Stories

A Dream to Help Haiti

"If you want to help the world, there's a way through Nazareth."

For years, Shaina Louis '18 (shy-EE-nuh) dreamed of helping women become financially independent in Haiti, where she grew up. But she didn't know how. And she had her own challenges making it through high school in Rochester, N.Y., when her family faced their own financial struggles.

Connections with Nazareth College — starting when Louis was 16 — have supported her success at multiple turns, including when she has struggled.

"You come to Nazareth with a dream, and Nazareth makes it happen," says Louis, now double-majoring in business management and marketing. "In every single part of my life, Nazareth has opened some kind of door."

Louis has seized the opportunities.

  • Tutoring and guidance: Senior year in high school, her advocate in the Hillside Work Scholarship Connection brought her to Nazareth for weekly tutoring from Nazareth students, faculty, and staff volunteers — and help with college essay writing and the financial aid application. Louis had once been at risk of not graduating from high school. Instead, she graduated with multiple extra credits.
  • Support: She was accepted into Nazareth's Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) program for state residents who academically and financially couldn't otherwise attend a post-secondary private college. The HEOP program covers most costs and starts with a 6-week summer program of academics and support at Nazareth, including counseling, workshops, and activities to help students develop holistically and assume responsibility for their education. Louis calls it life-changing at a particularly chaotic time in her life.
  • Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU): To act on Louis' dream of helping women in Haiti, Adam Lewandowski in Nazareth's Center for Civic Engagement encouraged her to apply to the CGIU international conference for young leaders developing innovative solutions to pressing challenges — and Louis did so in her first semester. CGIU accepted her project proposal, and Nazareth supported her travel costs and start-up funding. The workshops and networking in Miami helped her launch a business called La Glasse Slipper, through which she sells jewelry, clothing, and artwork handmade by a half dozen single moms in Aux Cayes, Haiti, to help them achieve financial independence.

"I came to Naz to learn about business," Louis recalls. "I never knew I was going to have my own business at the start of freshmen year."

It hasn't been easy. About every other week she encountered a new challenge with her entrepreneurial venture. She gets ongoing project mentoring from Lewandowski, and her business classes have built her skills, such as learning how to track inventory and to log expenses. "All these things I'm learning, I go right home at night and do them," she says. "It makes it much more fun to learn something like accounting."

Louis lives with her siblings and her mom — who earned a law degree in Haiti, but started as a janitor in this country before going back to school and becoming a certified nursing assistant. Louis has felt torn between helping her family and pursuing her goals, but she's realized that she can help them more if she is successful. On recent visits to Haiti, she has seen that the craftswomen she's working with are better able to take care of their families. Inspired to work harder to sell more items, she has pursued craft shows, online venues, and stores — on top of working at Wegmans, working on campus, and being a full-time student. At times she also has worked as a restaurant server to cover car repairs or other needs.

While juggling so much, she has sometimes dropped the ball in following through on commitments and keeping up with her academics. In her first months of college, she was confused in a microeconomics class, but too scared to ask for help. The professor noticed, asked to meet with her, and pushed her to go for tutoring. "I started to realize I can graduate," says Louis. "Professors care about your success."

Opportunities have kept coming Louis's way. She wanted to go on The March: Bearing Witness to Hope — a 10-day student leadership trip to Germany and Poland to study the Holocaust under the guidance of Holocaust scholars, survivors, and guides from Israel and Poland. Nazareth provided a scholarship so she could go. Louis says seeing Holocaust victims' hair and shoes — some of which looked like her own sister's shoes — and learning the stories of the murderers and the quiet heroes who saved people was an emotional experience.

"Everybody who went on the trip changed something in their life afterward," Louis says. She shifted her work-study job to Nazareth's Center for Spirituality, which promotes spiritual growth and interfaith understanding. Jamie Fazio, the director and chaplain, has become another of her supporters, guiding her through family challenges.

"She's the type of student Nazareth was founded to empower — to give access to higher education, someone with a sincere desire to build a life for themself and their family and to make the community better," says Fazio. "She's one of the hardest working students I know."

"I have all these people who believe in me," says Louis, who became a U.S. citizen. "If you want to help the world, there's a way through Nazareth."

Shaina Louis

Shaina Louis '18

Fast Facts

Shaina Louis

Shaina on WXXI's Connections program with fellow Nazareth CGIU students, talking about the 2015 conference.