren, icing smudges, melting pools of ice cream and torn wrapping paper and ribbons on the floor. There would be action figures, cars, games – maybe even a new bike that Jacob would learn to ride with his father's help.

That was not to be.

But earlier in Jacob’s life, when he was two, he received gifts that enhanced his life and the natural joy he brought to living.

Through hippotherapy at McKenna Farms, Jacob learned balance and developed muscle tone that would allow him to ride a bike. He learned to tell his mother what color car was alongside them as they drove. He learned to count. And he learned to express verbally all that he felt inside, a magnificent gift that allowed him to interact with others and let them get to know his gentleness, caring, and his giggly sense of humor.

The Red Thread's program, Jacob's Fund, is named in honor of Jacob Beachy. The fund provides hippotherapy scholarships to children with disabilities. We know we can’t give Jacob presents on his birthday. But we can give gifts to children like Jacob, who need therapy to unlock the beautiful child inside them and free them to be all they can be.

There are about 70 children with disabilities waiting for hippotherapy at McKenna Farms now. To provide for them, McKenna farms needs more space and more therapists. Your gift opens the gate and allows those kids to get in the saddle to begin their journey.

Somewhere there’s a family waiting to hear that first word, watch their child take that first step, or even to hear the words Jacob proudly spoke to me, “Look, Grandma, I run.”

And he did. Happy Birthday, Jacob!

Jacob enjoying his first piece of birthday cake in 2004

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Rain, snow, sleet or blazing heat

Nothing can dampen the spirit and enthusiasm of children who receive hippotherapy at McKenna Farms in Dallas, Georgia. However, until now, inclement weather could certainly rain on their parade (and inhibit their plans for uninterrupted therapy). We are happy to announce that this will soon change and each child's treatment plan can continue regardless of precipitation.

The new, indoor arena under construction

With walls erected and doors installed, the indoor arena at McKenna Farms is nearly ready for the horses and their eager riders. In June 2011, children, therapists, parents and supporters will host a grand opening for the new all-weather facility.

Come rain, blistering summer heat, or the occasional winter snow, hippotherapy sessions will be uninterrupted from this point on. Continuity of treatment is critical for the children because their skills build progressively. Each session a stepping stone to the next level, the next success.

A little horse with a little rider

Patricia, a new four-year-old patient, is one of the children who will pass through those newly-opened doors. Patricia's speech is delayed and her doctor has written a prescription for hippotherapy. Due to her family's financial situation, that prescription might be worth no more than the paper it’s written on. Thanks to your generous donations to Jacob’s Fund, we are able to provide her with a scholarship so she can begin her treatment plan at McKenna Farms. It is our hope that her therapy will be successful and that Patricia will no longer suffer in silence.

Hippotherapy is known to improve speech and vocabulary. During Patricia's sessions, the horse's gait will allow her to experience movement that strengthens her core. The horse's balanced, rhythmic motion stimulates the underlying physiological systems that support her speech and language functions.

We're looking forward to the day when little Patricia, like many of the children who come to hippotherapy never having spoken a word, starts telling her horse "GO!"

Old Paint preparing for a riding session

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Well-Check Clinic

A small group of St. Vincent's very large deaf population

Watching this group of medical professionals and volunteers running the well-check clinic in March, 2011, was like seeing an extremely flexible, adaptive machine operating to its fullest capacity. The key to the team’s success was their “divide and conquer” methodology: everyone had an assigned role and allocated space. No talent was left untapped, no inch of clinic left underused.

Every student at St. Vincent’s with various special needs, the staff and others were seen over the course of 4 days. Whether they were there for a well checkup, physical therapy, to see the orthopedist, or pick up medication at the pharmacy, everyone’s needs were met.

The crowded hallway at the clinic

A patient’s journey began in the corridor that runs the length of the clinic building that served as a combination waiting room and triage center for all clinics. In the hall, weight, height, blood pressure and other pertinent information was recorded by hand on individual file cards that served as medical records. Recognizing that anemia is a common condition in Haiti especially among children, nearly everyone received a finger prick to test the iron level in his or her blood.

John administering a finger prick

Sheyre (center) working with Dr. Susan (right) and a deaf patient

Working tirelessly in the heart of that narrow hallway was John, a retired paramedic, and Sherye, our only interpreter for the deaf. Also part of the team were high school seniors, Sienna, a seasoned St. Vincent’s volunteer and interpreter, and Hannah who quickly picked up and mastered all assigned tasks.

