SHU Community Gathers For An All-Night Event To Benefit Haiti

News Story: February 1, 2010

Sophomore Amber Edwards of New Haven, CT serves Haitian food to senior Jesse Gatten of New Milford, CT during the Hearts for Haiti all-nighter.

In response to the massive devastation caused by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti last month, scores of students and members of the Sacred Heart University community descended on University Commons late Friday night (Feb. 12) for an all-night event celebrating the island nation's rich culture and history and collected items such as clothing and first aid kits to send to the ravaged region. Students also sold home-made baked goods with the proceeds going to the victims of the quake. 

Sacred Heart’s Assistant Coordinator of Volunteer Programs Natasha Noel, who helped plan the Hearts for Haiti event and who is part of the Campus Ministry team, said Friday night’s event was an offshoot of President Anthony J. Cernera’s creation last month of a campus-wide task force to help bring aid to the victims of the disaster as a university community. Matthew Kenney Ph.D., executive assistant to the President, is heading up the task force that underscores Sacred Heart’s commitment to the greater world, especially the suffering, and the university’s long tradition of reaching out to its neighbors near and far.

“Hearts for Haiti is really the kick-off for the task force,” said Noel. “It is the start of what Sacred Heart University is going to do in the next few years for Haiti. This isn’t just a one-time event, but as a community, we will be doing something sustainable for Haiti.”

Hearts for Haiti also had a personal element for Noel, whose parents are both from Haiti and where many of her family members still reside. In fact, a member of Noel’s family was injured by a collapsed building, but the rest of her family was unscathed by the quake.

Brothers Sherrod and Sean Williamson, both freshmen from Brooklyn, NY dance to the Haitian music.

“Throughout the event, we hoped to bring further awareness not only on what recently happened in Haiti but also to celebrate the country and the beautiful culture that we’re going to rebuild," she said. "Not only are we giving students a way to give, but we also gave them a taste of Haiti through music and food.” Noel noted that Haiti has overcome many obstacles in its long history, which emphasizes the “strength of the Haitian people.”

For Annya White, a senior business major originally from Jamaica, said that the January 12 quake was also personal, given the close proximity between Jamaica and Haiti. "However, just to watch the coverage on the news was enough to make it personal for anyone," White said.

Aside from discussing the recent calamity in Haiti and how the community can help, Hearts for Haiti educated attendees on the island nation with colorful posters that listed facts on Haiti, such as it being the first independent black republic, and the only nation ever to have been formed from a successful slave revolt.

Hearts for Haiti also served up traditional Haitian fare and Sacred Heart alumnus and Haitian native Louis Elneus ‘95 spoke to the crowd. Elneus is the founder of Lumiere de Demain, a decade-old not-for-profit organization that helps impoverished students in Haiti by providing them with scholarships, textbooks and other learning tools. Since the quake, Lumiere de Demain has also established a fund to provide emergency lights to earthquake victims.

Additional activities during the 8-hour event included a screening of the documentary film Road to Fondwa and Haitian music performed by the band D-Tay.

Freshman Shawnee Zyskowski, who helped with the publicity for Hearts for Haiti, said that she was encouraged to get involved after participating in CURTIS Week, a week-long program in which a delegation of Sacred Heart students are immersed in the inner city and take part in community service and reflection. She said that Sacred Heart University is the ideal environment to lend support and make positive change in the world.

“I think Sacred Heart University is a wonderful place and that we have a lot of good, kind-hearted people and a lot of resources available to us,” Zyskowski said. “We’re also a Catholic school, which means we focus a lot on the doctrines of the church that call on us to help our neighbors.”

To learn more about ways that Sacred Heart University is helping the Haitian relief effort and how you can help, please visit the Hearts for Haiti website.