ESSEX— A group of town residents Wednesday presented plans for an ambitious sister cities project with Deschapelles, Haiti that includes converting an unused cattle barn in to a library with electric lights.
The group began planning the project soon after the powerful earthquake that devastated the island nation in January. Two of the residents, Jennifer Grant and Kathleen Maher, have previous experience doing charity work in Haiti. Grant is the daughter of Larimer and Gwen Mellon, who helped found the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles in 1956.
Grant and Maher explained the Sister Cities Essex-Haiti project during a press conference at town hall that was also attended by First Selectman Phil Miller and Selectman Joel Marzi. The board of selectmen had agreed earlier this year to work with any local volunteer efforts to help Haiti after the earthquake.
Along with raising funds for the 100-bed hospital, the group has decided to help bring a library with electric lights to the town of about 14,000 residents that is located about three hours drive north of Port au Prince in the middle of Haiti’s northern peninsula. Terry Smith, a member of the Essex Library board of directors, said the group settled on the library project after learning that a chronic shortage of electricity was forcing children to gather under a handful of streetlights at night to read and study as part of their schooling.
Smith said the cost of converting the former cattle barn in to a library and community center with electricity and furnishings is estimated at about $25,000. The group has raised about $10,000 so far.
The sister cities group has established a website, www.sistercitiesessexhaiti.org, and is planning an Oct. 22 Have a Heart for Haiti fundraiser that will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.on the grounds of the Connecticut River Museum. Along with enjoying Haitian art, music, and food, participants will have an opportunity to make donations for books and other supplies for the library.
The Middlesex County Community Foundation has stepped forward to help provide official non-profit, tax exempt status for Sister Cities Essex-Haiti. All donations made through the Middlesex County Community Foundation account wiill be tax-deductible according to federal guidelines. Maher said the group hopes to complete the library, which will be run by Deschapelles residents, by early in 2011.