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Picking up the pieces

This past May, former Detroit Lakes High School Rotary Exchange student Miquette Denie was in town to raise funds for her fledgling charitable organization, TeacHaiti.

Miquiette Denie

This past May, former Detroit Lakes High School Rotary Exchange student Miquette Denie was in town to raise funds for her fledgling charitable organization, TeacHaiti.

In its first year of existence, the organization that is dedicated to furthering the education of youth in Denie's native country, Haiti, had enabled 41 students in grades K-12 to attend school for a full year.

With donations raised during her May visit, Denie and TeacHaiti were able to send 105 K-12 students to school for another full year -- plus pay a year's tuition for an additional three college students.

"We raised $41,750 for tuition this year, plus another $30 per student for school supplies," said Mary Lee of Detroit Lakes, who currently serves as vice chair of the TeacHaiti board of directors. "That's a huge increase. We were able to send three times as many students to school this year."

Denie lived with John and Mary Lee while attending DLHS during the 2000-01 school year, on a Rotary Exchange scholarship. After her year in DL was finished, she went on to further her education in the United States.

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After graduating from Oak Grove Lutheran School in Fargo, Denie went on to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing from Concordia College in Moorhead. Though she knew she could use that degree to live quite comfortably, Denie chose instead to devote her efforts to helping as many children in Haiti as she could to obtain the education that had proved so valuable to her.

So after graduating from Concordia, Denie spent the remaining year of her visa working as a nurse at St. Mary's Regional Health Center and Emmanuel Nursing Home in Detroit Lakes, while at the same time, using her contacts in the area to help start up a new non-profit organization known as TeacHaiti.

Initially, Denie would need another local non-profit to act as a fiscal "umbrella agency" for TeacHaiti, Lee explained, because obtaining 501c3 status -- which enables non-profit agencies to make donations tax deductible -- is a lengthy process.

"We're hoping to get that (501c3 status) by the end of 2008," Lee said.

Since TeacHaiti was established in 2007, First Lutheran Church of Detroit Lakes has acted as the umbrella agency for TeacHaiti, Lee said. Funds donated to the organization are held in an account by First Lutheran, and disbursed according to the wishes of the TeacHaiti board.

However, once TeacHaiti has obtained its own 501c3 status, the donations will be handled by the organization directly, which will streamline the process of getting the funds to Haiti, Lee said.

And right now, funds are desperately needed, she added. Since the beginning of August, Haiti has borne the brunt of four major hurricanes -- Fay, Gustav, Hanna and most recently, Ike -- leaving the tiny island devastated and thousands of residents homeless.

Through TeacHaiti, northwest Minnesota residents have once again answered the call, funneling another $5,000 in hurricane relief to the Gonaives region, northwest of the island capital of Port au Prince.

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This region was particularly devastated by Hurricane Ike, Lee said.

Denie herself grew up in the village of St. Michel, which is located in the midst of the Gonaives region.

"St. Michel is her hometown -- she really felt the need to help them," said Lee.

Because the hurricane washed away many of the roads leading into this region, however, travel has been difficult, and Denie has been able to make only one trip to the village so far.

But cleanup efforts continue, and funds are still desperately needed for the relief effort, Lee said.

Those who are interested in making a donation are asked to send checks to: TeacHaiti, P.O. Box 1173, Detroit Lakes, MN 56502-1173. Please designate whether your donation is for hurricane relief, or for ongoing education efforts.

If you would prefer, you can also contact a TeacHaiti board member to make a direct donation.

The current chair of the TeacHaiti board of directors is Tom Klyve. Lee is the vice chair, and Duane Shane is the secretary. Vicki Marthaler serves as financial secretary, and Debi Zastrow as treasurer. Michelle Norby is the correspondence secretary, and there are also five at-large members: Natasha Foltz, Denise Frederickson, Jeff Norby, Ann Shane and Sharon Josephson.

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Right now, it is the cleanup from Hurricane Ike that requires the most urgent attention, said Lee. The effort to raise tuition and school supply funds for the 2009-10 school year will begin in earnest next spring.

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