A phone call from her daughter’s Bishop’s School volleyball coach was how the universe chose to involve La Jolla Shores Physical Therapy owner Stephanie Hoffman.
Byron Shewman — a member of the USA men’s volleyball team that won a silver medal at the 1971 Pan-American Games — was volunteering as an interpreter aboard the U.S.S. Comfort Ship, which had just arrived in Haiti to aid survivors of a Jan. 2010 earthquake that killed more than 160,000 people. He happened upon Edeline Felizor, a young nursing student, lying on the ship’s hospital floor — there weren’t enough beds — with a broken neck and three freshly fused fractured vertebrae.
Felizor had been on the second floor of a four-story nursing school when it pancaked to the ground, pinning her under the rubble for 24 hours before rescuers pulled her body free. Then, she lay in the street for two days.
According to Hoffman, a doctor noticed Shewman speaking French to Felizor and made an offer. Hoffman picked up the story: “He tells Byron, ‘If you can sign off on her medical expenses, I’ll give you a humanitarian visa right now and we’ll get her out of here, because she won’t survive a day back in Port-au-Prince.”
That’s when Shewman called Hoffman and asked if she could help. For six months, Felizor and her sister, Isemene, lived with Hoffman, her husband and two children in their La Jolla Shores home as Hoffman began the daily process of rehabilitating Felizor. Within three weeks, she was walking again.
When Hoffman asked Felizor how she could help even more, Felizor told her about the school she always dreamed of building “for the poorest of the poor.”
Hoffman, Felizor and Shewman co-founded Project Edeline, under the umbrella of the Youth Without Borders (an organization Shewman administers). With the help of generous La Jollans, they gathered the funds to open the Institute Edeline School in Croix Des Bouquets, Haiti in 2012.
Currently, Institut Edeline schools 200 students grades K- 7. They’ll add eighth and ninth grade when more funds become available.
Until now, fundraising has been a backyard operation. Hoffman said the checks “don’t have to be that big” to run an elementary school for 200 children in Haiti — even with the cost of faculty, a nurse, books, uniforms, two meals a day and clean water. (About $55,000 a year does it.)
“Usually, one of my patients will open up his house and say, ‘Let’s put sausages on the grill, we’ll pour the wine and you bring your checkbook,’” she said. “We tell the story, Edeline usually comes along, and it’s so real that people start writing checks.” (Hoffman wanted it noted in this story that the San Diego French-American School donated laptops, medical supplies, backpacks filled with school supplies; La Jolla Country Day school donated backpacks and school supplies; and the Bishop’s School did a volleyball fundraiser.)
On Sunday, Oct. 6 at The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, Project Edeline will host a screening of “Bending the Arc,” a documentary written and produced by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Cori Shepherd Stern (also of La Jolla) about three doctors devoted to providing healthcare to Haiti and other impoverished nations.
“This is the first event that is this big,” Hoffman said. “The message of the film is in line with what we are practicing — helping those in need as selflessly as possible. Our goal is to transform this small community in Haiti by providing education, clean water and food, to help these students enter healthy professions to restore economic hope and stability in the region.”
IF YOU GO: “Bending the Arc” screening for Project Edeline, 5-9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, Baker-Baum Hall, Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave. Tickets are $100 and $200 https://bit.ly/2nlsN7m