Saturday, June 29, 2013

CAMP JAKE: Enriching Campers' Lives

The Red Thread enriches campers’ lives by exposing them to people of different nationalities, diverse perspectives, and varying life experiences at camp. Our dynamic group of counselors represents 3 different countries: Canada (Quebec), Haiti and the United States (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia).  

Several cultural exchanges will be enjoyed at this session of Camp Jake; an Asian dinner complete with chopsticks, fortune cookies and Asian-inspired decorations; and an American BBQ with a variety show and dance capped off with a paper lantern release on the beach! 

Friday, June 28, 2013

CAMP JAKE: Sports & play

Promoting an active lifestyle is a critical component of Camp Jake. We will offer opportunities to develop and tone muscles, increase energy levels and improve health through organized sports and play. What’s on the schedule this summer? Aquatics, a favorite for people of all abilities; baseball; football (soccer), the national sport of Haiti; hula hooping; double-dutch and freestyle jump rope; yoga, which will be adapted for everyone’s individual abilities; kickball; and, a favorite with the blind, games with the ginormous red ball and noise balls. Healthy activities wrapped up in a big package of fun!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

CAMP JAKE: Honing life skills

In an effort to continue fundamental life skills training, counselors will focus on teaching campers time management this summer. Time management is a highly marketable life skill used in:
  • Effective planning
  • Goal and deadline setting
  • Delegating responsibilities
  • Prioritizing activities
  • Allocating sufficient time for activities

At the beginning of the week, each participant will be given his or her own watch: braille timepieces for the blind, vibrating watches for the deaf and standard watches for the remaining campers.

Various opportunities for time management will be presented throughout the week to encourage campers to use their watches and responsibly plan their daily activities. We look forward to seeing the campers using their new-found skills outside Camp Jake!

Monday, June 24, 2013

CAMP JAKE: Spotlight on spa night

DeeDee sporting her relaxation skills with a blind camper
Photo by Howard Chen
Camp Jake has finalized its programming line-up for July 2013! Campers will continue engaging in creative art and music therapy, aquatics and sports activities throughout the week.

In addition, counselors will introduce boating, sewing, yoga, cooking and fishing! These new activities encourage independence and self-reliance, improve both short- and long-term health, and expose campers to potential career paths, all vital aspects to the Camp Jake experience.

Casey giving one of MANY facials at the July 2012 session
Photo by Howard Chen
Also on the docket is 'Spa Night', one of the ever-popular activities that has continued since our first camp in January 2012. During this activity, campers enjoy a rare treat - complete relaxation, even if only for a bit.

Some may question why this is a part of our programming. They might even say it is frivolous and a waste of time. However, we beg to differ.

Photo by Howard Chen
As you've read in previous posts, the social stigma against people with disabilities in Haiti is prominent, leaving our campers—people with varying disabilities—stressed and tense, day in and day out. We're sure our readers would agree from personal experience that high levels of stress affect our bodies in a multitude of unhealthy ways, from general grouchiness to loss of sleep to depression or anxiety. Perpetual tension also inhibits our ability to learn and fully participate in everyday activities.

The Mayo Clinic dedicates page after page of their website describing the ill-effects of stress:
When the stressors of your life are always present, leaving you constantly feeling stressed, tense, nervous or on edge, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. The less control you have over potentially stress-inducing events and the more uncertainty they create, the more likely you are to feel stressed. Even the typical day-to-day demands of living can contribute to your body's stress response... This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Memory impairment
  • Worsening of skin conditions, such as eczema
Photo by Howard Chen
For these reasons and more, Spa Night will continue to be a part of Camp Jake as campers learn healthy ways to deal with stress. Not only will they enjoy a full body massage and facial with high-quality products from Aveda (complements of our friends at Neill Corp), they will learn relaxation techniques that they can utilize long after camp.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

CAMP JAKE: Waste not!

