Fairfield University Irish scholarship recipient reaches out to children of Haiti


Image: Irish children

When 22-year old Denise Kelly of Limerick, Ireland was chosen as the recipient of this year's Father John M. Conlisk scholarship award, she didn't expect her studies at Fairfield University to take her to Haiti. A graduate student studying for her master's degree in International Business, she soon heard of Campus Ministry's Global Outreach program to Cap Haitian, Haiti, and wanted to learn more.

Through the global outreach program, Fairfield students travel to a Third World country, either Ecuador or Haiti, and immerse themselves in the lives of the poor for one week. The program is in keeping with the Jesuit ideal of a commitment to serving the poor. Denise Kelly, who has done volunteer work in Ireland, immediately jumped at the chance to volunteer during the semester break in January. Haiti was a natural choice for her, since she studied in France for five months and knew that she would be able to communicate with the French-speaking people of Haiti.

Her destination was Project Pierre Toussaint in Cap Haitian, a haven for homeless boys. The project provides a school for the boys and meals. In recent years cottages have been added that house eight boys each, along with a houseparent.

"Before I went to Haiti, people asked me what difference would it make to go there? What I learned from my trip is that everything makes a difference and that everyone can make a difference. This trip just put everything in perspective for me," Denise stated.

The group of students that traveled to Haiti quickly formed a close bond. Together, they witnessed little kids who wore the same tattered clothing every day. But what amazed the students most was how happy the children were. They had nothing, but they gave so much. "I got back ten times what I gave", Denise said about her time with the children.

Spending time with children who have so little was an illuminating experience for the Fairfield group. They found that the Haitian children wore bright smiles on their faces, and love radiated from within their hearts for those who share their time and energy in helping them to help themselves. It was obvious that these people deeply cared for and respected one another. Each day Denise and her friends were warmly welcomed with hugs and kisses from children who had just met and had so much love to share. It is a beautiful thing, Denise noted, to watch small children with empty hands reaching out and yet giving so much.

Father Paul Carrier, S.J., one of the leaders on the trip, said, "Denise was not only a wonderful presence for the Fairfield group but for the children as well, because she has such a loving and kind presence about her."

Denise has continued her volunteer activities by working with the MAACS program at Bassick High School and Harding High School in Bridgeport. Twice a week, she meets with students from the high schools for intervals of one hour each. She works with them on either their English language skills or any other schoolwork where they need help. Denise says, "It is great because I have built relationships with the students not only through tutoring them but by mentoring and being their friend as well. It is a very rewarding experience."

The Father John M. Conlisk Scholarship that supports the Irish Committee has provided 18 Irish-born students the opportunity to live and study at a local University for one year since its origin in 1981. It is dedicated to the purpose of perpetuating the Irish culture and strengthening educational and cultural relationships.

Although Denise admits that earning her master's degree in one year is very intense, she is enjoying her classes and thankful for the chance to get it all completed in one year. She credits her family back home in Ireland as being very supportive of all her decisions.

It is clear that reaching out to the community is an important lifestyle choice for Denise Kelly. She loves being a member of the Fairfield University community and is grateful to all the families and Irish Committee members who have been so welcoming and generous in making this year possible.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 1, 2002

Vol. 34, No. 170