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 Haiti Relief Work

How One Alumnus Helped

Jeff Hovis
Children dancing and singing at one of the Mission of Hope orphanages.

Since Haiti was struck by a catastrophic earthquake on January 12, 2010, the world has become familiar with its overwhelming needs.

Jeff Hovis, 1976 LSBE alumnus, was able to take action. In March 2010, just ten weeks after the earthquake, he traveled to Haiti to volunteer with a project called Mission of Hope, located about 10 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince.

“I came back changed from Haiti, I really did,” Hovis said. “It deepened my understanding of the trials that other people experience. I have a greater feeling of gratitude for everything that we have here. I also have an increased sense of responsibility.”

Arriving in Haiti was a shock. “The first thing we saw when we landed was the extreme need for food,” Hovis said. He described long lines where people waited for hours for a meal. “People had set up tent cities, and there were thousands of blue tarps,” he said. The earthquake damage was massive; there was rubble as far as you could see.” Hovis joined a volunteer group from his church, First Lutheran Church of White Bear Lake, to make the trip. His church has a longstanding relationship with Mission of Hope.

Haiti’s Mission of Hope was established in 1998 and since that time, they have built a school, a church, a medical clinic and an orphanage. Their success is attributed to its vast network of charities, churches and volunteers from around the world.

Hovis was impressed with the operation. “It is expanding its orphanage from 60 to 240 children. This year they will teach 2,600 young people in their school. It has a clinic open five days a week that treats about 60 patients a day.”

Falling debris and collapsing buildings from the earthquake caused almost 200,000 Haitians to lose one or more limbs. Hovis was especially touched by Mission of Hope’s answer to the needs of orphans who were amputees.

“One of the big projects we undertook during our week in Haiti was to create handicap accessibility into the orphanage,” he said. “We poured concrete for a porch and a ramp. It was hard labor in the hot sun. There were no cement trucks, so we did all the mixing and hauling by hand.”

Hovis said that his week as a volunteer was successful because Mission of Hope knows how to effectively use volunteers. “We had a translator; we were met at the airport; and we were given meaningful work. We could see that what we gave, both in time as well as our sponsorship of the organization, was going directly to help people."

Immediately after the earthquake, Mission of Hope converted its clinic into an operating room. “Amputees are extremely vulnerable,” Hovis said. The roads are in poor repair and curb cuts on sidewalks are nonexistent. “One of the tremendous needs was for prosthetics because so many people had limbs amputated.” The clinic responded by purchasing specialized equipment within weeks of the disaster, and now can make prosthetics on the site. “People walk or are carried to that clinic for from as far away as 10 miles,” Hovis said.

One experience haunted Hovis. He was sorting medical supplies for the clinic. The supplies had arrived in a huge jumbled shipment from the U.S. “Because the schools were closed after the earthquake, they were used to store medical supplies. I saw on a chalkboard the lessons for January 12, the day of the earthquake,’ he said. “The school hadn’t been used for classes since that moment.”

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Hovis giving rides at the orphanage Volunteers from Minnesota; Hovis is in the back row, third from the right. Volunteers making the new patio and ramp for the orphanage

The Minnesota group was also called on to work with children. Because of the tremendous need for professionals to concentrate on basic human needs and because the school buildings needed to be examined for safety, organized school had been cancelled. “The 16 of us in our group visited orphanages,” Hovis said. “Singing songs, learning dances, playing simple games, and playing catch with children was one way to help, and the Minnesota group found it delightful.

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Boys in their new polo shirts Girls in their new sundresses

“One of the women in our group, Robin, had a wonderful idea,” Hovis said. Before she left Minnesota, she contacted her friends, relatives and colleagues. She asked them all to help her make or buy sundresses for the girls and polo shirts for the boys.” The group from Minnesota brought a new item of clothing for many of the children in the Mission of Hope orphanages.

Many in Hovis’ group had participated in Mission of Hope’s program to sponsor a child. “They were able to meet ‘their children’ and spend some time with them,” Hovis said. “Meeting children and adults was an inspiring experience. Even with all of Haiti’s trouble, they still have a positive outlook. They still smile, and in their smiles you can see their warm hearts.

After graduating with an accounting degree from UMD, Hovis went on to work with IDS Financial Services in the Twin Cities. He has also worked as a financial services and IT (information and technology systems) consultant. Hovis grew up in Duluth, where his mother still lives. “My parents met at UMD,” he said. “My father, Russell Hovis, graduated in 1950. He met my mother when she was working at the UMD bookstore.” After Hovis’s parents married, his mother worked in the office of Provost Robert Heller and later for Chancellor Lawrence Ianni.

The generous actions of Jeff Hovis aren’t limited to his volunteer work in Haiti. Several years ago, he set up a scholarship to support a LSBE student who is also concerned about conserving the environment. “I don't think you can be truly effective in business and economics unless you consider environmental conservation,” he said. “We need to understand all sides of an issue in order to find effective solutions.” Each year between one and four students receive a Jeffrey Hovis Business and Environmental Studies Scholarship.

The trip Hovis took to Haiti and the establishment of his scholarship, both create a positive impact. Hovis said that taking action is important. “Sometimes people block out the problems in the world,” he said. “They ignore things that are too big, and they don’t think they can make a difference. But we have to try. Even if we just take one small step, we have to try.”

Written by Cheryl Reitan

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