Melissa Freitag ’14 is the feature of an article on the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) website because she organized a fundraising effort for Haiti as her Girl Scout Gold Award project. Freitag’s original plans were made before the earthquake and she and a church group were going to go to Haiti to rebuild a church, research and take photos. She would then use the materials she compiled as a community outreach and education project back home. Once the earthquake hit, the church group had to cancel plans to travel to Haiti but Freitag wanted more than ever to help the country.
“I knew that I still wanted to help, especially because the earthquake happened, and decided to start from scratch,” she is quoted in the article.
The money she raised was given to PADF, an organization involved in relief efforts in Haiti for 30 years.
The full story follows.
Girl Scout’s canceled trip becomes a fund-raising initiative
Briana Kerensky • September 14, 2010
When a girl makes a pledge to follow the Girl Scout Law, she is promising both herself and her community that she will be courageous and strong in the face of adversity. And for Melissa Freitag, no earthquake was going to stop her from keeping her oath to Haiti.
Melissa was a high school senior in the small town of Hadley, Massachusetts when she began to prepare for the arduous process of earning her Gold Award. Similar to the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout award, the Gold Award is the highest achievement a woman can earn as a Girl Scout. To earn it, a Girl Scout must create an extensive program that will fill a need in her community, whether local or global.
“My original plan was to go to Haiti with my church group,” Melissa said. “I was going to work on rebuilding a church there, talk with people, research and take photos. And then I would come back and use my pics and the journal I was going to keep there to really connect to the community and show people. It was a hands-on experience type thing.”
Melissa planned her trip to Haiti in March, but on January 12 her plans got derailed. The earthquake, Western Hemisphere’s worst natural disaster, forced Melissa’s church group to cancel the trip with no hope of going to the country in the foreseeable future. But instead of falling into a panic and giving up on her Gold Award, the Girl Scout held onto her oath.
“I knew that I still wanted to help, especially because the earthquake happened, and decided to start from scratch,” she said.
Rather than travel to Haiti, Melissa voyaged no further than Hadley. She went to different classes in her school, clubs, Girl Scout meetings and public events to educate her community about the crisis in Haiti. She put up flyers all over town and walked everywhere with a big jar for donations. This was not at all a part of Melissa’s original plan. Plus she is shy – so talking in front of large crowds and asking them for money were not two things Melissa really wanted to do.
“She’s a quiet girl, she’s not the one standing out there with a megaphone,” said Jean Baxter, an adult team leader for Hadley’s Girl Scouts and Melissa’s Gold Award advisor. “But doing this gave her a whole new set of skills.”
Melissa even got the courage to speak at her town’s Memorial Day picnic and parade, which usually attracts about 4,000 people.
Her determination paid off – in many ways. With help from her Girl Scout advisors and her school’s International Club, she managed to raise more than $1,000 to donate to earthquake relief.
Since Melissa’s trip to Haiti was canceled, she needed to select a non-profit organization that could receive the money.
“My leaders gave me a big group of lists of organizations,” she said. “So I looked through each one and I came across the Pan American Development Foundation. I found out [PADF has] been there for 30 years and not just because of earthquake. You were already working with people and the government and that was the biggest thing for me, because you were already there.”
She chose PADF specifically because of its decades-long commitment to improving the standard of living for citizens of the country, which is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
Jean Baxter is really proud of both Melissa’s and PADF’s passion for helping people in Haiti.
“I know that you [PADF] normally get much larger donations from big companies, but for one girl in high school to raise that much on her own is remarkable,” Jean said. “And the very fact that PADF still cares about her donation, for them to get so excited about what she did, that’s amazing. Raising money is so removed, but for her to get this personal feedback I think it makes her realize how important it is.”
PADF is grateful for the donation and will put it to good use.
“We congratulate Melissa and her supporters for raising this money,” says John Sanbrailo, PADF’s executive director. “All donations regardless of their size are very important to our work and creating sustainable opportunities for Haitians.”
During the first six months after the quake, PADF and its partners benefited more than 1.3 million Haitians. In addition to immediate relief, PADF is working on major recovery projects, including evaluating homes to ensure that they are safe for Haitians to use, as well working with the victims of violence, exploitation and trafficking. For more on PADF’s programs, please visit: www.ImUnitedforHaiti.org
Melissa just began her freshman year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. She’s not sure what she wants to major in yet (although environmental science and English are not out of the question), but she knows that she wants to continue working to help the people of Haiti rebuild their lives.
She even hopes to reschedule her trip and be able to see first-hand how the money she collected helped families. Melissa made an oath to serve her local and global community, and she’s sticking to it.