Making a difference: Student-founded nonprofit aids Haitian children
Formula For Life, founded by Cortney Shepard, OMS II, provides food and support for these and other children at Our Lady of Perpetual Help orphanage in Robillard, Haiti. (Photo courtesy of Shepard)
I’ll never forget the look on the young woman’s face as she left with the vitamins we gave her for her baby. I was on a medical mission trip in the Dominican Republic. My colleagues and I were exhausted from carrying equipment in the unrelenting heat outside San José de Ocoa to set up a clinic in a school house. The infant was only a few months old, and she was clearly starving. Seeing poverty to that degree broke my heart and changed my life.
I returned from the mission in 2007 and met with my mentor, Amy Obringer, PhD, an associate professor of biology at the University of Saint Francis (USF) in Fort Wayne, Ind., where I was a student at the time.
“It’s really sad to come back here and have everything I need when I know people are really suffering elsewhere,” I said.
My mentor challenged me: “Why don’t you do something about it?”
“Through my work with FFL, I can now see that seemingly small projects can touch countless lives, improving them for the better.”
Shortly after, we founded a nonprofit together at the university called Formula For Life (FFL). We had learned about an orphanage in Haiti, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, that desperately needed provisions. We started small, and I was ecstatic about sending over the first shipment of food—4,600 meals. FFL now fully funds the orphanage’s nutritional needs. We also built the orphanage a new well, and we are helping fund the building of a new facility to house the orphans.
Finding time for service
As a second-year student at the Midwestern University/Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in Downers Grove, Ill., I continue to support and work with FFL, though a new USF student assumes the role of FFL student leader each year. My friends and colleagues often ask me, “How do you manage to do service projects while you’re in medical school?”
I’m immersed in my studies, but I’ve found it easy to make time for a project I’m so passionate about. My desire to serve motivates me to prioritize my time and plan in advance to be available to work with FFL. Philanthropic work is a great break from school and is something I will continue to be involved with throughout my life with my medical degree. Helping others through FFL inspired me and pushed me to become a DO, and it is my dream to someday found and operate a clinic of my own to provide health care for people who may otherwise receive none. The work I’m doing now with FFL is preparing me to eventually achieve these goals.
FFL has grown exponentially over the years as we have expanded our fundraising efforts and community support has increased. Currently, the organization is planning to provide resources for the orphanage’s founder, the Rev. Andre Sylvestre, to build a bigger orphanage on self-sustaining land. Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s 27 orphans now live in a rented three-bedroom ranch-style home with Sylvestre and three adult caregivers. FFL will provide funding for Sylvestre to build the home on 15 acres of land that he owns. His dream is to eventually build a complex on the land that could be a home for more than 100 orphans as well as a vocational school, health clinic and adult literacy center. To get this project started, FFL shipped 44,000 pounds of donations to Haiti in January and also provided the orphanage with $46,000 for labor and other supplies.
This organization continues to be an avenue to new opportunities throughout my life, such as a leadership position with the Student Osteopathic Medical Association.
I suggest all osteopathic medical students get involved with a service project. Find one you are interested in that can give back to your community or someone else’s. People are always willing to help and give if they just have a leader. That leader can be you.
If I had never started FFL, I would be a completely different person. I’ve become more thankful for the things I have, and I’ve realized that more people than I ever imagined are willing to volunteer their time and resources to help others. Through my work with FFL, I can now see that seemingly small projects can touch countless lives, improving them for the better. While the Haitians continue to express their gratitude for our efforts, it wasn’t long after we began that I realized I should be the one thanking them.
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Cortney Shepard, OMS II, attends the Midwestern University/Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in Downers Grove, Ill. She is the national board public health director for the Student Osteopathic Medical Association.