Formula for Life, a student organization at the University of Saint Francis, is working to give the Haitian orphanage Our Lady of Perpetual Help a new home near Cap-Haitien.Formula for Life is a philanthropic international organization founded 10 years ago by Saint Francis student Cortney Shepard. Shepard was moved by the plight of starving children in the Dominican Republic. For the past 10 years, a team of 10 USF students has coordinated volunteer events to raise money for infant formula, powdered milk, vitamins and requested food. Every year, the group holds a 5K run and walk. Starting in 2014, it has a bike tour and race to raise money. Since 2011, the group has raised $150,000 in money and materials to help build a home for orphans at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Rev. Andre Sylvestre runs the orphanage. A graduate of Ball State with a master’s degree in counseling psychology, Sylvestre returned to his homeland after the 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 300,000 and displaced more than a million other people. He found a 4-year-old child begging for food on the street and discovered the child had a 2-year-old sister and another sibling, an infant. The children’s’ parents had died in the quake. From that encounter, Sylvestre was driven to start an orphanage.
Sylvestre was recently in Fort Wayne. He said the orphanage, now in rented space, has 19 girls and 12 boys. Two of the boys sleep on mattresses on the floor because the orphanage has run out of beds.
The new orphanage, situated on 15 acres of land, will have room for 80 children. Once the orphanage builds a second story, it will have room for a total of 160 children. An order of nuns, the Daughters of Mary, will eventually oversee the orphanage and run a school there. They will have a separate living quarters built next to the orphanage. Besides educating the children, his hope is to teach them skills so they will be self-sustaining when they grow up."I hope in the future some of them will be able to work at the orphanage," Sylvester said.
The new orphanage in Haiti is nearing the stage when the orphans will move in next June. Formula for Life is figuring out how to get a modular home onto the property for the nuns.
Depending on the year, Amy Obringer, faculty adviser for the group, has a core of 10-15 students who are involved in the student-run organization.
"I had no intention in being so involved. In the beginning I would just sign things off for Cortney," said Obringer.
But that changed. Ten years later, Obringer is very involved. Until recently, she had approached students who she thought might be interested in being involved. Lately, students have been approaching her. Frequently the students are in the nursing program or pre-med, because these students are the ones who Obringer meets as a biology professor at USF. A larger base of student volunteers gets involved when the group organizes and holds charity events.
Jessica Lynn, a former member of Formula for Life, said she got involved with the group after hearing about it from a friend. In her sophomore year, she transferred to Saint Francis and soon joined the group through its 5K run.
She volunteered for a trip to Haiti, where she met the children of the orphanage and Sylvestre.
"I was able to experience firsthand the poverty that strikes Haitians every day. What the Haitians lack in resources, they make up for in the hope they have a better life," Lynn said. "I am grateful to have been a part of the team to provide the Haitians at Father Andre’s orphanage with the means for a better life."
As the project for the new orphanage gets closer to completion, Obringer said, they will not be as involved in building other buildings on the site but will instead look for ways to help maintain what is there. She hopes to start bringing classes down to the location to help with their agricultural endeavors and to study malnutrition problems in the area. In the future she would like to get other faculty and students involved in taking student groups to the location.
She said down the road it would be great to set up a scholarship program for the orphans so they would be able to attend Saint Francis.