Sienna and her buddy

Hannah, a St. Vincent's patient and Amy

Following these preliminary actions, patients were diverted to one of 3 areas to see either a physician assistant (PA) or doctor: Wade (our faithful Red Thread PA who spent more than a month in a PAP hospital in 2010), Amy (a PA from Memphis), or Dr. Susan (a St. Vincent’s veteran). Each area was outfitted with a table or chair for the patient, a medical professional wielding a stethoscope and otoscope, as well as an English / Creole interpreter.

Dr. Susan with a St. Vincent's patient

Wade and one of his young patients
(who, by the way, smiled like that throughout the entire exam!)

When groups of exclusively deaf children were brought to the clinic, Sherye was a hot commodity. She bounced from room to room, signing to the kids and interpreting for the doctors. It was challenging to say the least, when deaf children simultaneously filled the hallway and all 3 clinic rooms. There wasn’t enough “Sherye” to around! (Insert gratuitous call to interpreters for the deaf here…)

In each case, eyes, ears, and noses were checked and a physical evaluation completed. Heart murmurs were diagnosed (including a serious heart condition that may result in surgery), a large wart was surgically removed, and bedsores caused by ill-fitted wheelchairs and lack of mobility were treated. Referrals were made for x-rays and additional care by specialists. Medical staff discussed health concerns with pre-pubescent children and their teenage counterparts. You name it, the doctors saw and treated it!

(foreground) Zacharie, a 20 year old student in need of a new wheelchair
(background) Nick and Michelle

Attempts were made to locate specific types of wheelchairs for some of the students, especially Zacharie, who recently spent 2 months in a local hospital due to the severity of his bedsores. Sadly, the wounds were not yet healed and both Dr. Bheki and Nick suspect that he will develop additional sores until he receives the correct style of wheelchair: one with a firm cushioned bottom that is not a “sling” like typical wheelchairs.

A deaf student complaining about her ears not working

When questioned by the medical staff about their health, nearly every blind child stated that he or she couldn’t see. Similar stories came from the deaf kids who complained that they couldn't hear. It was heartbreaking to tell them “I know, I know” and not be able to wave that proverbial magic want to make their little bodies whole. Thankfully, the parts of their bodies that we were able to treat were indeed treated.

Upon completion of the appointment, each patient was sent to the end of the hall to St. Vincent’s pharmacy to see Wes, a pharmacological student from Memphis. It was there that Wes did the majority of his work throughout the week, distributing vitamins and any additional prescriptions. After collecting the medications, Wes worked the interpretation chain: from doctor to English pharmacist to Creole assistant to patient. While it was not a fast process, it worked and for that we are thankful.

The Medicine Man, Wes

Fun fact: the deaf children dubbed Wes the “medicine man”. Even after Sherye spelled out his name— W-E-S —the affectionate nickname stuck.

Some of the biggest challenges of the clinic were:
  • Sharing one interpreter for the deaf—we definitely need more.
  • Minimal work space—on one occasion, we counted 50 people waiting or being treated in the small hallway of the temporary clinic.
  • The Haitian heat in an enclosed area—we won't speculate on the temperature inside the clinic...
  • Lack of a full complement of medical staff.
In some of the team's down time, we comprised this list (in no particular order) that would create our "St. Vincent's Dream Team":
  • family physician
  • podiatrist
  • orthopedist
  • internal medicine
  • physician assistant
  • physical therapist
  • pharmacist
  • x-ray tech and equipment
  • EMT
  • medical assistant
  • optometrist
  • ophthalmologist
  • dentist
  • oral hygienist
We're allowed to dream, right? If you are interested in joining our team during one of our trips to St. Vincent's, please contact kathy@redthreadpromise.org.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Camp Jake Richard

We are SO excited to announce our newest program in Haiti!

INTRODUCING CAMP JAKE RICHARD, the first summer camp for St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. For the precious orphans of St. Vincent’s, Camp Jake Richard will turn a long, hot summer with no family, no school, and no respite from cultural ridicule into a summer to remember.

Camp Jake Richard is an annual summer camp especially for the disabled children of St. Vincent’s. The camp will be held for two, 10-day sessions each summer. The children of St. Vincent’s will travel just 1.5 hours north by bus to reach the camp that is worlds away from their everyday lives in the city.

St. Vincent's students who may attend Camp Jake in summer 2011

There they will be greeted by a volunteer staff of counselors with varying backgrounds, chosen for their ability to provide both a fresh and cohesive camp experience. Staff will include interpreters for the deaf, musicians, artists, cooks, crafts-people and mentors to help with the children’s physical limitations.

While at camp, the children will be encouraged to express themselves creatively, to let loose physically and emotionally, and to explore life in ways that will broaden their horizons and deepen their self confidence.