If you've ever been to Haiti, you've no doubt noticed the lack of a recognizable consistent waste management system. Even if you've never set foot on the western half of Hispanola, our photos tell the untold story. Trash is an ongoing problem in many areas of Haiti.

This issue has been on our minds and we've decided to do something about it. This summer, we are implementing a "waste not" initiative at Camp Jake. 

Throughout the course of the week, counselors will use every opportunity to teach campers the importance of proper trash disposal and to care for their environment. We will not only lead by example, but gently enforce the use of proper trash receptacles, leaving behind no trace of camp waste. In addition, all supplies being brought from the states are being broken down to their base form and repackaged to minimize the impact on the country.

Case in point: we received a large donation of fruit roll-ups for Camp Jake. They arrived in six individual boxes, inside another cardboard box, nested inside a shipping box! Instead of carrying the donation into Haiti "as is", the contents have been broken down into gallon-sized zipper bags, leaving all cardboard in the US. These same zipper bags will be used for supply storage following camp or brought back to the US so we leave as small a footprint on Haiti as possible. 

While this concept may not be new, it is sure to make an impact on the kids as they see us "putting our money where our mouths are!"

Friday, June 21, 2013

Small children, BIG hearts!

TRTP Vice President, Sonya, receiving the check
from Columbus Montessori graduate

We've said it before and we'll say it again:
We absolutely LOVE when kids 
get involved in our mission!

For the 3rd year running, The Red Thread Promise has been the recipient of funds raised by a group of elementary children from Columbus Montessori Education Center in central Ohio. 

The school's Upper Elementary class—consisting of 4th, 5th and 6th graders—operated their own pizza business during the school year. Students organized and implemented all day-to-day operations, including order taking and pizza delivery, and were responsible for managing both profits and expenses throughout the duration of the project.

And, wow, did their hard work paid off:
  • it funded 100% of their end-of-year class trip to Cincinnati
  • it allowed them to help others within their own school community - 20% of the proceeds was gifted back to Columbus Montessori in support of the school's beautiful new labyrinth
  • it allowed students to make a global difference for needy and orphaned children - 20% of the proceeds was gifted to The Red Thread Promise, providing hope and healing to little ones in China, Haiti and the USA
The awards and graduation ceremony
Not only was the project a very successful fundraiser, but a hands-on learning opportunity for the entire class. In addition to lessons about running a business, students learned about philanthropy, giving back to their own community as well as those they may never meet. These are invaluable life-lessons that will never be forgotten by both those who participated in the fundraiser as well as those who benefit from their generosity.

To those young people we say THANK YOU and encourage them to follow our work via this blog, website, and Facebook page to see how their donations are put to good use.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

CAMP JAKE: An open invitation

Shawn, Camp Jake counselor, making memories
with Frénel, a blind camper (July 2012)
This July, The Red Thread Promise is swinging wide the doors of Camp Jake to share the work we are doing for people with disabilities (PWDs) in Haiti. We have invited representatives from governmental and non-governmental organizations—local, national and international—as well as Haitian business owners to experience camp along side The Red Thread team.

Some of our esteemed guests for this summer's session include our partners from Physicians For Peace, as well as representatives from UnicefMINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti), and the OAS (Organization of American States). All have been invited to take part in our efforts to change both local and global attitudes toward PWDs and take steps to integrate PWDs into Haitian society without discrimination.

