Four Canes help in Haiti

UM students/SAE members (from left to right) Joey Rappaport, Elias Hionides, Michael Eisenstein and Evan Gallo with the Mayor of Coral Gables, (center) Don Slesnick, II on February 19, 2010 at Miami International Airport while preparing for the RELIEF organization's weekend-long trip to Haiti to bring donations and supplies it collected. Jess Hodder // The Miami Hurricane

While weekends in college usually consist of relaxation and freedom, last weekend, four UM students instead traveled to Haiti as a relief effort.

After congregating under the leadership of UM alumnus, Peter Groverman, 120 people made the decision to travel to Haiti on Friday in order to help the victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake. Among these 120 were four UM students, as well as Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick, II.

Groverman is no stranger to organizing relief efforts. He first extended a helping hand when Hurricane Katrina hit Biloxi, Mississippi in 2005 with the help of fellow UM students, now alumni, Armando Gutierrez Jr. and Lori Bailey. Groverman, a law student at Villanova University, Gutierrez and Bailey founded the RELIEF Foundation, which stands for “Relieving and Embracing Lives Interrupted by Earth’s Forces.”

“As soon as the earthquake happened, I started receiving text messages from people with ideas that wanted to help,” said Groverman of his team.

He then reached out to members of the UM community including those of his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Four members of SAE answered the call for service and have been preparing for the past three weeks. Evan Gallo is one of those members eager to help.

“I was truly excited to go to Haiti and help out the members of their community. I’ve always been involved in service, but this was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of a hands-on experience that means a lot to me,” he said.

Over the past three weeks, Gallo, as well as three other SAE members, Michael Eisenstein, Elias Hionides and Joey Rappaport got vaccinations, packed up supplies and contacted friends and family for donations to support their trips.

The crew left Friday morning at 8 a.m. out of Miami and returns Monday afternoon. Gallo was excited for their arrival in Port-au-Prince because Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive greeted them.

The final plans for the four-day mission included loading up a 737 airplane and a chartered boat with as many supplies as possible including food, water and building supplies.

“Our main goal was to help rebuild an orphanage in Port-au-Prince by setting up a tent and delivering supplies to those in need and then by just being there for these people,” Gallo said of the trip.

The RELIEF group will be holding a follow-up mission in roughly six weeks.

Colleen Dourney may be contacted at cdourney@themiamihurricane.com.