Lending Their Voices to Haiti

The volunteer work of two Southern students will be music to the ears of many Haitian children this summer.

Jessica Coppola and Allyson Kaechele will make a return trip to Haiti from June 21 to July 5 as part of "Sound for Haiti," a group dedicated to helping orphans and street children of that Caribbean nation.

Members of the organization teach music to the youngsters, as well as help feed, play with and otherwise care for them. Among the activities in which they engage with the children are interactive Creole songs and games.

Sound for Haiti made its first journey to Haiti last June, and the group returned in February. "The (February) trip was special because you could see progress from when we went there the previous summer," Coppola says.

Sound for Haiti members volunteer primarily at the Haitian Interdenominational Shelter Home for Children (HIS Home), an organization intending to rescue children from spiritual and physical poverty.

Coppola says her experience in Haiti was an emotional one, particularly when she learned that Julian, a 5-year-old girl from HIS Home, was being adopted.

"I loved Julian from the moment that I met her last (June), and I was just so taken by her," Coppola says. "She seemed sad, though, like something was missing. When I saw her this time she was so happy about being adopted. It was amazing."

Kaechele says her most memorable moment was feeding rice and beans to a lively group of babies in the "infant room" at HIS Home.

"There were about 15 of them sitting on the floor," Kaechele says. "Some were crying, others were stealing food from the babies next to them – it was chaotic and you could tell the caretaker was really grateful for our help."

Sound for Haiti is a division of Sound Affect, an a capella group that also performs charitable works. It was founded by Carol Taubl with the slogan, "Affect the World with the Arts." Among its activities are singing at homeless shelters and assisted living communities, and contributing to feeding projects at local food pantries in the New Haven area. Taubl created Sound for Haiti shortly after she became close friends with June Williams and her family, which lived in Haiti for several years.

Coppola and Kaechele became friends while attending Educational Center for the Arts (ECA), a performing arts school in New Haven. Students at ECA also attend their respective high schools.

With an inclination for music and an altruistic drive, the two joined Sound Affect and Sound for Haiti after graduating. Kaechele, who began playing the cello and participating in various mission projects when she was in middle school, says she feels that philanthropic work is her "calling." Coppola, who started taking voice lessons at age 8, says her spark for humanitarian work began after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "I was so moved by the whole ordeal – my first instinct was to help," she says.

Both students are undecided about a major, but feel drawn to charitable fieldwork.

World Vision, one of the biggest relief and development organizations in the world, supports and provides transportation and lodging for Sound for Haiti.

The volunteers are responsible for other necessities -- including a $1,000 cover fee, plane tickets, food, medicine and sheet music to hand out to the children. The members have done personal fundraising for their trips, and the group has acquired donations by singing at churches and hosting concerts, barn dances and silent auctions.