TeacHaiti founder returns for fundraiser
Miquette Denie-McMahon, founder of TeacHaiti, will again be visiting Detroit Lakes this summer to share her stories and pictures about the successes of the educational scholarship project in her native Haiti.
But for the first time, Denie-McMahon will be accompanied not only by her husband of nearly three years, Art McMahon, but also their son Max, who is now nearly a year old.
“It’s going to be Max’s first time in Minnesota,” said Denie-McMahon, who has herself been a frequent visitor to Detroit Lakes since she lived here in 2000-01, as a student in the Rotary International exchange program.
In fact, her visits have become an annual tradition since she first conceived the idea for the TeacHaiti program in 2006, with the help of a handful of local residents who continue to serve on the board of directors of the locally-based nonprofit organization.
This year’s trip to Detroit Lakes is timed to coincide with TeacHaiti’s annual ice cream social fundraiser, which is set for Thursday, June 12, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes.
But this time, Denie-McMahon says, her first stop in the U.S. won’t be in Minnesota.
“I’m going to Texas first,” she said, adding that her plane is scheduled to land in the Lone Star State on June 6. She’ll be in Detroit Lakes three days later, and the fundraising dinner is actually one of three TeacHaiti events scheduled to take place in the lakes area over the course of the following week.
The first will be a “coffee talk” at First Lutheran Church in Mahnomen on Wednesday, June 11 at 3 p.m.
The main fundraising event in Detroit Lakes is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. the following day, and tickets are now on sale through TeacHaiti board members at a cost of $15 per person or $25 per couple. Please visit the website at www.teachaiti.org for details.
Denie-McMahon will also speak during the two scheduled worship services on Sunday, June 15, at Cormorant Lutheran Church, located at 14314 County Highway 4 in Cormorant Village. Services will be at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m.,and Denie-McMahon will also be available for fellowship between the services at 9:30 a.m.
As always, all three events will include an opportunity to purchase hand-crafted jewelry that was made by TeacHaiti students.
Denie-McMahon said her visit to Minnesota this year has a dual purpose: To gain more scholarship sponsors, and to raise funds for a new school in Saint Michel, the small village in Haiti where she was born and raised.
TeacHaiti already operates one school in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, known as the School of Hope.
“We currently have about 370 (scholarship) students, including 190 at the School of Hope,” said Denie-McMahon.
The School of Hope is for students from pre-kindergarten age all the way up to sixth grade.
But the TeacHaiti program sponsors students “across the board,” Denie-McMahon says, in every grade up to and including college.
“We have 358 in pre-K through 12th grade, and 13 college students,” she added.
The program maintains a high academic standard; its latest class of sixth grade students all passed their first national standardized test — a requirement for continuing their education through seventh grade and beyond.
“Our sixth grade students all passed the national exam last year — that’s big,” Denie-McMahon said.
“At the School of Hope, our students are doing very well — their grades are getting better and better,” she added.
But more scholarship sponsors are always needed, to keep the program going and allow the students to continue in school through graduation — and even on to college if they choose to pursue higher education.
This year, TeacHaiti is also raising funds to build a second school in St. Michel — where there are very few such educational opportunities available.
“St. Michel is a very, very small community,” said Denie-McMahon of her birthplace. “There aren’t too many schools there, so this will be a very positive thing for them.”
She added that they plan to start small, with just a pre-K and kindergarten program.
“It’s going to be similar to how we started in Port-au-Prince, with just the younger grades,” she said.
As those students advance to first, second and third grades and beyond, a new class of pre-K students will be added each year.
“We want to start very slowly and make our way up” to a full-size elementary school, Denie-McMahon explained, noting that not only will it cost less money to operate the school in the beginning, but it will also give them time to find the best possible teachers for each grade level.
The St. Michel school project is being spearheaded by a group from Fairfax Community Church in Fairfax, Va.
“These people have donated their time and money to help us build (the new school), Denie-McMahon said, adding that they would be sending architects and engineers from the U.S. to help design the project, though local workers would be hired to do much of the actual construction.
In addition, the church will be sending a team to Haiti this summer to operate a summer camp in July, as well as a music camp in August.
The Fairfax group’s efforts on behalf of TeacHaiti have been “very inspirational,” she added.
But Denie-McMahon has not forgotten that it was the efforts of supporters from the Detroit Lakes community that helped launch the project all those years ago.
“I look forward to visiting Detroit Lakes and our supporters there,” she said. “I am excited to give them an update on how things are going.”
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.