Most children aren’t willing to forgo birthday presents to help people they don’t know. But that isn’t the case with Caitlyn Lefebvre, who celebrated her 9th birthday Jan. 24 and had a party last Saturday at Petite Chef, a home-style cooking clinic for children, at 160 Greenwich Avenue.
After Lefebvre learned Petite Chef owner Nancy Schwab donates $10 from each party she hosts toward buying a goat for a family in Haiti through the Haitian Health Foundation, Lefebvre requested that her friends bring contributions as opposed to gifts.
One goat costs $150, and the goats are usually pregnant when they are given so the family can sell or trade the offspring, or even increase their herd once they are born.
Amazingly, Lefebvre and her friends raised $140, with Schwab’s $10 helping them reach the goal.
“It makes me feel good because instead of getting more presents for me, I’m donating a goat to somebody else that doesn’t have a lot of things like I do,” said Lefebvre, a third grader at West Kingston Elementary School.
Schwab originally planned to donate an extra $50 toward the goat, but since Lefebvre raised enough money, she pledged the $50 anyway and combined it with funds from previous parties, giving them another $150 to purchase an additional goat.
Schwab is touched by Lefebvre’s gesture.
“I think it’s such a beautiful thing for a child to do, especially in this day and age of ‘I want more,’” said Schwab. “It says a lot about her little soul. It’s really impressive.”
Lefebvre and her mother Rhonda heard about Petite Chef online when they were looking for an idea for her party. She knew she wanted to do something meaningful but wasn’t quite sure what.
Rhonda suggested asking her friends to each bring a can of dog food so they could donate them to a shelter, and Caitlyn obliged.
Then, they found the Petite Chef website at PetiteChef.net and noticed that Schwab hosts parties based on “Cupcake Wars,” a popular reality television show on Food Network that showcases people having friendly cupcake baking and decorating competitions.
“Caitlyn loves the show,” Rhonda said.
Rhonda contacted Schwab, and explained Caitlyn’s desire to help others through her birthday. That’s when Schwab told Rhoda about the need in Haiti, as well as her efforts to help, and Rhonda quickly booked a party.
Caitlyn invited 10 friends, and on Saturday, “Cupcake Wars” at Petite Chef ensued. Aside from raising the money, Caitlyn said, “making the cupcakes” was her favorite part of the day.
Other than baking cupcakes, Caitlyn enjoys swimming and playing the drums. She has been taking swimming lessons for more than two years at the University of Rhode Island and took up drums about a year ago.
“I like hearing drums on the radio, so I wanted to learn how to play them,” she said, noting that she hopes to learn a few Taylor Swift songs someday.
And while she didn’t get any gifts at her party, she did get one special present from her parents.
“A pink scooter,” Caitlyn said.
For Schwab, getting the opportunity to host parties for children like Caitlyn puts the frosting on her cupcake. She is happy she is able to encourage children and their parents to contribute.
“It’s a passion that I’ve always had, and the kids just love it,” Schwab said. “Some of the little ones think they are really getting a goat. They don’t quite understand it, but it’s really cute. And there are a lot of parents who come in, hear the story and want to donate. They love it.”
Schwab has been donating $10 from each party to the cause for about a year and a half and has raised enough to donate at least a dozen goats, plus the two they just donated for Caitlyn’s party. Caitlyn got to name one “Petite Cake” and the girls all decided on “Petite Sprinkles” for the other goat.
“It’s always food-related,” Schwab said of the names children assign the goats.
Prior to helping Haiti, she and her husband, Michael, hosted Christmas parties at their home to raise money for Amos House, a non-profit social service that assists the hungry and homeless. They raised about $70,000 in less than 10 years.
In 2000, the same year they adopted their daughter, Lucy, 12, they discovered the work of Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, a Connecticut orthodontist who dedicated his life to helping Haiti. Soon after, they decided to switch gears and help Dr. Lowney’s cause.
“When I started Petite Chef [a few years ago], I thought it would be fun to continue the fundraising effort,” she said. “It’s my way to continue to give.”
Schwab thinks highly of Dr. Lowney, saying he has an amazing story. He developed cancer in the ’80s and didn’t think he was going to survive. Wanting to do something meaningful before he died, he went to Haiti on a mission trip. He ended up beating cancer and has since aided the country anyway he is able.
“You name it, and he’s done it,” Schwab said.
In 1982, Dr. Lowney established the Haitian Health Foundation, which provides dental care to people in various areas of Haiti. Three years later, after working closely with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity, he became interested in the rural city of Jérémie, located in the southwestern part of Haiti.
Mother Teresa requested that Dr. Lowney move his outreach efforts to Jérémie, as many residents were in need of health care. This led to the establishment of “Klinik Pep Bondye-a” in 1988, a 27,000-square-foot outpatient health care facility and residence that offers services to more than 225,000 people from more than 100 rural mountain villages, including house and latrine construction for the poorest villagers, animal distribution, feeding facilities, education support and other programs. Funded with private donations, it serves 350 to 400 patients per day. The building was named “Klinik Pep Bondye-a” or “Clinic of the People of God,” by the people of Jérémie.
“Mother Teresa called him and said, ‘We need a health clinic in Jérémie,’ and he said, ‘You can’t get a truck there,’ and she said, ‘I didn’t ask you to build the road. I asked you to build a clinic,’” Schwab said. “You don’t say ‘no’ to her.”
Not only does Schwab think Dr. Lowney is “awesome,” she thinks the same of Caitlyn. She is pleased she got the chance to share Caitlyn’s celebration, as well as other children she’s met at Petite Chef.
“Where else can you work where you get hugs when the day is done?” said Schwab. “It’s just the best. You’re spending a child’s best day with them. It’s a great job.”
Visit Petite Chef at PetiteChef.net, and learn more about Lowney at HaitianHealthFoundation.org.