School in Old Monroe responds to teen's request to help Haitians

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Erin Prendergast gave a wad of fake dollar bills to students at her former elementary school.

Erin, a junior at St. Dominic High School in O'Fallon, received the real thing in return.

The students at Immaculate Conception Parish in Old Monroe attached the fake money to four waist-high cardboard houses Erin and her mom brought to the school. The houses represent homes being built in Haiti through Count It All Joy, part of a charity called Partners in Development.

The fake dollars represented the real money given to Erin for the home-building -- $3,811, with more expected to be donated later. At first, Erin and her mom figured 500 of the fake dollars would be way more than enough to cover the donations from the school of 176 students.

The amount raised is a credit to the Immaculate Conception students' generosity as well as the commitment Erin has made to the cause. Several weeks ago, she gave a presentation to Immaculate Conception students, focusing on a visit she made to Haiti last summer with her aunt, Marie Freise. A physician's assistant and physical therapist, Freise has made several trips to Haiti, purchased land and spearheaded the building of modest, three-room cinder-block homes.

Erin will return to Haiti in June and plans to report back to the Immaculate Conception students about the home construction.

"I could not have imagined that they would raise this much," Erin said. "It's a cause very near and dear to my heart. They're changing the world, changing a family's life. I can't thank them enough."

Janice Palmer, principal of Immaculate Conception, called the school "an amazing, giving community. ... They obviously saw the passion in Erin when she visited."

Erin's faith has grown since she went to Haiti. "I had a really good relationship with God, but after Haiti, I've learned to live out my calling to help build God's kingdom," she said. "If I can change one person's life, that's all that matters."

Erin also raised $700 at St. Dominic High School just by showing a video she made about the project.

Freise, a member of the Catholic Student Center community at Washington University, has made numerous trips to Haiti since 1991 and even lived there on and off for six months in a four-year span, volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity. She helped a 6-year-old Haitian girl, Dieula, come to St. Louis Children's Hospital for heart surgery under a program at Children's Hospital. Dieula spent eight weeks in recovery with the Prendergast family. Dieula's recovery went well, but she was killed in the massive earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010.

The third home to be built will house Dieula's family. They had been living in deplorable one- or two-room structures after their home was destroyed. Funding for the land was provided after tributes to honor Erin's grandfather, Edward Freise, owner of Freise Construction Co., were directed to Count It All Joy/Partners in Development in 2013. The homes cost $9,000 apiece, are built by Haitian laborers and share a well with safe drinking water. One home has solar-powered electricity through a hookup provided by a St. Louis electrical engineer, Kathy Winfrey.

The people Freise met in Haiti "have become like family to me," she said, and the squalor of their living conditions inspired her to help.

"This has been quite a journey of love," Erin's mom, Ellen Prendergast, said.

Erin's belief that God has set her on a path to helping the people of Haiti was reaffirmed recently when she attended a luncheon as one of the recipients of the KMOX Radio/Southeast Missouri State Student of Achievement awards. The keynote speaker was former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Kyle McClellan, who formed an organization called Brace for Impact and raised more than $162,000 to help orphans in Haiti.

"To share our common love of Haiti was awesome," Erin said.

Count It All Joy Project

Count It All Joy ProjectThe Count It All Joy Project is building its third home in Haiti and hopes to build a fourth for a man whose legs were crushed when a 2010 earthquake hit the island nation.

Donations are tax deductible, and 100 percent of donated funds go to build homes, since the charity has no overhead costs.

Schools or groups interested in raising funds for the project or individuals who want to contribute are asked to send a check payable to Partners in Development with a note in the memo line "Count It All Joy Project." Mail to Erin Prendergast, 56 Ziglmigl Drive, Old Monroe, Mo. 63369.

For information, email Erin Prendergast at erinprendergast@stdominichs.org. 

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