Penguins' Rupp, Talbot continue work with Haitian orphanage
Penguins chaplain Brad Henderson, Penguins Max Talbot, Mike Rupp and orphans play with plastic hockey sticks during a trip to Haiti in August.
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Through the chill of winter, Penguins forwards Mike Rupp and Max Talbot never have stopped thinking of the children in tropical but troubled Haiti.
In August, they made a mission trip to the Caribbean nation, visiting an orphanage in Cap-Hatien and the rural construction site of a new orphanage with former Pirates first baseman Sean Casey and team chaplain Brad Henderson, president of Pittsburgh Kids Foundation.
This month, the new orphanage began accepting its first residents, mostly infants.
"It's finished enough to get kids in there, but there's still some work to do," Rupp said. "It's awesome that six months ago we didn't know if it would be done and it is."
Henderson long has been involved in helping children in Haiti. Rupp and Talbot helped to raise money and awareness, which got the orphanage open months ahead of schedule.
"It's amazing," Talbot said. "I remember going there in August, and there were walls and there was still another level to be put on top. It's such a nice piece of property. You see the ocean.
"Every day, we [four guys] had a little talk about how the day went. The last night before we left, we were like, 'It would be nice to do something concrete and come back and take responsibility and try to finish that project.' We did it. It's pretty cool."
Talbot already had a charitable organization in the works with the aim of helping children, and, after visiting Haiti, he got it off the ground. Through the foundation (maxtalbotfoundation.org), he sold 1,000 T-shirts for $25 each and held a fund-raiser in November that netted $90,000.
Along with a sports memorabilia auction, Talbot collaborated with Natrona Heights artist Ben Smith, who had just started Brush Footwear (brushfootwear.com). Smith donated 1,000 canvas shoes, which were painted by children at Henderson's Pittsburgh Kids Foundation and some of Talbot's teammates.
"I always wanted to do charity work, and it just all kind of fell into place," said Smith, who designed Talbot's foundation logo.
"We're working on a line of canvas tote bags and a line of hand-painted shoes, with some of the proceeds going to his charity."
Although Talbot also plans to focus his foundation on needy children in the Pittsburgh area, Haiti remains an area where he wants to help after having his heart melted there last summer.
Through his foundation and Henderson's connections, Talbot is confident he is getting help to the children there.
A lot of focus has been on Haiti and a lot of money has been raised since a devastating earthquake hit the capital of Port au Prince last January, and violence erupted in recent months over government elections. There also have been deadly cholera outbreaks.
With so much red tape and a corrupt government, some funds have not reached the needy.
"That is what's scary about Haiti," Talbot said. "You're willing to give, but you might not be sure where the money's going to go or how long it's going to take. What we're really proud of is that, with Brad, we know it's going directly there."
Talbot and Rupp monitor updates from Haiti through e-mails and reports from Henderson. What they hear is often mixed.
"The good news was that they were finished [with the orphanage] enough to move kids in," Rupp said. "The bad news is that it's not a very good time right now. It's not very safe down there.
"There were the elections and now there's a lot more kidnappings and things going on. It kind of makes it a little difficult for people to go down there and help out or it makes people hesitant to do that. It's unfortunate, but, at the same time, they're a country that they want to see something done by their government.
"Nothing's being done, and people are dying. The whole cholera thing was pretty bad. People were dying of a preventable thing. That's also why there's a backlash. They were blocking off roads and wanted to fight because they wanted help."
Getting a second orphanage built and open will provide some children with a home and a chance to survive as well as a shot at bettering Haiti in the future. Or so Talbot hopes.
"The hope is that the kids, the orphans from the street, if you give them an education, a line of conduct, religion, maybe they'll grow up and change the country."
NOTES -- Arto Javanainen, the first European drafted by the Penguins (fifth round, 1984), died Tuesday in Turku in his native Finland. He was 51. Javanainen spent one season in North America, getting four goals, five points in 14 games for the Penguins in 1984-85. . ... The Penguins, who are off until Tuesday for the all-star break, reassigned forward Dustin Jeffrey to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
"It's awesome that six months ago we didn't know if it would be done and it is."