by Gene Marrano
Plenty of people have climbed the 1.4 mile trail from Riverland Road to the top of Mill Mountain, but last Saturday they did it for a good cause. The first-ever Hike for Haiti, organized by Local Colors, raised money for an orphanage to be built in Haiti by an organization called Dove Missions. How many children are without parents in the Caribbean nation of Haiti – long impoverished, then devastated by an earthquake last year?
“Try one million,” said Alicia Aliff, a steering committee member for Local Colors, who has been to the island where Haiti is located several times. There were almost 500,000 before the earthquake, so orphaned children are not a new problem. On Saturday people paid a fee to hike the Star Trail to the top of Mill Mountain ($50 for a family of four), where they found food for sale and free entertainment.
Among those who took the walk were 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte and his wife Maryellen, a prominent local attorney. Signs placed at various places in the woods featured pictures of Haitian orphans, thanking hikers for taking part in the fundraiser.
“All of the people working here are from Local Colors,” said Executive Drector Pearl Fu, “this is one of the projects that we are sponsoring.” Fu always likes to point out that Local Colors is more than the once a year festival of diversity recently held at Elmwood Park; it’s also about outreach to the community. Forty nine percent of the population in Haiti is under 20 years old. “It’s really sad,” said Fu, “they desperately need help.”
Local Colors also helped organize efforts to raise money for victims of the recent Japanese earthquake. In that case Fu went to members of the local Japanese community and talked to them about fundraising efforts; a performance of Opera Roanoke’s Madame Butterfly was then used as the vehicle to raise money.
Aliff has been to the Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti, looking for a higher purpose in life perhaps? While there she has worked with Haitians in refugee villages on the Dominican side of the border. “A lot of them are coming over the border, looking for any kind of assistance they can find,” said Aliff, who works for U.S. Cellular.
A planned trip into Haiti with supplies was cancelled because of a cholera outbreak there and civil strife before an election. “It’s terrible down there,” said Aliff, who was looking for another way to help the Haitian people when the orphanage project idea came up. The notion of a Hike for Haiti was soon born. “What better place to do it than a hike up to the Mill Mountain Star?” adds Aliff.
A small orphanage that houses 20 children is on the site now in Haiti, but the plan is to build one that can hold up to 800. “There’s such a need there, it’s overwhelming,” said Aliff, “[and] we’re all working together to help them expand.” The property has already been purchased but a $5000 well must be built first. “Every little bit helps,” she noted of the fundraiser.
Hikers on Saturday could purchase water, popcorn and Haitian food dishes, with all proceeds going to the Dove Missions project. “Local Colors is like a family,” said Fu, “we’ll always help wherever it is necessary.” To contribute to the Dove Mission orphanage project, see dovemissions.org.