By Greg O’Brien
Special to the BIR
Winnie Henry, a single mother of seven, the widow of the late Irish singer Noel Henry, has adopted a country of young children with the help of her many friends. Co-founder with Pat “Doc” Walsh of Irish Hearts For Haiti, the Milton mother—along with a brigade of more than 30 devoted volunteers—has spent months coordinating the organization’s Second Annual Benefit Dance for Haiti, which will be held on Sunday (April 3) at the Marriott Boston Quincy, raising money for earthquake devastated Haiti and for the care of orphaned, abandoned, and disabled children.
Winnie has devoted herself to the cause, her persona becoming one with Haiti. Over the last few weeks, her living room has resembled the office of a Haitian relief center with its reams of fund-raising materials, fliers, and event handouts, as she works on final event preparations.
With her all the way have been Walsh, a Galway native, and her 28-year-old daughter, Monica, newly appointed regional manager in Boston for special events for Friends of the Orphans, an international non-profit dedicated to the care of needy children in the Caribbean and Latin America.
All proceeds from the event will benefit Friends of the Orphans (friendsoftheorphans.org) or the Saint Rock Haiti Foundation (saintrock.org), an outreach mission of Saint Agatha’s Parish in Milton and Quincy. Checks, in advance or at the door, are to be made out to the Haitian beneficiary of choice.
Friends of the Orphans supports Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (in Haitian French: Nos Petit Freres et Soeurs), translated “Our Little Brothers and Sisters. NPH/NPFS, the acronym, is home to 350 orphans, and is a critical support system to more then 30,000 Haitians for medical assistance, food, water, education and essential services for the disabled. Led by Father Philip Cleary, president of NPH International, NPH/NPFS has rescued and raised nearly 16,000 boys and girls throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. In the past year, under the supervision of physician and priest Father Rick Frechette—the organization’s national director in Haiti, with medical training from New York City College of Osteopathic Medicine—NPH/NPFS has expanded its mission. It now includes two orphanages, St. Damien’s Premier Pediatric Hospital, two new schools, child protection camps, cholera medical clinics and emergency response programs. These works of mercy have supported more than a million people since January 2010, when a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries and one struggling in recent years from health crisis, political upheaval and a spate of bruising hurricanes.
The Saint Rock Foundation provides funding for housing, health care, clean water and education in the rural mountain village of Saint Rock, Haiti.
“The cry for help is extraordinary,” says Winnie Henry. “There is so much need in the world, and it’s only going to grow. You have to do what you can. We all have a calling. Often it comes unannounced.”
She is quick to credit others in the coordination of Irish Hearts For Haiti (irishheartsforhaiti.com) — a benefit co-sponsored by the Boston Irish Reporter, Courier Corporation, Ireland on the Move, The Irish Emigrant, Marriott Boston Quincy, the Sean Folan Show, WROL 950 AM, Irish Hit Parade, The Bailey Ceili, The Feast of Irish Music, and WUNR/1600 AM. The event’s working committee alone includes close to 30 people, and last year raised about $50,000 for the cause with about 700 attending the event.
The suggested donation is $20, and comes with a full afternoon of Irish entertainment from Erin’s Melody, Kevin Doherty, the Andy Healy Band, Brendan Bulger & Friends (traditional set dancing), and Noel Henry’s Irish Showband.
The late Irish singer Noel Henry, an immeasurably talented and loving man, died in 1995 of bone cancer, leaving Winnie and seven children behind. In memory, he is as much the driving force behind Irish Hearts For Haiti as anyone.