Ultimately, The Red Thread's goal is to bring communities together, where everyone is viewed with dignity. During our activities around the world, we model respectful and inclusive behavior toward PWDs. We bring medical teams to meet their physical needs and provide tools to enrich their daily lives. We have been actively discussing discrimination issues in Haiti since 2009, encouraging the implementation of anti-discrimination strategies. Fortunately, on March 13, 2012, the Haitian Senate passed the Law on the Integration of Disabled Persons, the first of its kind in the country. This law provides us the legal support necessary to enact fundamental change in this tiny Caribbean country.  
Art therapist, Kelly, showing love to blind campers (July 2012)
But above all, we build relationships, showing love and care to those often cast out by their own society. Camp Jake provides the perfect opportunity to do so, a full week of one-on-one interaction with 40 PWDs from St. Vincent's Center for Handicapped Children. Campers enjoy physical, occupational, art and music therapy in a safe atmosphere where each is encouraged to be themselves in an open and inclusive environment.
Sonya, TRTP Vice President, sharing laughs and hugs with Kenson
By its very existence, Camp Jake has proven to be a powerful tool in changing Haitian attitudes toward PWDs. We have witnessed locals, tourists and even hotel staff change their attitude and reception of PWDs within hours of witnessing campers interact with one another and our team. This type of positive experience is essential to debunking the local myths about people with disabilities. 

We believe the keys to societal reform are achievable by:
  • Giving Haitians the opportunity to witness positive inclusive behavior
  • Encouraging Haitians to directly engage with PWDs
  • Speaking openly about the issues PWDs face 
Camp Jake is a wonderful venue to showcase PWDs' ability to integrate fully in society without discrimination. We invite you to keep visiting our Facebook page and blog for updates leading up to Camp Jake 2013 and throughout the amazing camp experience.

Friday, June 14, 2013

UGANDA :: Helping exploited women and girls

The Red Thread Promise recently began a partnership with Refuge and Hope International to assist refugee women and girls who are experiencing violence and exploitation in Uganda. Refuge and Hope is developing a new program in Kampala to holistically assist these female refugees by:
  • providing temporary safe shelter 
  • offering education and vocational training
  • conducting community self-help groups
Our support provides full physical and gynecological exams, lab tests and medications for medical issues that arise from these horrid circumstances. 

Missy (center), Women's Advocacy Coordinator and
Director of Refuge and Hope in Kampala

Together we will rebuild lives following such profound abuse and restore dignity to these women and girls.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

CAMP JAKE: Kaliko Beach Club on the horizon

Yes, The Red Thread team is heading back to Kaliko Beach Club (KBC) for our third session of Camp Jake! In just 4 weeks, 40 campers, 18 counselors, 4 full-time caregivers and 1 videographer will travel to Montrouis to provide a week of physical, occupational, music and art therapy to residents of St. Vincent's Center for Handicapped Children.

KBC has been most accommodating in the past and continues to partner with us to make this a safe and fun experience for all participants. General Manager Mike and staff are working diligently to ensure that all areas of the club are accessible prior to our arrival. On the horizon are ramps for steps; doorway alterations maximizing wheelchair access; rearranged furniture to provide a comfortable setting for all of our campers and their varying needs. In addition, management has given us our choice of rooms and bungalows, allowing us to make the best choices for our blind and non-ambulatory friends. 

Silmithe and a Kaliko staff member
Allen, the restaurant manager, taking a moment to dance with Christina

Since our first session of Camp Jake in January 2012, KBC has been instrumental in the camp's success by working closely with our team to ensure the campers' safety, improve accessibility and—most importantly—help us provide an educational and fun experience for each participant! 

One of Kaliko's chefs helping counselors bake cookies in the restaurant kitchen
Maille and staff at Café Americain
We extend our sincere gratitude to our friends at Kaliko Beach Club for their genuine support and kindness. The Red Thread team looks forward to continuing our relationship for years to come!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

JACOB'S FUND: Meeting Kyle, part 2 - New beginnings

Kyle and mom, Kelli
Glenna, Jacob’s Fund Director, and Sonya, TRTP VP, drove to a quiet Cincinnati suburb a few weeks ago to meet Kyle, the newest recipient of a Jacob’s Fund ridership (aka a hippotherapy scholarship). Kyle has been diagnosed with three challenging conditions: Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), epilepsy and hypotonia. His life—and that of his family—is a daily challenge.

