When Katie Harpin ’13 told people she would be spending a semester studying at the Island School in the Bahamas, their reactions were always the same: Studying in paradise? What could be easier?
For some, the Bahamas are paradise. But for many Bahamian people, extreme poverty is a way of life. This was the reality Katie faced the moment she got off the plane in Eleuthera, and the reality that moved her to establish a non-profit organization called oneHELPS to provide sporting equipment for Bahamian children.
“There was nothing left on the island due to hurricanes and the loss of tourism,” Katie explained. “Houses were falling apart, groups of dogs, called potcakes, loitered in the streets where young children played unsupervised. The signs of an impoverished island were endless.”
During her four months at the Island School, Katie was challenged by the demanding academics, by the requirements of living on a self-sustaining island campus and by the physical components of the Island School curriculum, which require every student to kayak, become SCUBA certified, and to either complete a four-mile ocean swim or run a half-marathon during their stay. But more than anything, Katie was challenged by the contrast between her life back home and the lives of the Bahamian children.
“Particularly during my “solo,” a 48-hour period of separation from the rest of the student body, I reflected on my life, my decisions, my opportunities, and my family. I became aware of the little things that I always seemed to take for granted. I gained a new respect and appreciation for my parents, my teachers, my coaches, and everything else in my life.”
The Island School is known for its “placed-based” approach to learning. Katie’s history class, then, spent time visiting historic settlements, rather than just reading about them. During one visit, Katie noticed five young Bahamian children throwing a half deflated ball into a broken piece of wood with a plastic beach bucket attached to it.
“It broke my heart to see that,” said Katie, “I also saw a small group of children running around a small patch of dirt and rocks. I realized that they were playing softball with a hefty piece of wood and a beat-up tennis ball. I suddenly felt this pull, telling me that I needed to do something.”
With parents weekend just around the corner, Katie asked her parents to bring some better sports equipment for the Eleutheran children. With help from the softball league in Katie’s hometown, her father arrived with a set of catcher’s equipment, seven helmets, softballs, bats, and bases. When Katie presented the gifts to children at the Deep Creek Middle School, their gratitude was palpable and immeasurable; oneHELPS was born.
OneHELPS supplies Bahamian children with much-needed sports equipment. A life-long athlete herself, Katie believes that participating in sports shapes values and gives children a positive and meaningful outlet for their skills and energy. She also believes in teaching the value of teamwork. So do her peers at Taft: The Class of 2013 recently sponsored a used sporting goods drive to benefit oneHELPS. Katie and her family will return to Eleuthera this summer to deliver the equipment to the Deep Creek Middle School. Donations that cannot be used in Eleuthera will be given to homeless shelters in Waterbury.
“We are always looking for donations, particularly of basketball and softball equipment, as well as track spikes,” Katie notes.
In addition to equipment, oneHELPS recently accepted a donation of $1,000 raised at a church raffle. The money will be used to repair athletic fields on the island.
For more information or to donate to oneHELPS, visit www.onehelps.org