*Personal note: I first met Heather Hood at Banks High, where we were seniors in 1972. But we didn’t really know each other, because she hung out with the cool kids, and I was just the geeky transfer from Woodlawn. In recent years, we connected by Facebook, and I began following her stories of Project Grace. Over time, her stories inspired me to offer to help. Since I tell stories, I asked if I could tell folks the story of Project Grace, in hopes that some of you will step up and help them keep this work going. — Carl
By Carl Carter, APR
It started with a little girl crying for a baby doll.
Heather Hood was visiting Haiti in 2010 on a relief trip after the earthquake that ravaged the island. The objective in those days of urgent need was basic — taking new shoes to kids in orphanages.
As they were leaving an orphanage in Port Au Prince, a little girl refused to stop crying and kept asking for something, but Hood wasn’t sure what. “Finally, through her broken English and my terrible French/Creole, I figured out that she was asking for a baby doll,” said Hood, whose day job is working as wardrobe supervisor for Red Mountain Theater. “I promised I”d bring her one.”
Back home in Alabama, Hood started organizing another trip to deliver baby dolls to the area. “Our idea was to just go, give out some dolls and go home.” But before that got off the ground, the host in Haiti asked what else Hood could do.
“I said, well, I dance with a local ballet company, but not very well.”
The was enough, and soon, Hood was planning ballet classes, collecting leotards, and putting together costumes. With a few hiccups, the trip was a big success, and Hood decided to follow up with Project Grace, to organize more trips.
Now in its seventh year, after 10 trips, Project Grace is facing the reality that even on a shoestring and run by volunteers, the trips are expensive. “We’re getting more teachers, and offering classes to more kids in ballet, tap and yoga — something that would normally be available only to the very rich in a poor country like Haiti. But it costs about $2,000 per instructor. We’re planning to take six on our next trip in late August, but I don’t know where the money is going to come from,” said Hood.
“We also take hygiene supplies for the yoga and ballet camps. To really understand the power of this, you have to realize just how destitute and backward these areas of Haiti are. The earthquake of 2010 killed and displaced hundreds of thousands. We’re going to areas where there’s no running water, no power grid. People are just barely surviving,” said Hood.
And yet, they are people — humans with needs for a life with meaning and beauty.
“There’s not a lot of beauty in many parts of Haiti. So when we can show up with some tutus and teach some kids about dance, it has a huge impact. We leave, and the kids are so excited to have something new that they wear their tutus every day, or wear them to school and to weddings,” said Hood.
And it’s changed lives, she said. “We’re not saving the world. But I hear from parents that children continue to dance even when they get adopted into new homes. Our goals are modest. Maybe we can expose them to something they’d never experience otherwise. They learn some trust, and perhaps a little structure and discipline. I like to think that these will, at a minimum, make their lives richer,” she said.
To remain viable, Project Grace needs help.
“We are hoping to find some people willing to make a five-year commitment. Being part of the arts community here in Birmingham, I’m around people who understand the power in a tutu or some dance slippers. I just hope they’ll be willing to share that with these kids,” she said.
Here’s where you can send your donations for Project Grace:
Project Grace (not tax-deductible), contact Hood at email@example.com. Those who need to donate to a tax-deductible organization may send contributions to ProjectHouseofHope.org, designating the donations for Project Grace.