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5 attorneys have ties to Haiti relief efforts

Rebecca Berfanger
February 3, 2010
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Attorneys around Indiana with connections to Haiti are helping with that country's relief efforts following a Jan. 12 earthquake that registered as magnitude 7 and destroyed countless buildings and injured and killed still-unknown numbers of people in an already impoverished country.

While some of the attorneys have been to Haiti - one returned to the U.S. from Haiti the week before the earthquake, and another returned to Indiana the day before the earthquake - others have their own reasons for supporting relief efforts.

A week before the earthquake, Jeffrey J. Newell of Ball Eggleston in Lafayette returned to Indiana from his 12th trip to St. Joseph Church of Pendus, about 120 miles from the capitol, Port-au-Prince.

While Pendus and other villages weren't hit as hard by the earthquake as Port-au-Prince, Newell said the contacts he has still rely on Port-au-Prince to send things like gas, cooking oil, food, and other necessities to villages.

He was among about a dozen others with experience in Haiti who realized it would be better to have one large organization than about 60 individual churches figuring out what to do.

He referred to the saying in Haiti, "men anpil chay pa lou," which means many hands make the load lighter.

Newell added that Indiana has the highest number of Catholic sister parishes in Haiti. Out of 350 Catholic churches in the U.S. with twin churches in Haiti, 63 are in Indiana.

He helped start Indiana Haiti Earthquake Relief Organization, or Indiana HERO, to organize donation drives for money, supplies, and to help coordinate medical teams who will travel to Haiti when it is possible.

Indiana HERO includes central Indiana organizations, churches, businesses, and hospitals with links to Haiti.

More information about earthquake relief is available on the Web site for Newell's church, www.saintmaryhaiti.com.

Another Indiana attorney who was in Haiti shortly before the earthquake was Michael Wilkins of Broyles Kight & Ricafort in Indianapolis. He was on a mission trip supporting Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, www.nwhcm.org, with other members of Outlook Christian Church in McCordsville. He returned to Indiana the day before the earthquake.

It was his second trip that included visits to Saint-Louis du Nord - about an 8 1/2 hour drive from Port-au-Prince - and Beauchamp, which is high in the mountains.

"They provide virtually every social service you can think of," he said of Northwest Haiti Christian Mission's main location. "There's an orphanage, an old folks home, a birthing center, and they provide nutrition" to children and shut-ins.

Since leaving, Wilkins has been in touch with missionaries who are still there. They have reported via e-mail and their blog that within days of the earthquake people who were living in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake with family ties in northwest Haiti started returning at high rates, which has been taxing on the mission's already limited supplies.

"To read the blog of someone who's been in Haiti for a long time whose favorite expression was 'suck it up,' to see that she said she felt hopeless ... it makes it so real to you. These aren't just people on TV but people we know," he said.

Christopher Stevenson of Wilson Kehoe & Winingham in Indianapolis traveled to LaMare, Haiti, in March 2009 with other members of Evangelical Covenant Church of Lafayette. That trip was affiliated with Covenant World Relief, which his firm has chosen to support. "Covenant is currently using funds to provide emergency relief kits that will be distributed through World Relief International. The kits include food, water, and blankets," Stevenson said via e-mail.

While the village he visited was not hit as hard by the earthquake as Port-au-Prince, he traveled through the city to get to LaMare.

"Having spent time in Port-au-Prince, I can understand the horrible devastation this earthquake has caused. Most of the buildings are poorly constructed and packed tightly together," he said.

To support Covenant World Relief, Wilson Kehoe & Winingham will donate $25 per employee, plus whatever employees decide to give. More information is on that organization's Web site, www.covchurch.org/cwr.

Another Indianapolis attorney who is helping is Leanne McNeely. She is an action advisor for Reconstruction Efforts Aiding Children without Homes, or REACH, an organization that has been raising money to build homes for orphans in Haiti and other impoverished countries.

She said the group is planning a golf outing in Winchester, Va., where the organization is based, to raise money for the project.

She suggested that those who are interested in helping could look up the organization online, www.reach4children. org, or join the group's cause page on Facebook. Photos and information about an orphanage REACH is working with are available at http://pwojeespwa.blogspot.com/, she added.

Bryan Bullock, an attorney in northwest Indiana, is also helping by accepting donations. His firm, The Law Office of Bryan K. Bullock in Merrillville, is supporting relief efforts in conjunction with the Salvation Army by soliciting donations of food, water, clothing, and toiletries to send to Haiti.

"I have always been concerned about the plight of the poor, globally and domestically, and with the situation of the African Diaspora," he wrote via e-mail. "Haiti has piqued my interest for some time because it has the distinction of being the first and only African Diaspora nation to overthrow colonialism by force and gain independence, and yet it has suffered terrible injustices since that time."

To support relief efforts in Haiti following a 2005 hurricane, he raised several pounds of food and clothing through donations from residents of Gary. Those items were sent to Haiti through World Vision.

Bullock is accepting donations until Feb. 14. He cannot accept monetary donations but encourages individuals to make donations to the International Red Cross, www.icrc.org, and World Vision, www.worldvision.org. Contributions can be made to the law office, 7863 Broadway, Suite 222, Merrillville, IN 46410. The Salvation Army will coordinate deliveries of the items. For more information, contact the law firm at (219) 472-1546.

"The earthquake that has hit the island nation offers a unique 'opportunity' to raise the consciousness of people in America to economic and political devastation that Haiti has endured which the earthquake has only exacerbated," he added.

He and others interviewed for the story said they plan to stay involved with Haitian relief efforts for the long term as much as they can.

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