It takes a village to hoist the check, representing a $20,000 donation to the Hope for Haiti: Education Committee of St. Columba Church in Oakland. Back row, from left to right: Chryesetta Reid, member of the Hope for Haiti: Education committee; Natalia Saavedra, executive assistant for Olsen & Partners; Angelica Vivas, accountant for Olsen & Partners; Gina Waota, managing partner for Olsen & Partners; Jean-Ernest Point-du-Jour, volunteer president of the Community Human Rights Council of Grand Ravine in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Haitian-based scholarship manager; Elena Gaudet, treasurer for the Hope for Haiti: Education committee; Veronica Lofton, member of the Hope for Haiti: Education committee; Florencia Blackburn, member of the Hope for Haiti: Education committee; Judy Luce, member of the Hope for Haiti: Education committee. Front row, left to right: Tom Luce, Haitian liaison for St. Columba; Father Aidan McAleenan, pastor of St. Columba; and Jane Ezeokoli, member of the Hope for Haiti: Education committee.
For the past three years, parishioners of St. Columba Church in Oakland have helped to send impoverished children to school in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
With sales of metal-drum art, concerts, fish frys and an annual Haiti Culture Night, the Hope for Haiti: Education Committee has raised the funds, hard-earned dollar by hard-earned dollar, to send 170 students to school.
But this past year, 70 children, who had been attending school for the past two years, had to be turned away for lack of funds. The Hope for Haiti: Education committee continued to pay tuition and provide school supplies for 100 students.
At the annual culture night last month, at festivities that might be expected to raise $2,000, a surprise contribution not only increased that sum ten-fold, but raised spirits.
Olsen & Partners CPA of San Francisco presented a surprise donation of $20,000.
Gina Waota, managing partner for Olsen & Partners, was born in Haiti. She came to the United States when she was 12. She remembered that her first teacher, in Florida, would help her after school.
"People were always open and welcoming to me," she said. "I choose to do the same."
Last fall, she met Tom Luce, coordinator of the effort at St. Columba, at a fund-raising concert for the education project. Impressed with the efforts, she found herself wondering: What happened to the 70 kids who had to leave school?
"That just really broke my heart," she said. "It's one thing to never have gone to school, another to have gone."
Mail or drop off checks with "Haiti Committee" in the memo line to St. Columba Church at 6401 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, CA 94608.
She and her husband, who is also a managing partner in the CPA firm, decided they wanted to do something. Perhaps they would sponsor "a couple of kids."
After all, she said, "it only takes one person to make a huge change."
They talked to their staff members, who were eager to be involved, she said, offering the idea of a fundraiser.
Then they started talking with their clients, particularly to those already involved in charitable giving. "One gentleman, who chooses to stay anonymous, wrote a $10,000 check," she said.
His response to the plight of the children: "Let's just fix that," Waota said.
His generosity became the basis of other clients' involvement. The tax and accounting firm handles income tax work for individuals and small businesses, Waota said. She estimated that 40 percent of the clients have faced "some discrimination" themselves.
The Hope for Haiti: Education Committee expressed its gratitude for the gift.
"We are so thankful for Olsen & Partners' staff, clients, friends and families," Luce said. "The $20,000 donation is overwhelming and will help provide a better life for almost 100 hopeful Haitian children."
The committee was scheduled to meet to determine the best way to use the donation. School tuition is paid in advance in Haiti, where there is no free public education. There is an additional $5,000 bill each fall for school supplies. The donation could guarantee the next year for the 100 students currently enrolled, and give the committee — and its new-found partners — some time to work on ways to increase donations.
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