In early October, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake shook the island nation of Haiti, leaving 14 people dead in its aftermath and injuring 152 people in the northern coastal town of Port-de-Paix. When Ijamsville residents Lydia and David Greenlees, co-founders of Trellis Arch, heard the news, they were emotional.
“I was surprised and deeply saddened,” said David Greenlees, a former Marine Corps officer who has visited Port-de-Paix three times on behalf of Trellis Arch since 2015. “I was frustrated that I was here in Maryland and unable to assist.”
Monrovia-based Trellis Arch, an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) public charity, provides quality education to children living in extreme poverty. In Haiti, over 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Just weeks prior to the October earthquake, a group of Trellis Arch volunteers and support personnel traveled to Port-de-Paix, Haiti.
“We took a really eclectic group of people with the idea of empowering everybody. To say, ‘you have something important to offer even though you might not know what it is yet,’” David said.
The group’s focus was to provide volunteers with an introduction to their work in Haiti, to meet with sponsored students and their families, to paint murals in schools and to participate in the “Inside Out Project” at the Toussaint Louverture School in Port-de-Paix. The Trellis Arch team included three mural artists, a filmmaker, an environmental scientist, a photographer, a mechanic, a corporate senior vice president, an associate scientist and a U.S. Department of State compliance specialist.
“It was such a joy to watch our amazing muralists turn blank walls into a vibrant, colorful, inspiring courtyard,” said Lydia Greenlees. “Art has a lovely way of connecting people and bringing positivity to life.”
On the ground already in Port-de-Paix was David’s friend and fellow U.S. Marine Kervens Michel, a Haitian native who now lives in Florida and serves as Trellis Arch’s Haiti director. Michel, a leading force behind Trellis Arch’s work in Haiti since their founding in 2014, has made a dramatic impact on the lives of hundreds of Haitian children.
Kervens’ experience with education sponsorship began in 2004 while he was deployed to Haiti with the Marines as a translator during Operation Secure Tomorrow. During his time in Haiti, he realized that many children were not going to school and when asked why, they would provide the same answer: “My dad or my mom don’t have the money to pay for me to go to school.” That’s when Michel, who was born in Port-de-Paix, decided to do something about this problem. He started by sponsoring five kids from the famous Cite Soleil “Sun City” in Port-au-Prince. By October 2006, he was sponsoring 20 kids; 10 in Cite Soleil and another 10 kids in Port-de-Paix.
“He goes to yard sales and Goodwill on the weekends to buy used clothes and shoes for the kids and their families,” said David. “Kervens gets things done,” said Lydia. “He is Trellis Arch’s MVP and our successes in Haiti are due to his untiring dedication to our work there.”
In 2017, Trellis Arch raised nearly $19,000 for their work in Haiti, which provided school scholarships, supported build projects for sponsored kids’ families (as needed) and a variety of school improvement projects. They currently have 18 sponsors supporting 27 of their 40 children there, and some sponsors have their donations matched by their employers, which doubles their impact.
In return, Trellis Arch provides sponsors with information about their sponsored student(s), including photos, report cards and updates on their work “We’re different than most organizations,” said David. “One hundred percent of every dollar that we get goes directly to our programs. Board members and other folks pay for the administrative costs, which we still keep very small.”
Not including donors, Trellis Arch has seven board members and about a dozen regular volunteers who assist their global charity efforts not only in Haiti, but also in Uganda, Nepal, India and the D.C. metropolitan area. As a public charity, Trellis Arch is at a turning point in their fundraising efforts as they search for corporate donors whose charitable interests match theirs.
“In order to accomplish the goals of building and staffing a school in Haiti, providing daily support for orphans in Uganda, providing school supplies and educational testing for children in Nepal, broadening our outreach for orphans in India and granting full community college scholarships to local students in need, we must take our fundraising to the next level,” said David. “We believe education is the one thing that breaks the cycle of poverty and empowers young people in remarkable ways.”
Since their modest start as a public charity in 2014, Trellis Arch has raised nearly $100,000 in donations through 2017. They currently support 40 children in Haiti, 112 children in Uganda, 104 in India, 121 in Nepal and 11 here in the United States. Student sponsors contribute $20 per month either in a lump sum or via monthly payments by check, credit card or Paypal.
Twenty dollars provides school supplies for one year and a backpack for a student in India; one month of education expenses for a student in Haiti; enough cooking oil to help feed one hundred homeless boys for a month in Uganda; 11 pairs of school shoes or a two-week salary for a teacher in Nepal; and two-thirds of a monthly student bus pass in Frederick, Maryland.
To learn more about Trellis Arch, or to become a volunteer or donor, visit trellisarch.org.