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Proctor student council’s benefit concert helps orphans in Haiti

Children stand in line to receive toothbrushes and clothing from Pastor Wiita at My Father's House orphanage in Haiti. Photo courtesy of Brian Wiita1 / 3
Children eat lunch under the new pavilion at My Father's Orphanage in Haiti. Photo courtesy of Brian Wiita2 / 3
Pastor Brian Wiita and Wilson smile for a photo at My Father's Orphanage in Haiti. Photo courtesy of Brian Wiita3 / 3

When Proctor High School students offer their musical and artistic gifts to their community on April 12, they'll be doing it on behalf of children they don't know who live more than two thousand miles away.

For the fifth straight year, the student council will host a benefit concert for a global concern, and for the fourth straight year, the recipient will be My Father's House, an orphanage that houses 200 children in poverty-stricken Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The fundraising effort started, at least in part, as the student council's ticket to a big event they wanted to attend. This year, the big event isn't available to them, but the students say helping the Haitian kids has become the important thing.

"It's really cool to see everyone come together to support something so far away," said Katie Sellers, a senior. "I think Proctor rallies around the cause."

The annual event started because the council wanted to participate in something called WE Day, said Chad Eichers, a social studies teacher and student council adviser. Sponsored by the WE Foundation, WE Day is a large-scale event with inspirational speakers and pop stars designed to bring young "change-makers" together. A WE Day was scheduled for the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. To qualify, the students had to get involved in both a local initiative and a global initiative to make a positive difference.

That year, the students chose Ryan's Well, which does clean-water projects in Third World countries, for their initiative, Eichers said. They staged a benefit concert with a fundraising target of $1,500, and reached their goal.

The next year, the students wanted to participate in another WE Day, but they wanted to find a different project, he said.

"Ryan's Well was a great organization, but they're nationally known, and there's overhead and bureaucracy associated with that," Eichers said. "We were looking for, yes, we want a global initiative but also something with a local connection."

Enter Brian Wiita. A part-time math teacher at Proctor, Wiita also is full-time pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Hermantown. Wiita had gotten to know a fellow Baptist pastor who had started an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti. In 2010, after a devastating earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Wiita and members of his congregation had traveled to Haiti to help out at the orphanage, which is called My Father's House.

The orphanage has purchased property that could allow it to add another 500 orphans to the 200 it already cares for, Wiita said.

In a city with many shortages, there's no shortage of orphans.

"There's thousands on the streets," said Wiita, now a regular visitor. "Thousands. It's really difficult to see the poverty and the difficult living conditions, but (we) know that these couple of hundred children are being taken care of, they're being educated."

Knowing of his visits to Haiti, the students approached Wiita, Eichers said, and since then all of the money from the benefit concert — at least $2,000 each of the past three years — has gone to My Father's House.

"We know that a hundred percent of what we raise goes right to them," Eichers said. "There is no middleman; there's nothing lost."

The students say they appreciate the direct connection with the children getting the help. They have a chance to get together with the children via social media on the Tuesday morning after the concert, senior Natalie Beaupre said.

"It's a really cool thing that we get to do that, that we get to see the people that we're helping," she said.

Grace Billman, a senior, added, "We also had that personal connection through Mr. Wiita, and he brings back stories and pictures, which are really fun to see."

Wiita's pictures include a little boy with a big smile named Wilson, who has become a special friend over the past few years, he said.

"Every time I go down, literally as soon as I come on the property, he is hugging me, he won't let go of me or my wife," Wiita said.

Nothing is known of Wilson's parents, but that's not unusual in Port-au-Prince.

"When I was down there one time we heard a knock ... and a mom had just — we could see her walking away — she had left two little children outside the gate," Wiita said. "Tiny little children. And then, of course, you have to take care of them."

The benefit has become a community and school event, the students say. Businesses, particularly Proctor businesses, donate gift cards and other items for the silent auction, Beaupre said. But what really seems to draw interest are artworks donated by students.

Both student and community groups perform musical acts, Sellers said.

This year, there's no WE Day in St. Paul, so the students aren't earning a trip. It barely seems to matter.

"It was always really fun and inspirational, and I know that everyone always left just feeling better than they did before," Beaupre said. "But I think we get a much better feeling just doing the community services and the global services that we do. It's worth it to know that you're giving back to people in need."

If you go

What: Benefit concert sponsored by the Proctor High School student council

When: 6 p.m. silent auction, 7 p.m. concert, April 12

Where: Proctor High School auditorium, 131 Ninth Ave.

Price: $6 for adults, $4 for students; kids 5 and younger free. Family ticket package $20.

Proceeds go to My Father's House orphanage in Haiti

To learn more