WATERTOWN — A 1976 graduate of Watertown High School, two other retirement-age women, and a Haitian pastor.
This is the group running the newly official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization known as Caring Hearts for Central Haiti with the goal of impacting a small community in the center of Haiti and make the people’s lives just a little bit better.
Joanne Tanner, president and U.S. executive officer of Caring Hearts, started the nonprofit with her aunt Janet Zehr, the nonprofit’s chief financial officer, and Judy Graves Stroud, its secretary.
“We’re all retirement age, but we all decided we can make a difference,” Mrs. Tanner said. “Even if it’s in a small part of Haiti, we can make a difference.”
Mrs. Tanner pays all the administration costs for the nonprofit herself, so any and all donations go directly to the various projects Caring Hearts undertakes.
Caring Hearts became incorporated in 2019. During the span of that same year, the foundation built a latrine, provided school supplies for 70 children in Carissade, Haiti and purchased 10 church benches for the Church of Christ in Carissade and 10 for the Church of Christ in Fowozoli.
The foundation also provided inflatable solar lanterns to provide light at night without having to rent a generator and buy diesel fuel (which is expensive and in very short supply in Haiti right now), repaired a broken well so the community would have clean water, purchased a solar panel to provide light for night services, and more.
“We’ve got a lot of projects in mind, though we as a group like to do the short term projects because we’re older,” Mrs. Tanner said. “We’re hoping to get younger people who are excited about Haiti and want to help. There’s a lot of good organizations that do good work in Haiti and the children are the future of Haiti, so if we can help them that’s a good thing.”
Other projects the Caring Hearts group has completed are a water test for purity, providing 100 chickens to two churches for Christmas, providing Bibles and song books, starting a lending library with books written in Haitian Creole, and providing a medical clinic to track growth, dental and vision screening and scoliosis checks.
Through the screening, 17 kids were identified as having vision problems, with five in need of glasses. Luckily, according to Mrs. Tanner, Caring Hearts has the money to cover the glasses.
Also in 2019, Pastor Duronel Casseus, executive director of Caring Hearts in Haiti, built the Church of Christ at Fort-Resolut in Fowozoli and started a school. Once the school had been started, Caring Hearts provided uniforms for the 50 young students as well as started a lunch program to provide them with nutritious meals each day.
The lunch program came after Mrs. Tanner asked Pastor Casseus to send her photos of the children and she noticed they were showing orange tints to their hair — a clear sign of malnutrition. When she asked what the children were being fed, the pastor replied that he would give them water and a piece of candy to stop them from crying over how hungry they were.
Mrs. Tanner recounted a story of a young boy telling a doctor who was examining him that he would feel lightheaded and pass out when he had gone without a meal “for a few days but never more than a week.”
“To me that’s unfathomable that a child anywhere in the world is unable to eat for days,” she said. “It’s nice to get them school supplies and everything, but if they’re not eating, they can’t learn.”
Caring Hearts is also providing students with multivitamins to make sure they stay as healthy as possible. The next project the group hopes to complete is sending money for shoes and socks for the children, whose shoes are currently in tatters.
“One girl I had to literally shove her foot into a shoe that was too small for her because that was all they had,” she said. “We started Caring Hearts to do projects that would improve a small part of the world. We are only three senior citizens and one Haitian pastor, but we want to make a difference.”
Mrs. Tanner attended Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Indiana, for nursing, and had her first real experience with mission work living in Haiti for three months as part of the mandatory Study-Service Trimester experience at Goshen.
Later, Mrs. Tanner worked with World Vision International for one year in a Cambodian Refugee Camp and again for five weeks during a famine in Ethiopia.
She also went on a one-week mission trip to Jamaica and was then introduced to Hope for Haiti’s Children and started sponsoring a little girl named Cathiana and worked in their yearly medical clinic.
Through years in Haiti, she met many members of Cathiana’s family and became close with them.
Cathiana’s older brother, Pastor Casseus became an ordained minister this past July.
Caring Hearts was created from a desire to help the pastor and the residents of central Haiti.
“There is a lot of need right now in a lot of places,” she said. “Not everyone is called to international work, but I would encourage every person to get involved somewhere, whether it’s their local community or elsewhere — one person can make a difference.” ww
For anyone wishing to donate to Caring Hearts, they can do so through the website at www.caringheartsforcentralhaiti.com or by mail at PO Box 5340 Cortland, NY 13045.