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'It Takes a Village' concert set for Feb. 18

Girls at a school in Ganthier, Haiti show off dresses made for them through a project started by two local women. The school was built with funds raised by the annual "It Takes a Village" concerts. This year's event is set for Feb. 18, at Ezekiel Lutheran Church. Photos courtesy of Curt Larson1 / 4
Curt Larson is shown with a truck full of dresses, shorts, underwear and toys he and Pat O'Malley will deliver to children in Ganthier, Haiti. Gretta Stark / RiverTown Multimedia.2 / 4
This photo, taken in 2016, shows the school built in Ganthier, Haiti, with funds raised by the annual "It Takes a Village" concert. 3 / 4
A cistern was built in 2011, but glitches had kept the reservoir from being filled. This year, it was connected to a new water source, so it could finally serve the village. 4 / 4

For the 15th year in a row, local area choirs are preparing to join their voices together for a concert. The annual "It Takes a Village" concert, set for 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18, will combine choirs from Ezekiel Lutheran Church and River Falls First Congregational United Church of Christ, River Falls Community Choir, the Pierce County Ecumenical Choir and the Croix Chordsmen Barbershop Chorus.

Each choir will perform two numbers and then join en masse for the two final numbers.

At the center of the concert will be an update on the reason for the concert: Ganthier, Haiti.

The proceeds from the concert go to support staff at a school built there, according to organizer Curt Larson.

The concert will be held at Ezekiel Lutheran Church. A free will offering will be collected.

The project

Years ago, Larson and Pat O'Malley were part of a group of five from Ezekiel who visited Haiti on a pilgrimage sponsored by Food for the Poor.

"On that trip, we saw that there was great need, of course," Larson said.

When they returned, the pilgrimage director asked what they wanted to do about it.

Their committee met at church and decided to donate money to build homes, through Food for the Poor.

They originally raised thousands of dollars and built 25 houses.

Originally, they'd planned to build a clinic to go with the village.

"But at that time, chaos broke out in Haiti," Larson said. "There were kidnappings every day, and we went two years where we didn't dare go to Haiti."

Food for the Poor brought a priest from Ganthier to relay the village's needs to the group from Ezekiel.

"He said what they really needed was a school," Larson said.

So at the concert that year, Larson told everyone they would be building a school, rather than a clinic as that met the village's needs better.

The school was dedicated in 2010, not long after an earthquake hit the island nation. It was undamaged in the earthquake, Larson said.

"The thing is, of course, there is no public education in Haiti," Larson said. "So if the children come from a very poor family and can't pay tuition, they can't go to school.

"We decided that what we would try to do from then on is try to support the school financially."

Some kids do pay tuition. But, these concerts and other donations raise enough money to pay for 19 teachers' salaries, so some of the children who wouldn't be able to afford school can still attend.

"That's kind of what brought us to where we are today," Larson said.

The group could have stopped after the houses were built, but instead they kept going.

"We just kept going," he said. "I think we had it in the back of our mind that we wanted to do as much as we could."

The reason he personally has wanted to keep working on this project so long is pretty simple.

"God has been pretty good to me," he said. "I was born to a wonderful family. Not a wealthy family but a wonderful family. I got an education, to the point where I could be a university professor in our society."

He said he's "simply been blessed."

When he retired, he decided maybe it was time to give back.

Larson and O'Malley try to visit Haiti once each year and see the school they've started.

This year's trip was delayed due to weather, but Larson and O'Malley hope to visit after the concert.

Other assistance

Larson said the project has offered more assistance to Ganthier than just the homes and the school.

About five or six years ago, a large cistern for the village, which could hold about 12,000 gallons of water, was built. That, Larson said, was done in cooperation with the UN.

"We've had nothing but trouble getting the cistern to work," Larson said.

One glitch after another has made the tank unusable, Larson said. So this year, he said, they did a special project to run pipes to another water supply to fill the cistern.

So far, he said, he hopes it is working.

Two ladies from Ezekiel started a project making dresses from pillowcases and shorts from T-shirts for the Haitian children.

This year, Larson and O'Malley will bring with them eight large plastic totes full of dresses and shorts, as well as underwear for the girls, and small toys.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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