We were deeply impressed as Kelli (Kyle's mother) shared her tireless work seeking out specialists, treatments and any form of help that she and her husband can provide for Kyle. Here is a tiny sample of the family's efforts for their first-born:
  • Securing a grant from the Cincinnati Inquirer for a heavy-duty changing table and special stroller to accommodate Kyle's 7-year-old body
  • Putting him on a Ketogenic diet that includes drinking special formula, stimulating his body to produce ketones which help to suppress his epilepsy, thus decreasing the volume of seizure medications necessary
  • Seeking out a grant for a supply of Kyle's special diapers; due to his age and build, he falls into the wide gap between readily available toddler- and adult-size diapers

The biggest hurdle
One of the family's biggest challenges is communication with their 7-year-old son. Kyle—who is currently non-verbal—is being evaluated to identify a form of communication that will be successful for both him and his parents. The family has explored ASL (American Sign Language), which requires fine motor skills that he hasn't yet mastered, and PECS (picture exchange communication) with little success. Not being able to understand one another is a source of frustration not only for Kyle, but anyone involved in his care.

This is one of the main reasons The Red Thread Promise has offered Kyle a hippotherapy ridership. We have observed such profound progress with non-verbal children receiving therapy on the back of a horse! Hippotherapy has been documented time and time again to be an aid to opening lines of communication previously undiscovered. We are all extremely hopeful that this doctor-prescribed therapy will help Kyle develop his own form of communication, opening many doors into this special child's world.

New beginnings
This July, Kyle will begin hippotherapy at nearby Hilltop Equestrian Center. He and his family have already completed the pre-screening process and are anxious to begin his treatment in Hilltop's summer session. During their tour of the facility, Kyle impressed everyone with his acceptance of the horses, showing little fear or apprehension. We hope that these characteristics will provide Kyle's smooth transition from the ground to horseback where therapy begins.

After Kyle has been in therapy for a few consecutive weeks, the Jacob's Fund team will visit Hilltop to observe Kyle's riding, speak with his therapists and provide an update. Thank you so much for helping us put this boy in the saddle! 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

ATW PROGRAM: Empowering People With Disabilities

Diana in her child-size wheelchair
Recently, we were approached by GOOD Magazine to be featured in their publication dedicated to mobility issues. The article below about our International Mobility Program—providing all terrain wheelchairs to people in need—just hit the internet today. We'd really appreciate it if you followed this link to our article on GOOD and clicked "IT'S GOOD" at the bottom of the page. Thanks, GOOD Magazine!

How Our All Terrain Wheelchairs Are Empowering People With Disabilities

Robert was an accomplished welder and farmer in Gramothe, Haiti before 2010. He is married and has two sons, one of which hopes to become an engineer. However, Robert has a progressive condition that is causing him to lose the ability to use his legs. He has been immobile for quite some time and the doctor has not given him a prognosis.


In Haiti, the streets are uneven and bumpy, rendering “hospital-style” wheelchairs virtually useless. In the mountains, where Robert and the majority of Haitians live, dirt roads and rocky footpaths are common. However, The Red Thread Promise makes it possible for people like Robert to become more independent by providing them with all terrain wheelchairs through our International Mobility Program (IMP). In fact, Robert is hopeful to return to welding since receiving his new wheelchair.

The Haitian mountains
Streets of Port-au-Prince

During our first trip to Haiti in 2009, we had no intention of starting IMP. But when we observed that hospital-style wheelchairs were not meeting the needs of those using them, it compelled us to seek out the best all terrain wheelchairs available. We worked directly with a manufacturer to keep costs low while providing quality chairs specifically designed and built to traverse rugged terrain. Our chairs feature strong frames, flexible suspension, and wide front wheels especially for sand, rock and uneven surfaces.

In June 2011, we delivered a full shipment of 100 wheelchairs to St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince. Our team worked directly with the center to identify candidates for distribution, assemble the chairs, and provide maintenance training to our Haitian partners. Now, The Red Thread Promise is working to bring mobility to 100 additional people in and around Port-au-Prince as well as local businesses and hotels that are not accessible.

