Volunteer for Life

Tue, 06/01/2010 - 11:30am
Aimee Maier
Aimée Maier’s Jesuit education instilled in her the importance of serving others through her vocation and volunteerism. Since graduating from Spring Hill in 1990, Maier joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, volunteered with the Peace Corps, worked in poor Haitian communities, and counseled high-risk youth and families as a social worker.

As a student at SHC, Maier majored in history and minored in English. She was involved in numerous activities, including participating in SHAPe (Spring Hill Awakening Program), volunteering at Wilmer Hall orphanage, and studying abroad in Venice.

“The experiences that I had at Spring Hill, both in and outside of the classroom, the professors that I admired, the friends that I made, were huge influences in my life,” she said. “I knew upon leaving Spring Hill that it was important to choose a career that would somehow involve serving others.”

After graduation, she applied to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, because she connected with the organization’s core values of community, spirituality, simple living and social justice. “I felt a responsibility, not a heavy burden but more of an exciting opportunity, to give back some of the many blessings that had come my way, unearned and un-requested,” Maier explained.

JVC placed her in a community of women in Great Falls, Mont., where she worked as co-director of a daycare in an alternative high school. She and her community members also performed weekly jail ministry.

Following her JVC service, Maier earned a master’s degree in human services from Louisiana State University in 1994. She spent the next two years as a volunteer with the Peace Corps, working for a small non-governmental organization on the eastern Caribbean island of Nevis. Tasked with addressing child abuse and domestic violence in Nevis and Saint Kitts, Maier wrote grants, organized community education seminars, and worked to establish a school-based program.

Maier learned about The Haitian Project and its school, Louverture Cleary, from the Peace Corps Hotline, an online bulletin of opportunities for returned Peace Corps volunteers. In 1998, she began teaching English and religion at Louverture Cleary School, a Catholic, tuition-free boarding school near Port-au-Prince for very poor but academically talented students.

During her 15 months in Haiti, Maier coordinated the school’s community service program, which involved weekly visits to the Sisters of Charity orphanage and Brothers of Charity medical clinics. She also oversaw the “ti ekol,” or “little school,” run by older students for children and adults in the community with no access to education.

“Dealing with sporadic electricity and water and the challenges of transportation and resource availability in a country with no infrastructure has made me a little more connected to the world around me,” Maier said.

“The truly transformative part, though,” she continued, “has been working with the students, staff and volunteers at Louverture Cleary. Our students and many of our staff members come from some of the poorest communities in Haiti, and it is humbling to share their lives and to work beside them, the brightest and hardest-working individuals I have ever encountered.”

Maier went on to earn a Master of Law and Social Policy and a Master of Social Service in 1999 from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. Her professional social work involves clinical counseling with high-risk youth and families.

Through the years, Maier’s connection to Haiti and Louverture Cleary never lessened. She has been part of the interview and selection team for The Haitian Project’s volunteer program since 1999, and she participates in the orientation and training programs for volunteers, teachers and staff. She has been a member of the board of directors since 2003.

Maier was not in Haiti at the time of the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010. She learned of the disaster during a board teleconference call with THP president, Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan reported that several students had been injured by falling peripheral walls. Two of the buildings on Louverture Cleary’s campus sustained damage, but the staff and volunteers were unharmed.

“Of course, we felt a tremendous sense of urgency,” Maier said. “How could we ease the suffering of our brothers and sisters there?”

THP staff and volunteers worked unfalteringly through the days and weeks that followed. They prepared meals for 350 students and families in the surrounding areas, organized cathartic activities for the neighborhood children to help them process their experiences, and began the exhausting work of removing rubble.

LCS students distributed necessary items to the community and worked as volunteer translators for many groups and hospitals in Haiti. Its students, staff and volunteers also assisted Catholic Relief Services with their aid distribution and the Catholic Church in Haiti with its archival recovery efforts.

“Countless family members, friends and organizations including Spring Hill College reached out to support the Project, so that we could provide much-needed assistance to the families of our students and to those in the community surrounding the school,” Maier said. “We knew, given our relationship with the community and other organizations in Haiti and our knowledge of the country, that we would be well equipped to aid the area surrounding the school and to support the efforts of other groups.”

Spring Hill’s Campus Ministry collected more than $3,500 in donations from students, faculty and staff, as well as the Sunday Mass community, to assist the recovery efforts in Haiti. The Donnelly Scholars, a program for first-generation college students, collected an additional $600 from the SHC campus community.

Maier and her husband, Mickey Ingles, traveled to Haiti in March during separate trips. “I think I wasn’t convinced that the school was relatively intact and that our volunteers, staff and students were truly healthy until I set foot on campus,” she said. “As always, upon entering LCS I found a place of tremendous hope.”

While in Haiti, Maier witnessed how the community was moving forward since the earthquake. In addition to the initial recovery efforts, LCS staff, students and volunteers began rebuilding 10 destroyed homes and establishing a “step-down” clinic with social services for those ready to transition out of hospital care but not yet ready to return home. They also developed a daylong program for young children in the neighborhood who had no access to education or childcare.

“Haiti as a nation has suffered so much throughout its history. I do think that LCS offers hope to so many who would otherwise have little,” Maier said. “There is something so alive about this project and community – it captured my heart and I could see many other Springhillians beginning as volunteers and going on to embrace the THP/LCS community as I have.”

To learn more about The Haitian Project and Louverture Cleary School, visit http://haitianproject.org.