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Haitian man grateful for help, family he found in Sewickley area

How to help

What: Fundraising dinner for Sewickley Presbyterian Church's Haiti mission trip.

When: 6 p.m. March 9

Where: Sewickley Presbyterian Church dining room, 414 Grant St., Sewickley

Cost: $12 donation.

Information: 412-741-4550.

Although Sewickley Presbyterian Church's first mission trip to Haiti isn't scheduled until June, church members are starting to prepare and are asking community members to get involved.

A dinner fundraiser, to be held at the church March 9, will include a meal served by the students, student entertainment, an auction for services such as yard work by students and a presentation about the trip, including speakers who have been to the country.

Russ Mowry, associate pastor of youth and family ministries, said church members are asking for help to pay for and pack 50,000 meals of rice and beans for the people of Haiti.

Meals cost about 25 cents each.

The “food build” will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. April 27 in the church's dining room.

Every four years, church members go on an international mission trip. Thirty-four students and eight adults — about double the number who usually go — plan to attend this year.

Each student is responsible for his or her own $1,500 trip fee and immunization fees, but Mowry said some scholarships are available and they can raise funds through a “flamingo” project to continue at least until the end of March.

Mission team member Maddie Braksick, 15, daughter of Matthew and Leslie Braksick of Sewickley Heights, said the flamingo fundraiser is a major part of the group's funding.

People are asked to donate $50 or more to have a “flock” of pink, plastic flamingos secretly placed in someone's yard.

They also can pay $50 or more for insurance against the “attack.”

People who have been “flamingoed” donate and get to choose where the flock flies the following week.

“It is all intended to be a fun way to raise money for missions,” said Maddie, a Sewickley Academy sophomore, whose father will be a chaperone on the trip.

Other fundraisers are being planned to help raise about $45,000 for the building materials, food and shipping meals, water buckets and other items needed for the trip.

While in Haiti, the group will build two homes with Haitian families — made up primarily of widows and orphans, Mowry said.

They will pass out packaged meals, help teach Vacation Bible School to students at two orphanages and help to educate families about water purification systems they will distribute.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

By Joanne Barron
Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Tassy Fils-aime said he doesn't know what would have happened to him if he hadn't heard the one word that ended up changing his life.

The word was “yes,” spoken by Ian Rosenberger in Haiti about four years ago.

Rosenberger of Friendship was in Haiti taking photos after the January 2010 earthquake and met Fils-aime, then 18, who had been suffering with a baseball-size tumor on the left side of his face since he was 9.

The tumor grew back after a prior treatment and Fils-aime was about to have another surgery with money raised from a concert performed by his four-member, a cappella Christian band.

That's when the earthquake hit, and the hospital was destroyed. Doctors were treating people in tents, and there were no resources to do Fils-aime's surgery, he said.

Rosenberger told his new friend that “yes,” he would try to find a way to help. In November of that year, Dr. Jeb Blaugrund of Edgeworth performed a successful surgery on the benign tumor at no cost and recruited a plastic surgeon and anesthesiologist who also volunteered their services at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side.

Fils-aime, now 22, attends Community College of Allegheny County and is about to get his high school equivalency diploma. He hopes to transfer some college credits to La Roche College in McCandless, where he wants to study to become a physician's assistant.

Fils-aime, who grew up speaking Creole and French and didn't learn English until arriving in the United States, recently told his story to students at Sewickley Presbyterian Church who will visit Haiti on a mission trip in June. He hopes to speak again at the group's fundraising dinner on March 9.

He said he wants to prepare the group for how different it is to meet the people of Haiti, rather than seeing them in pictures.

“The people will have an impact on them. They'll feel like they want to stay there,” he said.

Fils-aime came to the U.S. after Rosenberger raised money for the flight and expenses by selling Haiti photographs at one of the Sewickley's annual gallery walks and through other fundraisers.

Rosenberger also founded and is board chairman of Team Tassy, a nonprofit that helps to find jobs and provide medical access, education and food assistance for about 70 Haiti families.

Vivien Luk, executive director, of Los Angeles, formerly of Regent Square, said Team Tassy has raised about $300,000 since it was founded and officially became a nonprofit two years ago.

Rosenberger recently completed a fundraiser with Chris Murrer of Washington, D.C. They both ran 155 miles in the Sahara Race, moved from Egypt to Jordan this year. The race is one of four that comprise the 4 Deserts Race Series.

Blaugrund said members of his family have organized fundraisers for Team Tassy.

Team Tassy hosts an annual Great American Water Balloon Fight in the summer, which was held at Highmark Stadium in Station Square last year.

Since coming to the area, Fils-aime has stayed with Rosenberger, who lived in Shadyside at the time, and with the Irwin family of Leet ,who he met at North Way Christian Community, a non-denominational church housed in Osborne Elementary School.

He also lived with the Cooper family of Bell Acres.He now lives with the Blaugrund family in Edgeworth. He has returned to Haiti several times to update his visa and visit his mother, two brothers and three sisters in Port-au-Prince, and plans to move back after graduation to “make a difference and pay it forward.”

He said he has people who he loves and misses and who love and miss him in both Haiti and in the Sewickley area, so he will continue to travel back and forth.

Fils-aime's Haiti home is close to Cité Soleil, where he went to school.

He said he heard gunfire and saw gang-related gun fights in the streets as he grew up.

Without his mother's encouragement, his faith in God and Team Tassy, he said, he might have been lured into gang life like some students he knew in Haiti.

Fils-aime said he feels like he has a family in the Sewickley area. “People here don't just say it, they show ‘I'm with you.'”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-324-1406.



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