teaming up to help Haiti

Mt. Lebanon graduates John Goldschmidt (’00) and Christina Marisco (’07) have recently incorporated running into their daily routines. Goldschmidt runs in Mt. Lebanon and Marisco runs in Frick Park, but both of them are making strides with zeal and determination for the same reason—later this month they will run across Haiti to raise money to help the impoverished country.

Tassy Fils Aime in the 2015 Haiti Run. Photo by Taylor Rees
Tassy Fils Aime in the 2015 Haiti Run. Photo by Taylor Rees

“The objective is to raise funds and awareness for Team Tassy,” says Goldschmidt. “Haiti is a beautiful place where people can visit and shop… the run is almost like a metaphor for Team Tassy’s mission because we will be seeing the country and spending time with the people.”

Founded in 2010 by Ian Rosenberger (a Penn State grad and former star of the TV show Survivor), Team Tassy is a local non-profit dedicated to eliminating global poverty by helping individuals and their families. At the moment, Team Tassy is helping 120 people in the Menelas community in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. The goal is to help the residents become self-sufficient by preparing and placing them into jobs.

In a 2014 Tedx talk here in Pittsburgh, Rosenberger tells the story of Team Tassy’s origins. After the 7.0-magnitude earthquake decimated Haiti in 2010, Rosenberger found himself thinking, “What a shame.”

He was having the same thought again the next morning when he realized it was an inadequate reaction. So he grabbed his camera, hopped on a plane and then took a bus into Port-au-Prince, where he hoped he could be of some assistance to the victims of the earthquake.

There, he met Tassy, a Haitian boy dying of a cancerous tumor on his face, and it became Rosenberger’s mission to help save Tassy’s life. Rosenberger and his team raised enough funds for Tassy to come to Pittsburgh a life-saving surgery, but then soon realized they would be sending him back to one of the most dangerous and poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the world.

Haiti was already the poorest nation in the western hemisphere before the earthquake, and now it remains the most poverty-stricken country in the Americas with 59 percent of the population living below the national poverty line of $2.42 U.S. dollars per day in 2012. “So the kernel of an idea began to form,” says Rosenberger. After talking with experts, he agreed job placement was the most logical solution.

“At first, we helped more with our families’ educational and medical needs, but now all the kids are at school and we haven’t had a need for any emergency services or surgeries in the past year,” says Marisco, who volunteered for Team Tassy for many years before she was hired as the organization’s Manager of Engagements & Partnerships six months ago. “Now, we can be completely focused on job creation, training and placement.”

Owen Mattison running with a local in the 2015 Haiti Run. Photo by Taylor Rees
Owen Mattison running with a local in the 2015 Haiti Run. Photo by Taylor Rees

One of Team Tassy’s original families, the Admes, are evidence of how the organization has evolved. Team Tassy first helped to secure a life-saving procedure for two-year-old Ruth Adme in late 2011. It then helped Ruth’s brother, Nathaniel, to find medical treatment for two serious medical conditions affecting his quality of life. Finally, when their father, Mark Noel, was unable to find work and revealed that he always wanted to be a cab driver, the organization provided him with money and assistance to renew his driver’s license.

Members of Team Tassy got to be his clients on his first day of work. After driving the team around Port-au-Prince all day, Marc Noel quietly accepted his pay from Rosenberger. Then he went into his home, where his family was waiting anxiously to hear about his day, and he triumphantly declared, “Tonight we eat. Your father worked today.”

Marc Noel has been working regularly ever since, and he no longer struggles to put food on the table.

Team Tassy prepares its clients to enter into the workforce before placing them into jobs with an employment partner. Thread, another Pittsburgh company founded by Rosenberger, is a partner organization run by Haitian franchisees that pay local Haitians to collect recyclable materials, which are then converted into fabric and sold in the United States. Goldschmidt works in Business Development for Thread at the headquarters here in Pittsburgh, and even though they work for sister organizations and grew up in Mt. Lebanon, Goldschmidt and Marisco only recently met for the first time when he filled out his registration form for the 2016 Run Across Haiti.