Our all terrain wheelchairs at the distribution point

These gifts of mobility give people with disabilities (PWDs) more opportunities to fully engage in life. They promote better self and family care, and help recipients actively participate in educational and economic opportunities. Children can attend school with their peers, acquiring life skills that help them become independent adults. Teens and adults are better able to engage in meaningful work, providing financial stability to their families. Independence increases each individual’s sense of self-worth and self-respect in their home countries.
Yolene, all smiles

Ultimately, our goal is to bring communities together, where everyone is viewed with dignity. We not only provide wheelchairs for individuals in need, but also model respectful and inclusive behavior toward people with disabilities. The Red Thread Promise actively discusses discrimination issues with Haitian businesses, governmental entities and other NGOs working in Haiti, encouraging the implementation of anti-discrimination strategies in Haitian society since 2009. Fortunately, on March 13, 2012, the Haitian Senate passed the Law on the Integration of Disabled Persons, which was the first of its kind in the country.

In July 2013, we will be bringing 50 PWDs to a beach resort in Montrious, Haiti for summer camp. Our team has been working with hotel management to build wheelchair ramps and widen doorways for wheelchair access into all areas of the resort. Management has even requested several of our all terrain wheelchairs for use with future guests.

We will continue to work in Haiti and other countries providing mobility for years to come. However, in order to offer a long-term impact, especially to our current program in Haiti, we’d love your support. Help us empower PWDs by giving them the opportunity to be more mobile and independent.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

CAMP JAKE: Gumbo galore!

Head chef, Tom, manning the gumbo
Maxing out St. Vincent's stove
Marie Carmel lending a hand in the steaming hot kitchen
A mountain of okra
HAITI :: MAY 15-20, 2013 :: During the most recent trip, Tom gave St. Vincent's residents a sneak peek at one of the activities that will be introduced at Camp Jake 2013 - cooking! After a long day of scouting potential sites for a farming initiative that The Red Thread Promise plans to launch (stay tuned for details), Tom and Doug—our aeroponics expert and Tom's traveling companion—brought the ingredients for a traditional New Orleans gumbo!

Campers and residents of all ages joined the pair in St. Vincent's kitchen prepping chicken, sausage and okra for a dish completely foreign to the kids—one they had never tasted or even heard of. (40 lbs of rice and 35 lbs of meat make for some serious gumbo!) As the gumbo's boil roared, campers looked on inquisitively wondering if the rice would be mixed in with the gumbo and, in true Haitian form, speculating if there were enough spices in it!  

Some of the evening's sous-chefs
Grinding spices
Following over 4 hours in the kitchen where temperatures soared to well over 100 degrees F, the gumbo was ready. Thinking their work was complete and they could escape to the cooler air outdoors, Tom and Doug realized they had to serve 70+ hungry residents, far more than originally anticipated.

The final product, seasoned to perfection
Plenty of rice
Again, the campers came to his aide and an assembly line quickly formed without Tom or Doug's direction. First, the bowls were filled with a heap of rice. Second, each was smothered in piping hot gumbo and sprinkled with filé. Lastly, sliced baguette and butter dollops were added to complete the dish. The finishing touch: ice-cold Tang® and a bit of candy for everyone.

Outside the kitchen, a long line of hungry residents had already formed. Within minutes of being served, the bowls were emptied and the residents returned for more until every bit was devoured.

Campers and residents filing in for a bowl of gumbo
Tom and Doug resisted returning to their hotel until well after 10pm, long after our usual Haiti curfew. Doug even inquired about sharing space in the dorms as he had made numerous friends and learned more sign language then he ever thought possible.

The old saying, "too many cooks in the kitchen" was given a new meaning during the gumbo cookout. We welcomed each and every helper and were grateful for their assistance in preparing the meal. Every chef was instrumental in the meal's success! 

