The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

November 2, 2012

Helping Haitians

Cyclist raises funds to help Haitian children

DANVILLE — When Jay Berkes returned from Haiti earlier this year, he was feeling pessimistic. The problems in the impoverished country seemed overwhelming.

But, the Danville native focused on the one bright spot, the one redeeming grace — a school and its children.

“You see the progress. You see these kids learning,” he said. “This community needs this school.”

Fueled by that thought, Berkes is making a cross-country bicycle trip to raise emergency funds for the ailing grade school, Le Foyer, which is operated by H.E.L.P., Inc., in rural Haiti.

Berkes, 24, left Glenwood Springs, Colo., on Oct. 10, and hopes to reach New York City by Nov. 20, covering 2,600 miles. His goal is to raise $50,000, and he’s already raised enough to keep the school open for another year. All money will go to H.E.L.P., a community-based medical and educational organization, and its school.

He will bike 100 miles every day that is not devoted to presentations, meetings and documentary screenings.

Berkes, a 2006 graduate of Schlarman Academy, made presentations at Schlarman and Danville High School this week. On Sunday, he will speak after each Mass at St. Paul’s Church. He will resume his bike trip on Monday.

During a stop at DHS, Berkes told the students he’s had challenges along the way. One day, he woke up to a farmer holding a pitchfork, asking what Berkes was doing on his land. Berkes didn’t realize he was on private property. Another time, he woke up next to two skunks, who thankfully didn’t spray him.

Otherwise, he said, he’s met some nice, helpful people every day.

Few choices

In his presentations, Berkes shows the students how young people in Haiti don’t have many choices. If they can’t afford to go to school, then they have to work in the fields. Eighty percent of the population lives on $1.25 a day; in the United States, less than 1 percent of the country lives on that amount.

About 76 percent of the students make it through elementary school and about 22 percent through secondary school, he said.

When natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, hit, a Haitian family has to decide whether to send a child to school or rebuild.

Berkes’ mother, Suzie Berkes, is an art and English as a Second Language teacher at DHS, and also a local artist. She arranged for her classes to hear her son’s presentation. Her students had been preparing for his visit by reading Berkes’ accounts of his trip online.

Their reaction to his presentation was positive, she said, and some have been inspired by his journey. His presentation also started a discussion about how we influence each other, and that sets off a chain of events.

Sometimes, just a small thing can inspire someone, she said, adding, “He does put that spark into people.”

A need to help

Berkes received a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 2010, and has plans to go to medical school. However, he decided to take time to get world experience before returning to school.

In the summers, he is a whitewater rafting guide in the mountains of Colorado. He also works as an emergency medical technician and substitute teacher in New Orleans.

In New Orleans, he met doctors who had been to Haiti. He was inspired by the story of a doctor who built up an organization in Haiti to help people.

After reading an article about Dr. Michel-Henry Brutus and H.E.L.P., he e-mailed the doctor in Haiti and offered to work in exchange for housing and food.

In October 2011, Berkes traveled to Haiti, which is still trying to rebuild after a devastating earthquake hit in January 2010. H.E.L.P. had lost nearly 95 percent of its physical infrastructure. That means children ages 5-15 were not able to attend school.

In Haiti, he was a public health agent whose duties included consulting, screenings, maternity-ward work and other medical procedures. He also taught physical education and English at the school.

In addition, for two months, he worked with World Vision, based in Port au Prince. He wrote a document about the process of moving people from the displaced-persons camps.

Berkes was working for the school and as a public health agent in Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb of Port au Prince. The distance between the two cities was only 20 miles, but it took him two hours on the rutted roads. He had to find transportation each day, and his ability to speak Haitian-Creole helped him negotiate a price on the motorcycle taxies.

Berkes returned to the states in May, and already has plans to return early next year.

Fundraising idea

Back home, he came up with the idea to ride a bicycle to raise money for the struggling school. The money will give the school a bit of “breathing room” as it rebuilds, he said. However, H.E.L.P. wants to be self-sustaining.

“It’s not hopeless,” he said of his quest to help the organization and the children. “It’s going to be difficult — but not hopeless. It takes a lot of patience and not giving up on what you believe in.”

He knows he can’t change the world, but he believes in giving Haiti a chance to help itself. “The cycle of poverty is difficult to get out of. This is a small way of progressing,” he said.

When people ask Berkes why they should help Haiti, he encourages them to read the country’s history. “You’ll be blown away by the importance of the Haitian revolution (in the late 1700s) and what these people have done. It’s now this tiny little island that has been forgotten. I think this is an investment in their future and our own.”

Berkes grew up in a family that believes in helping others. He said he “hit the parent lottery” with his mother, Suzie, and father, Jim, a physician assistant with Carle. His parents urged the children to make a difference, but they didn’t push anything on them.

Berkes also has a sister, Celia, in the Detroit, Mich., area, and two brothers, Paul of Bartlett and Sam of Peoria.

FYI

Learn more about Jay Berkes’ trip and make pledges online at www.haiti100.com. You also may call him at (217) 918-1385 or e-mail jayjober@gmail.com.

For more information on H.E.L.P., Inc., visit its website http://www.helpinconline.org.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Kindergarten roundup nears

    April 20, 2014

  • Head Start services offered

    April 20, 2014

  • City to discuss chicken ordinance, animal control DANVILLE -- Residents love their pets -- ranging from the furry to feathered kind -- and let city officials know about it. Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said two of the biggest issues he's received phone calls about since he's been mayor have been about the

    April 20, 2014

  • NWS-CN0420 - Vignette2 image Danville thrift store glass gets a second life Chris Moore of Danville admits he's never been known as an artistic person among friends and family. But after seeing some glass garden decorations at a landscaping business about a year ago, something clicked and he decided to try his hand at creati

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Three injured in shooting on east side DANVILLE -- Police have made one arrest in connection with a triple shooting incident Friday night on the city's east side. Police and emergency personnel responded around 6:30 p.m. Friday to the 1000 block of Moore Street to reports of shots fire. T

    April 20, 2014

  • NWS-CN 0420 - Vignette3 image Odds and ends turn into great useful objects Four Danville Area Community College students took some wooden pallets, a used tire, two broken clocks and a fallen tree limb and created four completely usable objects that will be entered in the college's Trash to Treasures repurposing challenge on

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • NWS - CN0420 - Repurpose5 image Trash into treasure What started out as an idea for a class project quickly snowballed into a campuswide initiative at Danville Area Community College, with the results being on display this week. To mark Earth Day this year, the Biology Department and the Sustainabilit

    April 20, 2014 2 Photos

  • NWS - CN0420 - Rock Church cross image Floral cross celebrates Easter DANVILLE — A cross at The Rock Church is blooming with the beauty of spring and the promise of Easter.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • NWS-CN 04-20 Vignette1 image Couple creates rustic salvaged furniture Kim Hannah of Danville has been salvaging and reusing materials -- most notably barn wood -- for close to two decades. Hannah has sold her handmade crafts and primitive, rustic furniture made of salvaged barn wood at shows around the Midwest for 18 y

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Auxiliary buys ‘Wagons for Warriors’ Auxiliary buys ‘Wagons for Warriors’

    A benefit last month raised $771, which was donated to Wagons for Warriors.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

E-edition
AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
NCAA basketball
NDN Video
Teen hitchhikes in wheel well of flight from California to Hawaii Celebs Share Their Easter Fun At Boston Marathon, a Chance to Finally Finish Hundreds Gather for Denver Pot Rally on Easter Dr. Phil Put In The Hot Seat By His Own Wife Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill
Must Read