It didn’t take them long to realize they grew up two streets away from each other—with Marisco on Vallevista Avenue and Goldschmidt on White Oak Circle—and that they had all the same teachers at Foster Elementary.

“We immediately recalled how Miss Float [the Foster Elementary principal] always reminded us to be ‘kind, courteous, and respectful to one another’,” says Goldschmidt. “And this whole [the Run Across Haiti] endeavor is about helping people, exemplifying those standards. Miss Float used to benevolently refer to me as ‘the Senator’ when I was growing up. I’m certainly not a Senator now, but maybe this could make me some kind of running ambassador?”

The run is February 20 to 27 and covers 230 miles from the northern tip to the southern end of Haiti at an average of 30 miles per day. Twenty-three runners will participate, including those who are hoping to running the entire distance and a handful of relay teams.

To prepare the runners, Team Tassy is offering training sessions and videos about Haiti and how to acclimatize to the heat, but some of them may not even meet until the first day of the run. Many of them are training individually.

“I’m getting to know Mt. Lebanon in ways I didn’t before,” says Goldschmidt, who believes the challenge of Mt. Lebanon’s terrain may be comparable to what he will experience in Haiti.

Christina Marisco training at the Eucalyptus guest house in Haiti
Christina Marisco training at the Eucalyptus guest house in Haiti.
John Goldschmidt
John Goldschmidt training in Mt. Lebanon, Beadling Road. Photo by Julie O’Hara.

Goldschmidt is preparing to run the entire marathon, while Marisco, who is organizing the event, is planning to run the 19-mile day. “I’m also hoping to jump off the truck and run a couple more days if possible, but I’m leading the efforts in the actual logistics for the run,” says Marisco. “It will be myself and an awesome, dedicated support group. We will have doctors cycling, people in trucks with water and supplies. We will also have nurses on board and a film crew, and some of the team is fluent in Creole, which is the local language.”

Between the runners and the support team, Marisco anticipates there will be about 40 people participating in the run. “We only had seven runners last year and the support team was smaller, so we’ve had to expand a bit on where we are going,” says Marisco, who was in Haiti just last week checking out the route for the 2016 run. “We’ve had to make some changes in where we stay at night. This year, we will be staying in hotels, guest houses, and we will even be staying in a church one night.”

Each day will begin at 4 a.m. so that the majority of the running will be complete before the day is at its hottest, which can be around 100. The runners will check in with the doctors, and the whole team will meet for a motivational speech before taking off for the day.

Team Tassy has established a buddy system to make sure the runners are keeping an eye on each other, and they will stop every five kilometers for a water break.

“It’s not a race. No one is really timing you, so you can always walk,” says Goldschmidt. “What’s particularly difficult about this is that, during a regular marathon, you get to rest when it is over. The daily repetition is going to be difficult. I’ve heard stories from last year’s runners about how many of them had to cut holes in their shoes when their feet got too swollen.”

The runners also need to carefully monitor their heart rates, stay hydrated and be aware of overexertion. Despite the risks and without the possibility of standing on a podium to get a medal the end of the run, these runners are motivated because they are trying to help Team Tassy.

“It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year, and last year was our first. We were shooting for $75,0000 in the 2015 Run Across Haiti, and we raised $90,000. This year, our goal is $125,000, and we are hopeful and positive that we will hit that goal and go beyond,” says Marisco. “What we raise helps us to continue to provide jobs for our families and showcase Haiti. It’s a beautiful place, and it is not a place to be pitied or afraid of.

Our families and the Haitians in general take so much pride in themselves. They are unique in their own ways and have their own stories, but they all want to work. They want to put food on the table. They want their kids in school. They want their kids to study, go to college and then have jobs of their own. I think for everyone participating in this race, including the support team, every step we take is for them.”

Click here to donate to Team Tassy. You can also click here for runner updates to track Goldschmidt and Marisco’s progress.