School isn’t an option for every child in Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake ravaged the poverty-stricken country – the poorest in the Western Hemisphere – Sag Harbor artist Jonathan Nash Glynn and his partners decided to change that.
“I figured that the most sustainable way to help the situation down there would be through education and through the children,” Mr. Glynn said. They founded Wings Over Haiti, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and set up a school in Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb outside of Port-au-Prince.
Almost a decade later, the Heart School has educated nearly 200 children, and Wings Over Haiti is slated to open a second school in the mountains of Ranquitte in September. The third annual Hampton Artists for Haiti benefit will be held on Saturday, June 22 at the East Hampton Airport and aims to fund the infrastructure to operate the new earthquake-resistant school for the first 80 children.
“We’ve seen how we can help them help themselves by giving them an education,” Mr. Glynn said. “We’re doing this for human lives, for children who have nothing.”
There is a $100,000 fundraising goal for the benefit, which will pay for teachers, school uniforms, books, water filtration plants and kitchens to feed the children two meals a day. Ultimately, Mr. Glynn said, the goal is to educate 400 children in the area “where there is no opportunity for them to go to school and they live a fairly hopeless life.”
Mr. Glynn was on his way to Florida in his private plane when the 2010 earthquake struck Haiti. Used to unusual flying conditions and aware relief jets were having issues reaching parts of the country, he decided to help by transporting critical medical supplies, including anesthesia and surgical equipment. After receiving press and connecting with others on Facebook, he and his partners founded Wings Over Haiti. The Heart School, which started with just 43 preschool-aged children and has added a grade every year, was such a notable success that Magalie Theodore, a Haitian woman who now lives in New York City, gifted Wings Over Haiti 7 acres of land to build a new school. It already boasts four classrooms.
“The goal is to start schools, get them running, and then have them be run by Haitians so they are self-sustaining,” Mr. Glynn explained. “Our schools aren’t just schools – they are vital links to the community.”
Perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of starting the first school was deciding which children got to attend. Wings Over Haiti cofounder and Port Jefferson Station sixth-grade teacher Melissa McMullen decided the best way to choose would be to look at what she called “school readiness.” That meant she would decipher “if the child has a maturity to be in a school setting at that point in his or her life,” she said.
She gave the young children and their parents picture books and paid attention to their reactions. Their level of engagement and interaction with the material could tell her whether they were ready to attend school.
“When we finally got to that day, their families were so proud and so honored to have their children be a part of it,” Ms. McMullen said. “It became a magical oasis where we just realized it wasn’t just about kids, it was about supporting families.” Mr. Glynn said he plans to use this same system to select students for the second school.
“It’s a terrible dilemma really – everybody is going to want their kids there and there just isn’t going to be room for everybody,” said Wings Over Haiti co-director Arthur Bijur. He emphasized that education gives these children opportunity and even opens them up to the possibility of attending college one day. “They would have had zero chance of getting there without this,” he said.
The Hampton Artists for Haiti benefit and auction is from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22 at the East Hampton Airport. The art show and silent auction is curated by folioeast, with over 50 artists represented. Tickets are $125.
“Right now we’re ready to rock and roll but we really need to raise the money to get the kids going,” Mr. Glynn said. “This is the focus of their lives and their future, and hope in their lives.”