Here for Haiti and Ready to Help

Here for Haiti and Ready to Help
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Students, faculty, and staff gathered on Quimby’s Prairie for a candlelight vigil on February 2. Photo courtesy of Abby Hocking.

Since the earthquake that shook Haiti on January 12, an array of student organizations have been working to generate support for the island nation.

The most prominent of these efforts is TCNJ’s Here for Haiti campaign, which kicked off a series of events on February 2. The campaign’s steering committee is seated by student, staff, and faculty leaders from nine campus organizations and its activities have incorporated the efforts of the Haitian Students Association, the Student Government Association, the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement, sororities, fraternities, musical groups and others.

By January 30, Here for Haiti volunteers had already collected 175 bags of donated materials—including 115 bags of clothing, 26 bags of food, and 26 cases of water. The donations were transferred to New Jersey for Haiti, a statewide relief organization, for delivery to the Caribbean.

The Here for Haiti Kickoff Event on February 2 gave students the opportunity to explore Haitian culture and opened up a community dialogue on Haiti and the natural disaster.

The event, organized by HSA and SGA along with the Bonner Center, the Office of Student Activities, and the Office of Dining Services, began with a Haitian-style dinner at Eikhoff Hall. An evening program held in Kendall Hall included speeches by President R. Barbara Gitenstein, HSA and SGA leaders and others, as well as artistic performances by HSA members, the a cappella group The Trentones and Gospel United Ministries.

Following the Kendall program, attendees proceeded to Quimby’s Prairie for a candlelight vigil in memory of those lost in the earthquake. Alpha Nu Omega members organized singing and prayer, Bonner scholars distributed candles, and students continued to gather donations.

According to Bonner Center director Pat Donahue, volunteers collected about $1,000 dollars at the vigil alone. What’s more, the establishment of an e-mail-based, electronic pledge card revealed that the College community has donated or pledged to donate approximately $37,500 toward relief efforts.

Taken just 24 hours after the survey was sent out, that figure is likely to increase as pledging continues and donations increase.

In the meantime, Here for Haiti planners have organized a handful of February fundraisers and are planning additional events for the future. As of press time, these included two Valentine’s Day-themed events—College sororities’ Hearts for Haiti on February 8 and Valentine’s Day Singing Grams on February 11, hosted by the a cappella group iTunes and Gospel Choir Ministries.

The Here for Haiti Steering Committee held its first meeting on February 4. Committee members discussed plans to sustain the relief effort at The College and broaden its focus.

“The overall purpose is to help develop a coordinated response to the disaster,” Donahue said.

Expanding the reach of the campaign is especially important to those who have personal ties to the earthquake. Donahue said that a number of students involved in the campaign have relatives in Haiti.

An article in The Times of Trenton detailed the involvement of sophomore TCNJ football player Scotty Mathurin, who has over 10 family members in Haiti. He is a member of the Here for Haiti committee and plans to organize a 3-on-3 basketball benefit event for April.

Sophomore Bonner volunteer Sejour Stephens discussed her family ties. “My mother is a Haitian woman, meaning 50 percent of my family is from Haiti,” she said, adding that most of her maternal side still resides in Haiti.

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President Gitenstein speaking during the Here for Haiti Kickoff Event on February 2. Photo courtesy of Abby Hocking.

“This disaster has really affected myself and my family in a way that has proven both negative and positive,” Stephens said. “While I have lost many family members and have not heard from the rest, I am moved and heartened by the amount of support that my peers here at the College have shown me.”

Stephens explained how the response seems to have brought out the best in the campus community. “As a sophomore, I have not fully gotten the chance to see this campus truly stand together and support one cause, but this earthquake has completely changed that … my views on the strength and character of TCNJ has truly changed for the better.”

Having organized between 60 and 90 regular volunteers, the steering committee has started dividing its efforts into six directives.

Student Planning, Fundraising and Communication, and Outreach teams will further develop the communal relief work that began in January, and Student Support will make sure that TCNJ students who have been personally affected by the earthquake are cared for.

An Education Committee will serve to “inform the campus community about the history … culture, and current needs of Haiti and the Haitian people.”  Its activities may include forums, speakers, films and exhibits.

Donahue and HSA president Cynthia Pierre ’10 said they anticipate a multi-disciplinary panel discussion sometime in March—“to help us place the disaster in some type of context,” Donahue said.

Additionally, a subcommittee on Service Learning Trips is investigating the feasibility of sending teams of volunteers to help Haitians directly.

Pierre said that HSA is working on a number of future events, including bracelet and ribbon sales, volleyball and basketball tournaments, a 12-hour dance-a-thon, and a Battle of the Bands. All proceeds will benefit the aid organizations CARE, Partners in Health, and the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund.

“[The College’s] participation in these events has really proven that when the students at this school (or any other for that matter) put their minds to it, they can really achieve something amazing,” Stephens said. “I can’t help but imagine every night before I go to sleep that my family in Haiti is receiving not only the supplies, but the prayers and support of myself and my peers here at TCNJ.”

Information about Here for Haiti and upcoming events is available at tcnjhereforhaiti.pbworks.com.

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