As they’ve done for the past few years, offering talent, time and money, the Montclair community has again come to the aid of earthquake devastated Haiti — the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. The 3rd Annual Concert for Haiti, which took place in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation this past Saturday evening, raised funds for the Edeyo Foundation, which operates a school in Bel Air — one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in capital Port Au Prince designated off-limits by the international NGO community because of security concerns. Proceeds from the concert will go towards the construction of the building, raising funds “one brick at a time” for the school that now operates out of temporary classrooms. While the final tally isn’t in yet (last year’s concert netted around $20K), tickets were sold out in advance, and the board of symbolic “bricks” being sold in the lobby was full.
A cooperative effort led by Cindy Stagoff (left), the concert committee consists of Mayor Jerry Fried, Outpost in the Burbs Executive Director Steve Cutaia, Chris Kunstadter and Robert Mellman. In their opening remarks, both Stagoff and Fried addressed the question of why the group — and the community at large — turned their attention to helping Haiti, when there are pressing challenges locally. The possible answers are numerous, but it comes down to the hope that helping to provide proper education will enable the country overcome the extreme obstacles facing them. Fried called for Montclair to “extend our own hands to shelter, comfort and help protect others, knowing only that our faith in common purposes unites and supports us.”
Stagoff said her vision for the concert, as in prior years, is threefold: to raise funds, build awareness of what is currently going on in Haiti and inspire action. But the event isn’t just about the beneficiaries, she said. It also serves as a forum for community building, joining together a variety of groups — such as the local Girl Scouts, community students, religious organizations and other non-profits working on educational and relief issues in Haiti — prior to the concert. “I have also involved the business community by having our corporate sponsor, Whole Foods, sell snacks and water with the proceeds going to the Edeyo Foundation,” she said. “We featured the work of Marie Saint Victor Koch (a Haitian jewelry designer who donates proceeds to Partners In Health) and had Terra Tea and Fair Trade selling gift items (such as heart-shaped carved river stones from Haiti), making the link between fair trade and poverty issues.”
This year, bookended by musical performances, pediatrician Dr. Richard Besser addressed the audience as keynote speaker. A Montclair resident, Besser is chief medical correspondent at ABC News and has a long history working in public health — particularly with cholera outbreaks. He was the first journalist to arrive in Haiti following the 2009 earthquake, but returned a year later when the still-devastated population experienced a cholera epidemic, brought by UN Peacekeepers from Nepal, which still rages today. Dr. Besser discussed the continuing health challenges in Haiti, and stressed that while the media isn’t generally reporting on the situation anymore, the nation still has tremendous needs.
While the underlying mission of the evening was to raise money and awareness, the concert was very much about entertainment, and there was something for everyone. The evening’s program was a fast-moving variety of musical styles, including the headliner, Haiti’s Obed Jean-Louis (who opened with his moving hit song, “TimeFrame“), cajun/zydeco band Big Mamou, The Reticents, baritone operatic vocalist Stephen Bryant, Jazz House Kids, The Passing Notes, Temple Ner Tamid’s Cantor Meredith Greenberg, her partner Leora Perlman and Peri Smilow and company. The three hour concert went by very quickly. Delicious and exquisite baked goods — donated by community members and Alma Schneider –were available in the lobby (served by National Honor Society students).
The Edeyo Foundation, whose name is derived from the Haitian Krèyol word meaning “help them,” is an independent, nonprofit organization based in New York City, dedicated to improving the future for children in Haiti through education. For more information and to donate, click here.
Read more about the under-18 years old participants on BaristaKids.