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It’s All Relative: How a Low-Income Afterschool Program Gives Back to Haiti

Wed, Sep 28th, 2011

Thirteen-year-old Ju'Leah Gills is a bright enthusiastic seventh grader who spends her afternoons at the BP Learned Mission, an afterschool enrichment program for low-income families run by Child and Family Agency of Southeastern CT. The center is a place where about 50 children find daily homework help, peer support, adult guidance, and most importantly a safe place to belong.The families of the children at "The Mission," as it is referred to by community members, are all living on an income at or below the federal poverty line.

So, when Ju'Leah approached Education Coordinator Jennifer Messina about her concerns for the children of Haiti, Jennifer found it remarkable.  Here was a child who, by any American standards, would be considered "at-risk," "needy," or "disadvantaged," and yet here she was practicing more compassion and good will than most well-off adults.

"The people in Haiti are hurting so badly. They don't have much money, and lots of them lost their homes in the earthquake.  It makes me so sad what happened them. I told Miss Jen that I think we can do something to help them."

Ju'Leah decided to take action. She proposed that the children at The Mission dedicate their fall theater performances to children in Haiti.

With the help of the mission staff, Ju'Leah's vision is becoming a reality.  BP Learned is partnering with Outreach to Haiti to put together a benefit show. The children at The Mission will be performing their Halloween show, "Halloween in Oz," and all proceeds will go to Madame Sampson's meal program, a program that feeds hungry children in Haiti.

When I asked Ju'Leah what made her first want to help Haiti, she explained that after the earthquake her teacher had come to school and explained to the class in tears that her father had been in Haiti during the earthquake, and that he did not make it. Ju'Leah says she just couldn't understand how one earthquake could make so many people suffer in a place that was already so poor.

"When she told us what happened, I just couldn't believe it. It made me so sad I cried. I started looking at the news and pictures and realized that these people are the same people as us, they just don't have as much stuff as we do.  They are hurting so bad, I wanted to help."

Ju'Leah is taking her efforts one step further beyond the benefit performance. She is forming a service club at The Mission, where kids can learn about and discuss service and social justice issues. The club will be a group of students who will brainstorm and organize different ways to give back to both the local and global communities.  On Tuesday, September 27 the mission hosted their annual Harvest Dinner where the children cooked dinner using ingredients from their garden, and collected food for the community as the entrance fee.

As I watched the kids excitedly explain the recipes and proudly serve the crowd, it was humbling and heartwarming to see the room full of enthusiasm about helping those that are less fortunate than they are. For me it was a reminder that our perspective is all relative. For the BP Learned kids it was a lesson in self worth, gratitude, and compassion that was very special to see.

The benefit performances will be held at The BP Learned Mission on Shaw Street in New London on October 26-28 at 7:00pm. All proceeds will benefit Outreach to Haiti- specifically Madame Sampson's meal program. For more information about Outreach to Haiti and the meal program go to



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