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Williams-Paisley urges Rotarians to make a difference in Haiti


By SUSAN TAYLOR LEATHERS

Actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley traded the navy Romona Keveza lace gown she wore at Wednesday’s CMA Awards for a look more in line with one of her favorite roles, that of Williamson County mom, when she addressed the Brentwood Rotary Club Friday.

Actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley traded the navy Romona Keveza lace gown she wore at Wednesday’s CMA Awards for a look more in line with one of her favorite roles, that of Williamson County mom, when she addressed the Brentwood Rotary Club Friday.

The “Father of the Bride” and “Nashville” star joined her brother, Brentwood Fire & Rescue firefighter Jay Williams and Brentwood Fire Chief Brian Goss to present a program that had nothing to do with show business and everything to do with helping the people of Thomazeau, Haiti.

The trio and their spouses have become involved with LiveBeyond, the medical mission founded by former Brentwood surgeon Dr. David Vanderpool and his wife Laurie. In 2013, the Vanderpools sold their home and his medical practice and left Tennessee to move to Thomazeau, a town of about 200,000 residents.

In Thomazeau, 80 percent of the population earns less than $2 a day. An extremely high infant mortality rate is largely credited to starvation.

Williams-Paisley recalled watching TV immediately after the January 2010 earthquake that killed 330,000 people within seconds and left 1 million injured. She remembered thinking at the time, “This is awful. It doesn’t have to do with me, but this is awful.”

So she turned off her TV and focused on her family.

Williams-Paisley, who with her husband, country singer Brad Paisley, has two young sons, already had become involved with children’s health initiatives in Tennessee. But when she met the Vanderpools at a dinner party several year later, she shared she was struck by the inspiration, dedication and joy they shared about their ministry in Haiti.

She decided it was time for her to do more, and that “more” was to go on her first mission trip.

“I grew up Episcopalian. We didn’t do that in New York,” she said.

“I really was ready for a change in perspective,” she said, and the minute she stepped off the plane in Port-au-Prince the first time, she got it.

“It was a totally different world.” The big smiles and hugs of the Haitian people made a huge impression. “They were so happy we were there.”

Arriving in Thomazeau, she got her first assignment – working in the scabies clinic.

“It was awesome,” she said, emphasizing the “awe.”

Since then, the Paisleys have spearheaded an initiative that now provides clean water to 200,000 people every day. It is the largest public works project in Thomazeau, according to a video that opened Friday’s program, and has greatly decreased the number of water-borne illnesses there.

“We’re making a difference,” she said of the collective work and efforts by the Vanderpools, LiveBeyond staff and volunteers, and the non-profit’s financial supporters.

Jay Williams has made a number of trips to Thomazeau as well, including one earlier this month with his boss, Chief Goss, and Goss’ wife Marie.

Williams updated the Rotarians and their guests about the current conditions in Haiti, a three-hour flight from Nashville. Some 3 million people in Port-au-Prince have no working sewer system, he said.

The best thing about the Haitian people, he said, is that they all continue to have hope. “Some of the happiest kids I’ve ever seen are at the orphanage in Thomazeau.”

A picture of a chicken was significant in that it illustrated LiveBeyond’s sustainable Maternal Health Program. What difference can a chicken make, he asked?

“Well, one egg and some prenatal vitamins have made a massive difference [in reducing infant mortality].”

A rotarian asked why Haiti continues to be so impoverished despite the millions of dollars that have poured into the country following the earthquake.

Goss took on that question.

“The president of the country has a high school education and used to be a rapper,” Goss said of Haitian president Michael Martelly.

“The money is there, it is coming in,” Goss said. “It is not getting to the people who need it.”

“Money makes good people better and bad people worse,” Goss said.

An angel donor provides all of LiveBeyond’s operating costs, allowing 100 percent of donations the non-profit receives go directly to the medical and humanitarian services it provides, Jay Williams said.

Goss and his wife have made five trips to Haiti with LiveBeyond. On Friday, Williams-Paisley said she can’t wait to get back and plans to return before the end of the year.

“I miss Haiti,” she said – and Haitian coffee. But mostly, she said, she misses the people.

For more information on LiveBeyond, visit www.livebeyond.org.

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