Making a difference

A group of South Floridians has raised money to help Haiti's orphans and now must choose the best path

Tim Collie
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

It's an eclectic group -- a firefighter and his wife, a real estate developer, a mother, a rabbi and a minister.They are united by one belief: Ordinary people can make a difference.

And not just by writing a check.

In March, the group -- some from First Presbyterian Church and Temple Beth El, both in Hollywood -- traveled to Haiti see for themselves how to help children orphaned by AIDS.

They decided to begin their work with Aaron Jackson, a 25-year-old Hollywood man and founder of Planting Peace who was profiled in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel series, "AIDS Orphans".

Jackson's group cares for 20 children in two houses in Haiti. The partnership may provide the financial support to add another house this year.

Since their visit, the decision makers have been crunching numbers, drawing up plans and trying to figure out how best to get things done.

How do you make sure the children are getting the right food? What about clean water? The right medicine? What's the best way to put a roof over their heads: rent or own?

A year ago, few would have dreamed of those questions. But about six months ago, the Rev. Kennedy McGowan of First Presbyterian heard U2 rock star Bono urge churches to help those in Africa with AIDS. McGowan was inspired. After the Sun-Sentinel series, focus shifted closer to home, to children orphaned by AIDS less than two hours away.

A growing friendship between McGowan and Temple Beth El's Rabbi Allan Tuffs became the foundation for the unusual partnership.

An anonymous donor at the Presbyterian church put up $12,000 this year. In just a few months, the congregations have more than matched it.

That gives them more than $34,000 to begin saving the world.

While these six guide the efforts, everyone in both congregations is invited to help. The synagogue recently learned it has a member who was born in Haiti. Another member has extensive volunteer experience in Africa and owns land in Haiti.

"From the very beginning, I have seen God engaged in our movement forward in Haiti, with inexplicable things happening and people coming together in ways that even now continue to stun me," said McGowan.

"On top of all that.... we as a church could be involved in saving 10 lives just by doing something like this. ... What could be more powerful for a church to do than that?"

Tim Collie can be reached at 954-356-4573 or at

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