One of our many goals is to help St. Vincent's become self-sustainable so there is sufficient food for everyone all the time. Currently, staff and students receive beans and rice twice a day; on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays they receive a third portion. This reinforces our efforts to explore sustainable farming initiatives so no student is hungry again.

Yes, that is indeed ice-cold Tang® 
Dieumenne distributing candy to everyone

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

JACOB'S FUND: Meeting Kyle

Kyle and mom, Kelli
Have you ever met someone new, but, after spending a short period of time with them, felt like you’ve known them much longer? That was the experience of the Jacob’s Fund team when they met little Kyle and his family two short weeks ago.

Glenna, Jacob’s Fund Director, and Sonya, TRTP VP, drove to a quiet Cincinnati suburb to meet the newest recipient of a Jacob’s Fund ridership (aka a hippotherapy scholarship). The pair was warmly greeted by Kelli, Kyle’s mom, and welcomed into a very neat, organized home. After learning that both a 6- and 7-year-old live in this space, the ladies were amazed at how tidy everything was! Kelli was quick to explain that keeping a neat home creates a peaceful space for both her son and herself. 

We asked her to explain and tell us more about Kyle. Beaming with love, she proceeded to help us get to know her unique little boy, all the while keeping a watchful eye on her children.

Kyle is an adorable blond haired, blue eyed, 7-year-old with a radiant smile and infectious laugh. He adores music, especially catchy gospel songs performed by the young people on one of his favorite videos. He recognizes and can point to all of his ABCs and 123s as well as his colors, small victories for children much younger than him, but colossal milestones for someone with his challenges. 

At an early age, Kyle was diagnosed with 
Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), which is characterized by delays in the development of socialization and communication skills, typically noted before 3 years of age. Symptoms may include problems using and understanding language; difficulty relating to people, objects, and events; unusual play with toys and other objects; difficulty with changes in routine or familiar surroundings, and repetitive body movements or behavior patterns. Unusual responses to sensory information, such as loud noises and lights, are also common. (Excerpts from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Kyle also has epilepsy, a seizure disorder that affects the nervous system and is characterized by two or more seizures from an unknown cause. (Paraphrased from 
In additionhe has hypotonia—low muscle tone—which creates balance issues causing him to fall easily.

Upon understanding that this little man has these conditions, we instantly understood the need to maintain a tidy house. Not only is the house kept in a way to maximize Kyle’s safety, but to honor his internal need for order. He likes chairs to be pushed in, doors to be closed and no clutter. It was evident to us that his parents care deeply about preparing and maintaining the best possible environment for their eldest child.

Now that you’ve met Kyle, maybe you feel like you know him too. Stay tuned for our next post that explains why Jacob’s Fund has taken an interest in this exceptional child!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

CAMP JAKE: Camp Director visits St. Vincent's

St. Vincent's students greeting Tom
As you've read on many occasions, Tom travels to Haiti often during each year to see his friends at St. Vincent's. But there is no time where residents celebrate his arrival more than the visit that takes place 8 weeks before Camp Jake. This trip—May 15th through 20th—was no exception!

As he pulled through the gates of St.Vincent's, former campers emerged from the dormitories, kitchen, clinic, classrooms and convened at the SUV. Even as he opened the door, campers pummeled him with questions about camp in French, English and in sign language:
  • which counselors were returning from Camp Jake 2012?
  • what activities were planned for the upcoming camp?
  • are they going to the same resort?
Several even pulled Tom aside following his visit and shared that Camp Jake was truly the one event they look forward to each year and asked that he promise they will always have Camp Jake. Of course, Tom answered that as long as he was around and there were campers as eager as they were to attend, there would always be a Camp Jake!

His answer brought a smile to each camper's face as well as the entire The Red Thread Promise team.

Tom and Samuel at Camp Jake / July 2012