Camp Jake Richard is designed to remove physical, mental and emotional barriers, giving the kids the opportunity to engage in:
  • Creative arts therapy, such as sculpting, painting, music, sewing and jewelry making, which will be both fun and therapeutic, as well as teach valuable skills to enable career opportunities after graduation.
  • Physical, life and social activities, including sports, aquatics, baking, cooking and a special Olympics designed to free them of any physical affliction, impediment or fear.
The cost per child is estimated to be $575. This includes food, drinks, snacks, transportation, activity supplies, lodging and unforeseen expenses. This fee includes both spoken and sign language interpreters that will be shared among multiple campers.

Jake Richard is a vibrant teenager with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare and progressive disease that involves rapidly worsening muscle weakness. His life expectancy is in his mid teens. The dream of Jake and his family is to provide a fun summer experience for children with handicaps in honor of Jake and his life.

Jake Richard and his mother

Jake and his mother began running together in 2009. He sits in a custom made push chair in his favorite color, orange. They created Team Jacob (not to be confused with Jacob's Fund) to inspire others with hope and courage no matter what obstacles you are facing.

The team's favorite quote is "Always look on the bright side of life" and that's exactly what they do when they run and now through the creation of Camp Jake.

When you send a donation in support of Camp Jake Richard, you do more than send money—you send hope to a Haitian child with a disability.

To make a contribution of any amount, please contact:

The Red Thread Promise
tom@redthreadpromise.org | 504.520.9626
kathy@redthreadpromise.org | 817.320.6522

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Philanthropic Shopper's Dream!

Are you on a tight budget and think giving is out of your reach?
Do you like to shop online?
Are you looking for an easy way to support The Red Thread?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, we want to (re)introduce you to a program that is a great vehicle to help your family or business reach its philanthropic goals for 2011.

For those of you who have specified The Red Thread Promise as your charity of choice and are already using it, grazi!

For those who aren't familiar with it, here's how it works. iGive is a website that connects you to your favorite online stores and supports your favorite charity, all at the same time and at no extra cost to you!

When you order anything offered by an iGive retailer, a portion of the purchase price goes to your charity of choice. It's that easy and it's all automatic! You don't need to enter any codes, notify the store, or iGive.

All you do is: 1) sign up, 2) choose your charity, 3) connect to your favorite online retailers through iGive, 4) iGive does the rest.

Here's how we put it to work this past week when booking airline tickets for our upcoming trip to Haiti. We went to iGive.com and clicked on PriceLine.com. This connected us to PriceLine's site. We went through all of the standard procedures for booking tickets. When we completed the process and paid for the tickets, PriceLine donated 1.6% of the purchase price to The Red Thread Promise. That's it. $26.01 will come to us next month from iGive. How cool is that?

(RedThreadSonya writes: Personally, I order most of the birthday and holiday gifts for my family this way. I just go to www.iGive.com, click on the link to Barnes & Noble—my favorite gift shop!—and B&N sends 2.4% of my purchase price to TRTP. It's a great way for me to give something extra to The Red Thread. I also use it when I order office supplies for my business or when I send flowers to my mother for Mother's Day. Speaking of which...)

The list of retailers is extensive.
If you'd like more info on how it works, check it out.
If you'd like to sign up and begin giving, follow steps 1 & 2.

We hope you'll consider supporting The Red Thread through iGive.

Thank you NoLA Fashion Week!

As you may recall, The Red Thread Promise was the beneficiary of the 2011 New Orleans Fashion Week. And what a great week it was!

New Orleans Fashion Week (NOFW) was the first event of its kind in the southeast region of the US to showcase regional talent in order to build on an industry that has enormous potential. Sponsored by LAisthenewLA, the week consisted of a collection of fashion-based events and activities throughout New Orleans culminating in a two-day finale of full-length runway shows, a dream come true for fashion aficionados. Each designer was slated to show their Fall/Winter collection to an audience of influencers, VIPs, and buyers. (More information about the event itself can be found at NOFW.)

A portion of ticket sales was designated to Japanese tsunami and earthquake relief due to the disasters that occurred within weeks of the event. NOFW's founders and participants felt that since the Japanese assisted New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, that it would be fitting to give back in whatever way possible. The Red Thread Promise's Japanese Relief Fund was chosen as the beneficiary due to NOFW's commitment to grow New Orleans' regional infrastructure within both for- and not-for-profit sectors.

We are thrilled with the donation we are able to send to Japan due to this amazing event and the charity of its organizers. This act of thoughtfulness shows how generosity transcends cause, how kindness has no limits and how all humanity is dependent on the actions of others, no matter what, where or who they may be.

Thank you, NOLA Fashion Week and LAisthenewLA for making The Red Thread Promise a part of your philanthropic interest in 2011.