Cyclists take on 5-day, 5-state ride for Outreach to Haiti

Riders in the Outreach To Haiti's Ride to Rebuild are greeted by the Most Rev. Bishop Michael Cote as they arrive at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. Three riders are taking a trip of 337 miles, the distance from Jeremie through Port-au-Prince, where the program's operations are based, to Cap-Haitien, Haiti. The ride started in Freeport, Maine, and will touch five New England states before it ends in Farmington, Conn., Friday. Money raised by the ride will go to the Outreach to Haiti capital campaign to rebuild the clinic and mission house destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Riders in the Outreach To Haiti's Ride to Rebuild are greeted by the Most Rev. Bishop Michael Cote as they arrive at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. Three riders are taking a trip of 337 miles, the distance from Jeremie through Port-au-Prince, where the program's operations are based, to Cap-Haitien, Haiti. The ride started in Freeport, Maine, and will touch five New England states before it ends in Farmington, Conn., Friday. Money raised by the ride will go to the Outreach to Haiti capital campaign to rebuild the clinic and mission house destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Norwich — Almost everyone can agree that biking 337 miles through five states in five days is no easy feat, including one of the men in the midst of such a trip this week.

But each time the grueling journey threatens to break Farmington resident Tom Campbell’s spirit, all he has to do is think of why he’s riding.

“All the hardships that go on in Haiti, the earthquake, the hurricane ... the hardships that we have — the cold weather and flat tires and all those things — are nothing compared to what they’re going through,” Campbell said.

It's the second time the Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti Ministry has conducted the trip, which this year launched from Freeport, Maine, and will end in Farmington, Conn., on Friday. An awareness and fundraising effort, the ride raises money to help rebuild the Outreach's Port-au-Prince clinic and mission buildings, which were destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.

Campbell is one of three men who are traversing the whole course, which was designed to replicate the distance from Jeremie, on the southwest coast of Haiti, through Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien in the north.

On Thursday morning, the group, joined by two other bicyclists for the day, made a stop at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich. There they were greeted by smiling and clapping students of the cathedral school, a couple of whom held a hand-drawn poster that read "St. Patrick Cathedral School supports Ride to Rebuild."

Dan O’Sullivan, ride organizer and director of administration and programs for Outreach to Haiti, said the organization has been operating its clinic out of a temporary tin roof and plywood structure since the earthquake. The group additionally has been renting space for its mission house, which hosts international volunteers and people visiting from twin parishes.

With a targeted life of five years, the 6½-year-old clinic building already was past its prime before Hurricane Matthew came along this week.

O’Sullivan said the last he heard from Haiti was that Outreach-related staff and families were safe, but there was “incredible devastation” from the flooding. That was before Matthew made landfall.

“We’ve been pushing to get a new building for some time now,” O’Sullivan said. “I think the hurricane, as bad as it is, just reinforces for us the need to get a strong, permanent structure in place so we don’t worry every time a storm goes through.”

O’Sullivan said the group already had raised about $250,000 when the Most Rev. Michael R. Cote, bishop of Norwich, announced a matching $100,000 grant on Aug. 26.

Since, the group has raised an additional $40,000.

“If we can max out (the matching grant), we’ll be at our target,” O’Sullivan said, explaining that Outreach has a goal of raising $450,000. “We’re well on the way.”

O’Sullivan said Outreach has put some of the funds it’s raised toward hiring a firm to draw up plans for the new building, which he said will be a two-story structure that has a clinic on the ground floor and a mission house on top.

With a centralized location, Outreach will be able to put money previously spent on rent and travel toward its programs, which include efforts to nourish malnourished mothers, pregnant women and children.

The group had determined it wanted to have about 90 percent of the $450,000 raised before discussing groundbreaking, because too many projects start but aren't finished.

“As we get a little closer ... we’ll start talking in more detail and get queued up for groundbreaking early next year,” O’Sullivan said.

Created in 1995, the Diocese of Norwich’s Haitian Ministries once worked closely with Hospice St. Joseph, a Haitian ministry initiative launched by the Diocese of Lafayette, Ind., in the late 1980s. After the earthquake, however, the Diocese of Lafayette pulled out because of financial constraints, leaving Norwich to oversee both operations.

With the merger came the ministry’s current name, Outreach to Haiti.

O’Sullivan said keeping the operation up and running in Haiti is “very important.”

“This is the primary clinic for a neighborhood of 15,000, branching out into a neighborhood of 60,000,” he said. “If we aren’t there, there’s going to be a huge gap in the health care provided to them.”

To see a day-by-day journal of the trip or to donate, visit outreachtohaiti.org/ride-to-rebuild.

l.boyle@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the photo captions, which incorrectly identified the city where Outreach to Haiti's operations are based.

Outreach To Haiti board member Tom Campbell, right, exchanges high-fives with students from St. Patrick Cathedral School who turned out to greet Ride to Rebuild participants at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. Three riders are taking a trip of 337 miles, the length of the trip from Jeremie through Port-au-Prince, where the program's operations are based, to Cap-Haitien, Haiti. The ride started in Freeport, Maine, and will touch five New England states when it ends in Farmington, Conn., on Friday. Money raised by the ride will go to the Outreach to Haiti capital campaign to rebuild the clinic and mission house largely destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Outreach To Haiti board member Tom Campbell, right, exchanges high-fives with students from St. Patrick Cathedral School who turned out to greet Ride to Rebuild participants at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. Three riders are taking a trip of 337 miles, the length of the trip from Jeremie through Port-au-Prince, where the program's operations are based, to Cap-Haitien, Haiti. The ride started in Freeport, Maine, and will touch five New England states when it ends in Farmington, Conn., on Friday. Money raised by the ride will go to the Outreach to Haiti capital campaign to rebuild the clinic and mission house largely destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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