Homes for Haiti

19 01 2011

The project started as a response to the earthquake in Haiti. Two art teachers in Florida began a project to help raise money to help with Haiti relief. Meanwhile in Little Rock, Arkansas, I received word that one of my alums, who was volunteering in Haiti, was in Hotel Montana and she was missing. Three days passed before we got word that she was alive. The fear and destruction of Haiti hit home for me and I wanted to help. On art teacher’s blog, I came across a simple project and I decided this was a great idea for the upper school art club to try to recreate in our school community. So with the left over railroad board and the paint left over on palettes I requested the students to apply the paint on the scrap boards, after the paint dried I began to cut the boards up into small pieces that were needed to construct the simple house forms. I always have scrap colored paper, magazines, maps, and left over fabric. So I cut out hearts and door shapes needed to assemble the houses. I pieced the houses together to create a sample set to entice the students to participate in the project. The final and finishing details include an epoxy type coating and either a pin back or a magnet. One day after school while I was putting everything together and finishing up the top coat a few students marveled at the little colorful houses and asked “Can we do this?” I wanted this project to become something the students would adopt and create during club time or after school. I wanted the students to dedicate themselves to the cause. I strongly believe in the “grass roots” initiative and giving the driving force of a project over to the students. I explained the process and they became excited and organized time to come and build houses dozens at a time and then to come in after school to top coat the pieces- this is time consuming and needs many hours to completely dry so timing is an important part of the project. After all the pieces are dry the student’s added magnets and pins. We did this for several weeks and accumulated quite a bit of inventory. So students began selling them by word of mouth on campus and our donations grew. I organized a booth at a local art walk to sell even more pins and several students volunteered to sell them. So we set up our booth with a table, a tent awning, signs, and our product, and within two hours my students earned $1,000, we were excited. We presented our project to the school during chapel and passed our earnings on a “big” check to the Red Cross Haiti Relief Fund. The students wanted to reach a higher goal so they produced more, this went on for the rest of the school year and our donation to the Haiti Relief Fund grew.
An art student who helped create the pins approached the Clinton Presidential Library and asked if they would like to place orders for our pins for them to sell in the Clinton Museum Store with the idea that all proceeds would go to the Haiti Relief Fund. They loved the idea and ordered 100 at a time and then 200 at a time. The project had a steady amount of money coming in for our recycled art pins to benefit Haiti, we were so eager, and we were making a difference. The end of the school year was fast approaching and students wanted to continue the project but the upper school studio was relocating and we would no longer have the studio space to work. This is where the magic happened, after communicating our desire to continue to make pins, but no longer having studio space to make the pins, The Clinton Museum Store stepped up to create a studio space for our students to continue the project over the summer. Two of my art students worked hard to organize materials and create a safe place for the project. With the help of Connie Fails-the store manager and my student Jodi Schmidt, and me, a community service project was born. Students from our school and all schools could now sign up as a volunteer to the Clinton Presidential Library and log hours in the basement studio creating the “Homes for Haiti” pins and magnets. President Clinton formed a relief fund where all of the donations go directly to Haiti to “build it back better” and we have raised over $22,500 dollars for the needs in Haiti. We have expanded our project to include special Christmas trees with ornament versions of the “Homes for Haiti”, a tree topper, and tree skirt. The trees where set up in the Presidential Library and we decorated the trees for the launch of the sale of the ornaments after Thanksgiving. At this point in time the volunteers included parents, grandparents, aunts, and students as young as kindergarten helping to create our little recycled pins. The Clinton Museum Store had hats and t-shirts made featuring our pins for sale to continue to help raise money for Haiti. We have been doing this project for two years and we have dedicated students who put in time outside of the documented hours for community service to work on parts of the project because they do believe in the project. I am always impressed and amazed at how I can direct students on how to create a small part of a bigger project and before my very eyes the students take the idea into their hearts and make it grow.
At the Clinton Library Volunteer Gala in 2010 we received special recognition for our efforts to bring this project to the community to help Haiti. The core group of students had the opportunity to shake President Clinton’s hand and pose for a photo. As all this was unfolding in front of me I was touched by the mention of my schools name by President Clinton. I looked over to my beaming student’s faces and I could see they were proud of their work – a great gift for me to witness. My students knew in their hearts that they made a difference. The evening continued as Jodi Schmidt was honored with the “Bridge Builder” Award for her efforts to reach out to the Arkansas teachers at a conference to educate them about the project and for her work in creating a video to capture the process to create the pins at their schools. A well deserved award and a magical evening. I repeat I believe in the “grass roots” plant a seed, nurture it and let it take root; the journey has evolved because the students wanted it to work and it did and still does to this day.
I cannot take credit for the original idea for the “Houses for Haiti” but I can take pride in bringing this idea to my students and letting is thrive and to fan the flame to let it grow. I am pleased to see my students set goals for raising funds for Haiti and exceeding their expectations- this is priceless.




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