McMutrie sisters in town for Haiti benefit
Jamie and Ali McMutrie, center, talk with Carl and Judy Johnson of Hampton at the benefit for their nonprofit, Haitian Families First, hosted by Wigle Whiskey Friday in the Strip District.
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The last of the 54 Haitian children airlifted to Pittsburgh in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake in their homeland was adopted by an American family in March.
But Ben Avon sisters Jamie and Ali McMutrie, who helped bring those children to Pittsburgh 21/2 years ago, say their work helping families in Haiti has only grown. In an effort to keep struggling Haitian families intact, the sisters -- together again in Pittsburgh for the first time since the airlift -- say they are raising money and seeking grants to support their nonprofit Haitian Families First.
Their group's provision of basic supplies and services such as vitamins, medical care, breast-feeding support, child care and tuition assistance allows at least some Haitian parents to avoid the agonizing decision of surrendering their children to an orphanage because they can't support them at home, Ali McMutrie said.
Paying $100 a year for a child's school tuition, for instance, not only provides them an education and a meal but also allows both parents to work and keep their family functioning, she said. Likewise, teaching a new mother to breast-feed helps her provide good nutrition to her baby and save money on formula.
"We've seen kids go from literally starving to death to surviving and thriving based on that simple thing," said Ali McMutrie, at a cocktail party fundraiser Friday.
Ali McMutrie, 24, has been in town for several months while her sister, 32-year-old Jamie, continued to run the center in Port-au-Prince that also is their home, headquarters and sanctuary for the 40 needy families -- including about 100 children -- they are helping. Jamie McMutrie arrived this week and will return to Haiti next Sunday.
While here, they will visit with their parents and their adopted brother, Fredo, in Ben Avon and catch up with some of the Avonworth High School friends they last saw years ago.
Jamie McMutrie first traveled to Haiti in 2002 after a customer at the Denny's where she worked as a waitress told her about an orphanage in Port-au-Prince that needed someone to manage its programs, she said. Jamie McMutrie had studied sociology at the Community College of Allegheny County and at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, and although she hadn't finished her degree she had worked at several day-care centers in Downtown Pittsburgh that served mothers on welfare. She said she also ran a program for teenage mothers.
The orphanage offered Jamie a job, and after Ali McMutrie graduated from high school, she joined her sister there. They ultimately started their own orphanage in Port-au-Prince, then started over again after the earthquake in January 2010 destroyed the building, forcing them to run their operation from their own home.
After evacuating the orphans and surrendered children to Pittsburgh -- a move some aid agencies criticized because it separated several children from their parents -- the sisters returned to Port-au-Prince with a new mission, Ali McMutrie said.
"If a family comes to us with a need, rather than shipping them off to an orphanage, we're trying to keep the family intact," she said.
The sisters' organization raised just over $180,000 in 2010, the last year for which an IRS statement is available. The tax information, filed under the original name Haitian Orphan Rescue, shows that the sisters do not take a salary from their organization, and that they spent about $45,000 that year on housing, utilities, maintenance, printing, postage and other supplies. Nearly $6,000 of that money went to supplies for the orphanage, with an additional $2,200 spent on travel, according to IRS forms.
Their group has raised a small amount of additional money since 2010, according to the McMutrie sisters.
In Haiti, they've been able to do great things on a shoestring, Ali McMutrie said. Their parents -- especially their dad -- taught them thrift, she said.
"He's the cheapest person on earth, and we got that from him," she said. "We make it go a long way."
First Published July 28, 2012 12:00 am