Through her trips to Haiti, Mary Lynch has collected dozens of photos. While surrounded by the most basic of material possessions, the faces reflected in the images are all happy, especially those of children.
It’s something that has touched Lynch’s heart each trip she has made. It also inspires her as well as the other members of the Helping Hugs for Haiti team, based on St. Simons Island, to continue work to help those in Côtes-de-Fer.
For the past 10 years, Helping Hugs Inc., which operates out of St. William Catholic Church on St. Simons Island, has been participating in a “twin” parish relationship with St. Joseph’s Church in Côtes-de-Fer, Haiti. The church, which also operates a school, needs all the assistance it can get so the local nonprofit works to raise funds to cover a variety of needs. They have even sent teams, which include local medical personnel, who have dedicated countless hours to treat the people there.
Lynch said that the effort has made a huge impact in the lives of the Côtes-de-Fer residents. It also serves as way for the St. William members to serve their spiritual calling.
“Our church (St. William), and our organization (Helping Hugs, Inc.) are supporting this community in Haiti in an act of love for our fellow man. The community is located in a poor, rural area, along the south coast. Many families engage in subsistence farming,” she said.
While providing critical aid in terms of food, water and clothing is important, Helping Hugs members also feel it is key to help support artistic interests.
To that end, the organization started an instrument drive for the students in the parish’s school. In 2017, Lynch says, the congregation — with the help of greater Golden Isles community — sent 13 instruments. The following year, it donated 25.
“For the past two years, Father Islaire Faustin, the pastor of St. Joseph Church in Côtes-de-Fer, has offered an intensive summer music camp to the children under his care. While there is plenty of data to support the key role music plays in furthering education success, to Fr. Islaire, there is much more to the story,” she said.
Lynch said Islaire feels the engagement and interest in the music program helps to give the students a positive, creative outlet, one that doesn’t involved drugs or alcohol.
“They have little in the form of material possessions. The youth need a wholesome outlet for their interests and energies. Music is an integral part of the culture of Haiti, so it is of great interest to the population. Besides engaging the youth in music study, it possible that this training will lead the most talented and interested to a career,” Lynch said.
As Bob Hochwald, president of Helping Hugs, notes that Islaire should be touted for the creativity used to engage the students.
“Fr. Islaire is a constant source of ideas aimed at bringing his people out of poverty. We’re happy to support him in that effort,” Hochwald said.
This year, Helping Hugs Inc. is continuing that mission. They will be collecting brass, woodwind, percussion and keyboard instruments as well as guitars through the end of March, shipping the items to the island nation late in the spring.
“Instruments will be shipped by sea container and arrive in Haiti in May, just in time for another summer music camp,” Lynch said.
Members of the community are asked to donate instruments that are in good, playable condition. To contribute, those interested can call 912-638-0148. Monetary donations for the purchase of reconditioned instruments may be mailed to Helping Hugs, Inc. P.O. Box 24477, St. Simons Island, GA 31522. Contributors are asked to write “instruments” on the check.
The instruments received will be given to the students to continue to keep them away from negative activities. They will also perform a concert for the entire community following their summer music program. Lynch is hopeful that area residents regardless of religious affiliation will aid Helping Hugs in supporting these budding musicians.
“This mission is important because it provides the youth with a wholesome activity and it brings them together to contribute to their community,” she said.