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CAS Junior Teaching Ag and Start-up Skills to Haitian Orphans

Posted: May 22, 2014

Junior Carolyn McDonald wants to teach students in Haiti’s orphanages how to create jobs for themselves and become entrepreneurs. McDonald, a community, environment and development major, is the mastermind behind the Haitian Youth Team initiative, a non-profit enterprise to educate children in agriculture and business. The project’s goal is that children leave the orphanage ready and able to create and sustain their own food-related businesses.

Junior Carolyn McDonald wants to teach students in Haiti’s orphanages how to create jobs for themselves and become entrepreneurs. 

McDonald, a community, environment and development major, is the mastermind behind the Haitian Youth Team initiative, a non-profit enterprise to educate children in agriculture and business. The project’s goal is that children leave the orphanage ready and able to create and sustain their own food-related businesses. 

The group was one of the final five teams that competed in the Ag Springboard student business plan competition during the spring 2014 semester. 

Since 2008, McDonald has been traveling to Haiti to conduct mission trips and work on several projects. McDonald says her very first visit at the age of 15 as what motivated her to make a change. 

“[It was] overwhelming and shocking with all the poverty. I had a hard time processing [it all] at that age, but, I knew I wanted to do more when I came back,” says McDonald, taking a break from drafting a proposal to a potential donor requesting funds for the project. 

After that, McDonald returned to Haiti each summer for weeks at a time, volunteering as a manager for mobile medical clinics with Gcom International, recruiting volunteers, and working as a translator. 

Poverty Resolutions, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing sustainable solutions to poverty in Haiti formed at Penn State in 2010, following the disastrous earthquake that claimed thousands of lives. McDonald was quick to participate. 

“I wanted to do more than week-long trips [to Haiti],” says the enterprising student volunteer, who spent her past two summer breaks working in Haiti with Poverty Resolutions. As a result of the earthquake, many children found themselves in orphanages due to reasons including the death of their parents, lack of family members to care for them, or parents unable to afford adequate care. 

Some children were simply abandoned. “The government says kids have to leave the orphanage by age 18, but those kids don’t have the necessary skills to provide for themselves, because the average high school graduation age is 26,” says McDonald. 

McDonald wanted to do more and put matter into her own hands. Through the Haitian Youth program, agricultural and economic education will be provided to the orphans, through daily lesson plans and multiple hands-on projects. The goal is for children to leave the orphanage with the knowledge and means to start and manage their own businesses to sell agricultural food products, to live sustainably. 

McDonald partnered with four other students from the College of Agricultural Sciences—Laura Elberth, Abbie Spackman, Katherine Yoho, and Jasmine Graybill—to develop a business plan to obtain funding and support to begin the groundwork of the Haitian Youth program. 

Now, McDonald and her teammates are working with a landscape architecture student to create a virtual blueprint for a planned hands-on learning lab, which contains a garden site students will use to learn about various soil types, how to cultivate crops, agricultural techniques and economic education. 

“I’ve never been in a group project at Penn State where students were so into a project and really wanted to do it,” says McDonald, as she describes the passion she and her teammates have to help people through agriculture. 

As a current junior, McDonald will continue to work on her efforts to fully execute her Haitian Youth program, though she wants to open the opportunity for other Penn State students, to continue the project’s efforts and student participation, before her graduation. Formal roles have placed McDonald as the CFO, Yoho as the Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, Elberth as the CEO and Graybill as the Program Manager, as they have helped McDonald to strategically plan the logistical components of the Haitian Youth program. 

The final result can be seen in their Ag Springboard video submission << https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nK2lrmzRQ6Q>>  

Where does McDonald see her Haitian Youth program in the next five to 10 years? “If it grows, it would be my dream career. I do see it progressing within the next few years,” McDonald says with confidence.