Jovanna St. Vilus and her cousin, Lousiene Augustine, express concern for family and friends in the Haitian earthquake.

The following article appeared in Clay Today on Jan. 28, 2010

By Christina Leach Phillips

Correspondent

 ORANGE PARK — Jovanna St. Vilus sadly recounted people she knows who died in the Jan. 12 earthquake inHaiti. There was her great aunt, her dad’s cousin, her mom’s good friend.  Lousiene Augustine, who sat next to her in an office atOrangeParkHigh Schoolwhere the girls are students, said, “By the grace of God, all my family is okay.” 

The two cousins, one born inHaitiand the other born in theUnited States, said they were very upset when they first heard about the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed thousands of people and left thousand homeless. 

“I was crying, and I said I have to do something – I have to help,” said Jovanna. 

Their pastor atDayspringChristianMinistries, which started a mission inHaiti, gave them a list of items people could donate that would be useful. With the support of OPHS Principal Treasure Pickett and with help of friends, they made signs and passed flyers around school. 

Students donated bottled water, toiletries, clothes, shoes, and diapers.  The freshman class gave them 328 new t-shirts they had planned to sell as a fund-raiser.  All the items were picked up by their church and will be sent toHaitiby an uncle who will coordinate the donations through Haitian churches. 

“You realize when things like this happen that people tend to come together.  That’s when you see really how people are.  I was surprised to see that a lot of people brought a lot of things.  Some people seem like the ‘I don’t care type,’ and then a lot of them stepped up, and we are very appreciative.” said Lousiene. 

Jovanna and Lousiene have motivated other students to get involved.  “Because of the efforts of these two girls, it has taken off into a full blown mission,” said Carrie Young, Secretary at OPHS. 

A fundraiser was set up in the cafeteria resulting in over $450 in cash donations that will be given to the Red Cross, said Vicky Loehr, Marine Science teacher, who is coordinating the Haitian relief effort at the school. 

“Kids were scraping out their pocket change, and teachers were writing checks,” she said. 

The school’s Spanish Honor Society and REACH, a Christian club, are collecting more items for the Haitian people, and students from the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) chapter are collecting shoeboxes filled with medical supplies. 

“Our goal is to collect at least 100 shoeboxes and have them donated to the American Red Cross. Each of these shoeboxes will serve as a first aid box that will be distributed to families inHaiti,” said Rafael Ramos, Health Science teacher. 

Loehr said there is a large group of Haitian students at OPHS.  “They are first generation, second generation, and third generation Haitians, and they all still have family back inHaiti. It’s been devastating for all of them,” she said. 

“Some of them have been sitting here for almost a week waiting for any kind of news not knowing if the people in their family were alive or not,” said Loehr. 

The other students were “very supportive,” she said. They held a prayer vigil as they waited for news. 

When Loehr asked about one Haitian student who was absent from school, she was told by his cousin, “He can’t be here – he’s too sad – his dad is missing.”  But there was good news a few days later when the student’s father was found alive. 

“They (the Haitians) are such a very strong group of people . . . You see it on the news and in these children – the grace and the courage they are maintaining,” said Loehr.  

OtherClayCountyschools are also getting involved in the Haitian relief effort. 

AtOrangeParkJunior High School, Tabetha Elie, whose father is fromHaiti, started “The Water Project.”  “She had the idea that if we could ask every student here to bring one bottle of water along with the faculty and staff, we should be able to collect around 900 bottles of water, so she put together a PSA, and it ran on the school news,” said Assistant Principal Janice Tucker. 

They hope to reach their goal by Jan. 29 when the water will be taken to the Red Cross to be shipped toHaiti. “It’s small, but it can help in a great way,” said Tucker. 

Green Cove Springs Junior High School students are collecting toiletry items for the Haitian people, and S. Bryan Jennings Elementary School will hold a fundraiser dance on Jan. 28 with proceeds going to the American Red Cross forHaiti’s recovery. 

OPHS Secretary, Carrie Young, said, “It just goes to show no matter how young, one person can change the world or at least a little piece of it.”