Mount Airy girl uses her head to help Haiti

9-year-old Madi Slaughter collects 500 “Hats 4 Haiti” to send to earthquake victims

April 09, 2010

Andrés Duany, the Miami-based architect and "new urbanist" who led the design team that came up with the Katrina cottages as an alternative to the toxic FEMA trailers, has developed something similar, though perhaps not as cute, for the homeless survivors of the Haiti earthquake.

Duany and InnoVida, a manufacturer of fiber composite materials in Florida, have collaborated on a series of durable, inexpensive "Haitian cabins" that can be assembled in a day. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark and former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning have backed InnoVida's plans to build a factory in Haiti to produce thousands of the cabins per year. The company has pledged to donate the first 1,000.

That's one innovative piece of the extravagantly complex and costly effort to rebuild Port-au-Prince and other areas ravaged by the earthquake, which occurred three months ago. Billions in multinational aid, as well as donations from countless charities and special fundraisers — the Baltimore Orioles, for example, raised $65,000 at FanFest in January — have been pledged to help the poor Caribbean country, and Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, is coordinating relief efforts.

When the former president gets time, he might want to send a little good-job note to 9-year-old Madilyn Slaughter of Mount Airy. She has a little piece of the help-Haiti effort, too, and a little attention must be paid.

Madi, as she is known, is the daughter of Kim Slaughter, a single mom who works as a corporate meeting planner. In January, after Madi listened to a discussion about the earthquake in her third-grade class at Mount Airy Elementary School, mother and daughter had a conversation that went something like this:

Madi: I want to help the people in Haiti who are homeless.

Mom: What would you like to do?

Madi: Send them something to keep them out of the hot sun, so they don't get dehydrated.

Mom: Dehydrated? How do you know about that?

Madi: I learned about it in science in second grade.

Mom: Good. So what would you like to send them?

Madi: Tents.

Mom: That might be hard to do, Madi. What else could you send them?

Madi: Umbrellas.

Mom: Well, umbrellas might break.

Madi: Then, we could send them big umbrellas, like the one on our deck.

Mom: Those are too big and heavy, Madi.

Madi: Well, then we could send them sheets.

Mom: I think they already have sheets. What's something small that could keep them from becoming dehydrated?

Madi: (Long pause) Hats?

Indeed, hats — that's the way to go. Let's collect hats and send hats to Haiti.

"After we had the discussion, Madi took herself straight to her computer, where she designed a PowerPoint presentation about helping the Haitians by collecting hats to protect them from sun, and she pitched it to her teacher," Kim Slaughter says. "The presentation contained misspelled words and funny clip art. But I told her to go for it."

A week or so later, Madi came home from school, exclaiming, "I can do it!"

Mom: Do what?

Madi: Hats 4 Haiti!

That's the name she gave her project. Madi wrote a paper describing it, designed a poster and a flyer to promote it, and she made two appearances on her school's television news show to ask the students and faculty to fill a collection box she'd set out in front of the school office.

"I made her do chores to pay for the printing of 550 fliers that went out to 550 students," Kim Slaughter says.

From that effort came 500 hats, all shapes and sizes, arrayed with all kinds of sports and corporate logos — baseball hats, sun hats and visors. They came home by the bag full. Mom and Madi sorted through them in their garage, and now they're ready for shipping to Haiti.

"I'm proud of her," says Madi's mom. "She took a concept and ran with it, and she is determined to complete the project and feel that she has helped others in need."

One matter left — shipping the Hats 4 Haiti to Haiti. Madi and her mom haven't figured that part out yet. Maybe Mr. Clinton could help.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Thursdays and Sundays in print and online, and Tuesdays online-only. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM.

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