While most of St. Cecilia Academy’s Class of 2015 will be busy this summer getting ready for college, Kirsten Fox and Rosemary McGrady will be preparing for a different kind of adventure.
The pair will put off college to dedicate the next year to service in La Valle, Haiti.
The two friends are looking forward to taking a non-traditional path. “You’ll never experience something like this ever again in your life,” said Fox.
Fox and McGrady will leave for Haiti during the second week of August, where they will spend a year teaching English to students in middle school and high school as part of the Be Happy Haiti ministry.
They were inspired by their involvement with Be Happy Haiti while they were students at St. Cecilia.
Emma Hall and twin sisters Blair and Brooke Ely, SCA Class of 2014, founded the group in 2012. Be Happy Haiti works with roughly 30 schools and between 15,000 and 20,000 students in LaValle.
A relatively new but rapidly growing organization, Be Happy Haiti works to provide “preventive and restorative dental care” to the children in Haiti.
The group believes that the best means of working for change is not simply through charitable donations but by teaching the men, women and children of Haiti the necessary lessons and skills to help others in their community.
Both McGrady and Fox used spring break during their senior year to travel to LaValle with Be Happy Haiti for a service trip. Among those on the trip were Be Happy Haiti founders Hall and the Ely sisters, and their father Dr. Wes Ely. The purpose of the trip was to conduct a “test run” to determine the level to which the students and faculty at St. Cecilia could be involved with the ministry.
“It was a lot of work,” acknowledged Fox. “We served over 1,700 kids when we went down there. We went expecting to serve 500 in total, and we served 500 before lunch one day. It was an eye-opener to see something as simple as dental care (being) so poor down there.”
For McGrady, the decision to spend a year serving in Haiti seemed logical, like another step on a path.
Hall and the Ely sisters “talked about (Be Happy Haiti) a lot, and I got into the club,” said McGrady. On the trip to Haiti “I visited all the schools that Be Happy Haiti serves, and that’s when I realized that that’s what I knew I wanted to do.”
Fox, on the other hand, was less sure about whether to serve in Haiti or attend college. She said Hall and the Ely family helped convince her to go to Haiti.
“I had been thinking about (taking a gap year) for a while,” she said, “because I had no idea what I’d want to do with my life. I sat by Dr. Ely on the plane ride down there and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life, what college I was thinking about. I told him that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and that I’d been thinking about a gap year. He asked me, ‘Would you want to be in Haiti, close to the people that you know? I’d really love for you to come work with Be Happy Haiti.’” McGrady, who heard the conversation, said she had been thinking the same thing, Fox said.
The clincher for Fox “was the lady that worked with us down there in Haiti. She had lived in America for a while, and she said ‘You can come live with me, and we’ll take you to school every day,’ so it was already planned out, basically. Everything was coming together.”
McGrady’s mother Lindsey was a bit surprised by her daughter’s decision. “At first, I was a little taken by it, but then when I started to pray about it and ponder her actually going, it really made sense to me that I could totally see Rosemary doing that. She’s got a giving heart, and I just think a year before college serving others sounds like a great choice to make.”
The prospect of spending a year in another country, away from family and with less communication than usual, is undoubtedly daunting. However, McGrady and Fox will rely heavily on each other, Fox said.
“It’s definitely relieving that I’m not going to be the only American in LaValle, so I feel safer and that I’m not alone. And I think our parents feel better that it’s not me going down by myself,” Fox said. “Also, 30 kids is a lot of kids to have as an 18-year-old in your own classroom when you don’t speak the same language. So we’re each other’s ‘safety blankets,’ because we rely on each other. It’s difficult to do that job with just one person. It’s reassuring that I have someone down there to help me out.”
Throughout their year-long trip in Haiti, McGrady and Fox will be posting updates to their own personal Facebook pages, as well as the Be Happy Haiti Facebook page: