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Destined for Grace of Carpinteria Ready to Open Haitian School

Proceeds from a third local thrift store, in Goleta, will help provide K-5 education in a remote village

In July 2008, best friends Rebecca Costa-Smith, 25, and Lindsey Connolly, 24, who grew up in Carpinteria, established Destined for Grace, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to improving the quality of life of the children they met in Haiti.

In 2007, Costa-Smith went on a church trip to Haiti and was deeply moved by the conditions there: The mortality rate for Haitian children younger than age 5 is a tragic 87 percent. The average adult has 2.8 years of schooling. Extreme poverty and disease are widespread.

A year after that visit, Costa-Smith went back, taking Connolly with her. The pair returned to Santa Barbara determined to find a way to make a difference.

Destined for Grace’s first mission was to establish a school in the village of Mirebalais, Haiti, for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. They leased a building on the outskirts of Mirebalais, an area known as Bayasse. The building was little more than bare walls, but Costa-Smith and Connolly had a vision.

Over several visits — with help from volunteer groups from Santa Barbara and elsewhere — they transformed the sad structure into a school, painting and tiling the classrooms to make them some of the nicest in the area. Thanks to heroic fundraising efforts and generous personal donations, Ecole Destined for Grace will open its doors to 115 students on Oct. 3 at no cost to the students or their families.

“Our goal is to educate, feed and love these children and hopefully to inspire them to pursue higher education,” Connolly said.

The school itself will be fully self-sustainable.

“We will grow produce to feed the children while teaching them the process of cultivation,” Connolly said.

The school will employ a full-time staff of Haitian teachers and workers to run the daily operations and oversee the care of the children. Destined for Grace proudly leads groups of volunteers to Haiti to expose them to the needs of this suffering society. Due to the lack of an established mail system, deliveries are made monthly in order to ensure the school has sufficient supplies to operate.

As part of ongoing fundraising efforts, Destined for Grace has already established two local thrift shops in Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. This week, a third store opened in Old Town Goleta. In addition to funds received from the stores and personal donations, the organization has received dozens of student sponsorships. Each $115 donation provides one child with a uniform, meals and school supplies for the year. Despite an outpouring of support, there are still many students hoping to be sponsored in the coming academic year.

Those wishing to support Destined for Grace are encouraged to sponsor a child, donate clothes, furniture, books and other household items to one of the three Destined for Grace thrift stores, make a tax-deductible donation and, of course, volunteer to visit the school.

“We’ve received tremendous support, and feel confident that Ecole Destined for Grace is just the beginning of what we can offer the children of Haiti,” Connolly said.

The new Destined for Grace thrift store opened last Tuesday at 5960 Hollister Ave. in Goleta. Other stores are located at 5406 Casitas Plaza in Carpinteria and 720 Milpas St. in Santa Barbara. Click here for more information.

— Lindsey Connolly is the director and co-founder of Destined for Grace.

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