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Maine Companies Combine Resources to Help Haiti Disaster Relief Efforts

Thu August 12, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams


Classes are held with limited resources in the current school in the Haitian village of Caberet. Building a new school is the first of MaineLine’s objectives.
Classes are held with limited resources in the current school in the Haitian village of Caberet. Building a new school is the first of MaineLine’s objectives.
Classes are held with limited resources in the current school in the Haitian village of Caberet. Building a new school is the first of MaineLine’s objectives. The school also will serve as a much-needed community center, which will provide residents with a break from the tent life they have had to live since the earthquake. By most reckoning, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, as most Haitians live on less than two dollars a day.

It would seem an unlikely marriage — diverse businesses in a northern state coalescing to help those whose world has collapsed thousands of miles away.

It started as many good ideas do, a remark made during lunch, a sympathetic ear, a kind word about a tragic event and a seed.

It was spread by an envoy and a great communicator.

“The concept for this project is the brainchild of Darcy Pierce of Envoy Inc. and Kim Stiver of CD&M Communications. They were at lunch one day discussing the earthquake in Haiti and its devastation,” said Robin Wood, human resources director of Reed & Reed, Woolwich, Maine.

“Through those discussions, they wondered if they could engage a group of concerned Maine companies to help. They approached some of their clients and got the ball rolling,” added Wood. “We first heard about it from Jonathan Piper at Preti Flaherty shortly after the quake happened. Jon was very excited about helping to bring relief to the crisis and thought that Reed & Reed was a natural fit to become involved because we are in the construction industry. In early February 2010 the leadership committee was formed.”

MaineLining

Thus was organized the foundation of MaineLine, which will begin what is meant to be a series of international projects by building schools in various villages in Haiti. If successful, Maineline intends to network out into the rest of the world when disaster strikes.

“The crisis in Haiti has highlighted the need for an organized, strategic effort to help connect Maine businesses to catastrophe sites in order to make a direct, specific difference during the rebuilding phase of relief efforts,” said Wood.

Initially, eight companies have come together as a leadership team to form this coalition of concerned businesses for catastrophe relief and rebuilding assistance.

“By joining together in a coordinated effort and pooling the state’s business resources, Maine companies can now make a dramatic and personal impact in relief efforts in Haiti,” said Wood.

First of Many

Helping Haiti is MaineLine’s first project, a far-reaching first step for an unusual venture. The plan is to bring Downeast Yankee ingenuity to the tropical Caribbean.

“MaineLine is a unique collaboration. As far as we know, it is the first of its kind in the country. We regard our mission as meeting a humanitarian challenge with a distinctly Maine response, rooted in the innovation and resolve of our character,” said Wood. “The model we are building now will serve as a framework for Maine businesses to respond to future catastrophes. Our efforts will be direct and personal from Maine, rigorously monitored, and results will be carefully documented. Through video, photos and reporting, all participating companies will be able to share the experience with their employees, partners and communities.”

Eight companies have formed MaineLine:

Preti Flaherty, a law firm, represented by Jonathan Piper, managing partner, from the Portland, Maine, office.

CD&M Communications, a marketing and advertising firm, represented by Kim Stiver, marketing director, from the Portland, Maine, office.

MaineBiz, a marketing and advertising firm, represented by Donna Brassard, publisher, from the Portland, Maine, office.

Reed & Reed, a contractor and construction company in Woolwich, Maine, represented by Robin Wood, human resources director.

Hussey Seating, a spectator seating solutions firm, represented by Todd Pierce, vice president of operations, from the North Berwick, Maine, office.

Unum, a disability, long- term care, life and voluntary benefits company, represented by Cary Olson, director of social responsibility, from the Portland, Maine, office.

Kennebunk Savings, a bank, represented by Bill Saufley, senior vice president, from the Kennebunk, Maine, office.

Macdonald Page & Co., certified public accountants and management advisors, represented by Graham Smith, president, from the South Portland, Maine, office.

