Where there's a will, there's a way, and Myra Goldschmidt's honors civic engagement students were determined last spring to help victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Inspired by the words of Brandywine alumnus and humanitarian, Aldo Magazzeni, who shared his experiences during a campus visit, they came up with an idea that led to unimagined success in raising funds for this purpose.
Magazzeni, founder and director of Traveling Mercies, has devoted his life to improving the lives of the oppressed. His commitment to help rebuild a demolished elementary school outside of Port-au-Prince resonated with the Brandywine students. Their passion to help the innocent Haitian victims translated into pretzel sales, first on campus and then out in the community, and many people willingly dropped donations into the collection cans.
"This was a puzzle that needed to be completed," said Goldschmidt, associate professor of English and Jane E. Cooper Honors Program coordinator at the Brandywine campus. "And it was these students who seemed destined to make that happen."
"Everyone was so enthusiastic and the more the project grew, the more Dr. Goldschmidt encouraged us. Everyone was bursting with ideas," said sophomore Eileen Fresta, a student in the class.
"This effort was completely outside of the course. It was on the students' time, and they all came together," said Goldschmidt.
Two local Wal-Marts granted the use of their locations to sell pretzels. "Wal-Mart loved the fact that we were going beyond ourselves," said Fresta. "The Nittany Lion mascot made an appearance, and people were donating whether they brought pretzels or not. The response from the people was so warm; we felt really good about being there," she said.
Filling a bag with school supplies cost $6. "Our goal was 50 bags," Fresta said. "We raised enough money to not only fill the bags, but had an extra $3,700 in cash. I never thought we would see that number."
With the extra money, Traveling Mercies was able to build wells at two elementary schools so that the children would have clean water to drink. Magazzeni also delivered the 50 Penn State Brandywine book bags, filled with the brand new school supplies, to the children, enabling them a chance to be children again, to delight in something new and to get back into the classroom.
The Brandywine students felt an immense feeling of accomplishment.
"The project strengthened the hope within me that if we stand together, and lend our hands to those in need, we can truly make a difference," said junior Labanya Mookerjee, a student in the class. "Our group was so cohesive and enthusiastic about this endeavor; we really wanted to do everything we could to help. It was just wonderful to share this experience with my classmates."
Magazzeni, who has affectionately dubbed the Haitian school "Penn State Haiti," recently sent pictures he had taken of the children and their school.
"Before the pictures came back I knew we had done a good thing, but when I saw the pictures it was life changing," said Fresta. "I had always pictured a child holding one of those bags, and here it was.
"This changed my life - meeting Aldo and being part of this project."
"It was the most amazing teaching experience of my career," said Goldschmidt.
For more information or to make a donation for the Penn State School in Haiti, contact Myra Goldschmidt at 610-892-1465 or [email protected]. Checks can be made out to Traveling Mercies.