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Nevada student planning winter fundraiser to support children and school in Haiti

Peyton Dugger is shown with a Haitian girl, who like so many other children she has met there, have captured part of Dugger’s heart. (Photo submitted)
Peyton Dugger is shown with a Haitian girl, who like so many other children she has met there, have captured part of Dugger’s heart. (Photo submitted)
Peyton Dugger, center, is shown with a group of children in Haiti during one of her church trips to the country to serve the needs of the children there. Dugger, a junior at Nevada High School, is organizing a benefit 5K run/walk called “Freezin’ For a Reason” on Feb. 15 in Nevada. Funds raised will help with the needs of Haitian children at the Mission Starfish (Etoile) Primary School. (Photo submitted)
Peyton Dugger, center, is shown with a group of children in Haiti during one of her church trips to the country to serve the needs of the children there. Dugger, a junior at Nevada High School, is organizing a benefit 5K run/walk called “Freezin’ For a Reason” on Feb. 15 in Nevada. Funds raised will help with the needs of Haitian children at the Mission Starfish (Etoile) Primary School. (Photo submitted)

A Nevada High School junior is inviting area residents to spend a Saturday morning, Feb. 15, “Freezin’ For A Reason,” by either walking or running a 5K to show support for the people of Haiti.

Peyton Dugger, 16, daughter of Kris and Angie Dugger, is organizing this event to raise funds for the people, and especially the children, of this Caribbean country, where so many needs exist.

Dugger knows about the needs because she’s seen them for herself. She’s been on two trips to Haiti with the people of her church, Cornerstone in Ames, and she’s been forever touched by what she’s experienced.

“They (the people and children of Haiti) are in need of education, educators, homes, clean areas to live in, medical care, food, clean water, running water, clothing and jobs,” Dugger said. She recalls a Haitian child standing up in class and telling her never to forget them. He asked her “to pray every day that they can go to school another year.”

Dugger said she first applied to go with the church group to Haiti when she was 14. “I knew that it was something that I would love to do. I love traveling, working with and serving other people, so I couldn’t think of a better way than to go with people from my church who cared about me.”

Signing up for that trip was what Dugger calls “the best decision she ever made.” After that first trip, she returned again to the country this past July.

When the church group goes to Haiti, they stay at the home of Silentor Esthil-Henderson, a Haiti native who grew up in Iowa after being adopted by a man who was on a mission trip in Haiti when Silentor was a child. The Journal featured Silentor’s story a few years ago, and told of how he was adopted and brought to this country because of medical reasons, and then attended Iowa State University, all the while feeling called to some day return to his native home and empower the local people.

Believing that education is the greatest tool the youth of Haiti can have for a brighter future, Silentor founded a school there called the Mission Starfish (Etoile) Primary School, and that’s the school that Dugger said her church group has been called to serve.

“As far as projects go, we are there to help with any project that Silentor sees as beneficial for their community. This includes running activities at the school, working with children on their English … and painting houses of community members to brighten their world,” Dugger said. Dugger has helped deliver rice to an entire community, talking to the people through a translator, and she’s prayed with the people of Haiti as she made those deliveries. “Most would cry when they received the food, as they have little to nothing to their name and food is always a priority.”

Most of the work Dugger has done in Haiti has been with the children, ages 4-18. On her most recent trip, she and her dad, who went along, ran sports sessions during the school’s recess hours. She has, however, talked to many Haitian adults, who are often just hanging around, because they don’t have much to do and live in such cramped spaces. “Most of the time, Haitians sleep on the cement floor, because it is cooler during the day and at night,” she said.

Coming from a nice Nevada home and a community that has just about everything to offer, Dugger said she has learned much more about life from the Haiti people. While their lives are exponentially more difficult than the life she and so many have here in the United States, Dugger finds it interesting that the one thing they are not lacking is joy. “They have nothing, yet they smile. They love to sing, dance and practice their English to pass the time. They laugh, play games and participate in pick-up games of team sports. Soccer is huge! They just love sharing life with those around them.”

Dugger said that these people, who have very little, now occupy “half” of her heart. “I absolutely love each and every child I have met down there, and there is no greater man than Silentor. He gave up a life here in America to help his hometown. While he faces many struggles, he will not quit on these kids, and wants nothing but to help them succeed.”

Dugger hopes that she can now help in her own way - by holding a successful 5K event to raise funds to support the education, meals, after-school activities that keep the children of Haiti in a safe environment, clothes and school supplies. She’s asking every member of the area and community to consider taking part, whether you run or walk, or would just like to help with the event as a volunteer or make a monetary donation.

The event will start and end at Nevada High School. Registration is at 9 a.m. on Feb. 15 and the walk/run takes place at 10 a.m., most likely following a path from the school, out through the SCORE Park and back. Dugger gives special thanks to her parents and to Dianne Ennis, the mother of another church youth who has traveled to Haiti, for helping her spread the word about the event.

“It has been a lot of work (to organize the fundraiser),” Dugger said. “More than I thought, but it’s without a doubt worth it.” She’s been busy setting up a registration website — secure.getmeregistered.com/FreezinForAReason — for the event and making copies of paper brochures and registration sheets. She also will have T-shirts for those who register by Feb. 8.

Cost to participate is $30 if you register by Feb. 1, and $35 for those who register after Feb. 1 or on the day of the race.

Dugger is unsure about a lot of things in her future, like where she’ll go to college and what career she’ll pursue (though she’s thinking about a medical field), but the one thing she is sure of is that her love and compassion for Haiti will always be part of her life. “I want to go there (on trips) for the rest of my life if time and money will allow. I want to bring my kids there!”

For young people who might be thinking about taking a mission trip, Dugger encourages anyone to get involved with it. “It opens your eyes and changes your whole perspective on life. Seeing the way other people live, really makes you appreciate everything you have. All of the wonderful opportunities we have with a great school, health and having a nice home to live in are things that we take for granted. The kids in Haiti are completely happy and content with eating one meal a day and playing without shoes on the gravel with their friends, because that’s all they’ve ever known.”

Dugger has learned the great reward that comes from making a difference in other people’s lives. “Loving them, spending time with them and learning about their lives changes your entire outlook on your life and the way you live it. It doesn’t matter how happy you are, but how happy others are because of you.”

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