Wood said Reed & Reed signed up because it was “such a great idea. It’s an opportunity to provide support and help to a country that has been devastated by a natural disaster. We wrote a check to the Red Cross just after the quake, but this way of giving back allows us to see exactly what our contributions can do and to specifically impact the lives of others in a direct and significant way.”

Reed & Reed intends to use its construction supply chain to help with materials.

40 and Growing

Almost 40 companies and organizations have joined the coalition so far and the leadership committee is actively seeking the support of other companies.

“We will be sponsoring a golf tournament in September to enlist additional support,” said Wood.

Stiver and Pierce offered specifics about how this first project will work.

“MaineLine Haiti will be adopting a number of communities in the area and our first community is called Cabaret, a small village about 40 minutes outside of Port-Au-Prince,” said Stiver.

“We selected an in-country, non-governmental organization called Samaritan’s Purse that has deep local roots and was already engaged in the community restoration process. They are legally registered in the country and have all the permissions to conduct the work,” added Pierce.

The pair said that the two most difficult areas of their work had been, “recruiting companies to join MaineLine, a start-up organization, and the logistics of working in a country where the infrastructure was completely destroyed.”

MaineLine has set a goal to adopt 10 communities throughout the area surrounding Cabaret.

“In each community, we plan to reestablish a grade school that can also serve as a community center,” said Stiver and Pierce.

The site in Cabaret and the school will accommodate about 200 students.

Earthquake’s Devastation

MainLine will be needed.

Experts have called the quake — which struck on Jan. 12 at 4:53 p.m. — the strongest tremor in that nation since 1770.

The 7.0 magnitude quake’s epicenter hit just 10 mi. west of Port-au-Prince and its two million inhabitants. When it was over, some three million people were (and are) in need of emergency aid, experiencing 33 aftershocks, ranging in magnitude from 4.2 to 5.9 on the Richter Scale.

Haiti has no real construction standards. In November 2008, following the collapse of a school in Petionville, the mayor of Port-au-Prince estimated that maybe 60 percent of the buildings were badly built and unsafe, even in “normal circumstances.”

By most reckoning, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, as most Haitians live on less than two dollars a day. Haiti’s telecommunications infrastructure is among the least developed in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The country, about the size of Maryland, has 14 airports; four have paved runways.

Haiti is all-too familiar with weather-related disasters. The country had not yet recovered from the havoc wreaked by catastrophic storms in 2008 — that left a thousand dead and up to one million homeless — when the quake hit.

Chaos and fear on the island nation is tangible. After the quake, Haiti’s President appealed for international aid, saying, “Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed.”

The Maineline Leadership Committee said the school project will take six to nine months to complete, with groundbreaking in late August.

The leadership committee is excited and gratified by the possibilities of MaineLine.

“There’s an old saying, ’From those to whom much is given, much is expected,’” said Reed & Reed CEO Jack Parker. “This project represents an opportunity to fulfill that promise.”

For more information about the MaineLine campaign, write to rwood@reed-reed.com.

No Ordinary Backhoe

MaineLine represents one of several backhoe-related projects to help Haiti. This is certainly not the first time some backhoes and other excavators from American construction companies raced to help the country.

On a recent episode of the National Geographic and Discovery Channel show, “Greatest Ever,” the JCB backhoe was ranked number one on a list of the “Greatest Ever Earthmovers.” JCB, which invented the backhoe loader in 1953, launched a “Backhoe Across America” campaign this year, just to see how far a bucketful of charity could go to help the Haitian people rebuild their lives.

The manufacturer had already donated two backhoe loaders in response to Haiti’s immediate recovery needs. Then, JCB pledged to provide $100,000 worth of backhoe equipment for Chile’s earthquake victims.

But in its most visible campaign, in March through April of this year, JCB veteran employee Neil Smith was the man behind the wheel as the backhoe made its way across America.

Smith operated the 3CX machine from end to end, making the trek across the country (at maximum speeds of 30 mph) with a dozen tour stops along the way to raise donations. The 26-day trip helped JCB with its goal to raise one million dollars for the American Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development Fund. CEG