Oakton Employees Seeking to Make a Difference on Haiti Mission Trip
(June 15, 2017) Oakton Community College Training Specialist Cynthia Townsend of Chicago and Sociology Lecturer Cheryl Thayer of Western Springs are part of an eight-person Haiti Youth Project (HYP) humanitarian trip to Gonaïves, Haiti, June 17-23. Townsend, the group leader, and Thayer are overseeing a project to expand the arts to students at the Eden School, located two hours north of the capital of Port-au-Prince.
HYP is an organization established by Townsend in 2009 that connects youth and young adults in humanitarian service for annual mission trips to the second most populous nation in the Caribbean. Last year, during the HYP’s week-long trip, Townsend and her fellow travelers established visual arts and music programs at the school attended by approximately 50 orphans.
“Our mission trip in 2016 was extremely successful, and during this upcoming visit, we want to continue to expand the offerings at the school as well as provide professional development to the staff there,” explains Townsend. “I’m looking forward to seeing the progress the school has made from last year and taking it to the next level.”
Being an orphan herself is what drives Townsend to organize the trips to Haiti.
“When I was young, I didn’t have anyone in my life guiding me,” she says. “I want to make an impact so that both the American and Haitian youth know that they can use their artistic talents to benefit not only themselves but to help others.”
Members of the HYP had to shell out the cost of the airfare to Haiti but received substantial donations to help defray the cost of the mission trip.
“There’s no price tag you can put on opening possibilities for students, which in my experience have been far greater than I could have ever imagined,” explains Townsend. “My dream is to solve problems around the world and assist impoverished communities within various countries in improving educational opportunities. As an educator, I’ve been given gifts through my knowledge and experience and want to give back.”
The trip will be Thayer’s first trek to the Caribbean nation.
“I’m really excited about visiting a different culture and helping to make a difference for the students in Haiti,” she says.
At Oakton, Thayer stresses the importance of service learning to her students.
“This will show that I not only talk the talk, but walk the walk,” Thayer says.
She also plans on incorporating what she learns during the mission trip to her Oakton students in the fall.
“I can explain firsthand that Haiti is not just a picture in a book,” she adds. “Also, I can talk about my experience in the framework of sociology so students can get a better understanding of the world.”