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Spin-4-Haiti raises funds to help deaf community

News of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti left senior Rachel Rose reeling — and paralyzed. “In the moments that passed as I watched the earthquake’s devastating impact unfold from my television, I felt helpless,” she said. When her friends Lena Dunning and Elizabeth Sorkin admitted to the same frustration, emotions turned to action.

“We thought, why not do something about it?” Rose said. The event that grew from that conversation was snowed out, but the organizers recently reported that they gathered significant funds to assist deaf students in Port-au-Prince.

Dunning, who had been teaching spinning classes on Gallaudet’s legion of new stationary bikes since the fall, had an idea: Why not organize a “spin-a-thon” fundraiser? The bikes are new, and the students, faculty, and staff have taken to stationary cycling with enthusiasm. From there, the idea took off.

Planning committee comes together

“I went with three hours first,” said Dunning. “Then called back in 10 minutes and said, why not make it 24 hours?”

Sorkin soon joined the planning committee for what came to be called Spin-4-Haiti. Sorkin, a digital video specialist in Academic Technology, forged partnerships with the organizations Global Reach Out Initiative and Deaf Youth USA. These groups each gave significant support to the event, as did the Department of Social Work, the Student Body Government, Athletics, The Buff and Blue, the Office of Student Affairs, and Dunning’s personal training company, Mezher Up.

The organizers designated as their beneficiary Friends of Montfort, an organization that supports the Institut Montfort, a school serving more than 600 deaf and deaf-blind students in Port-au-Prince. They wish to thank Maryse Haig for connecting them with Friends of Montfort. It was important, Dunning said, to benefit an organization that had been working with and for the deaf community even before the earthquake hit. Dunning felt especially strongly about the beneficiaries of the Spin-4-Haiti event.

As a student in Gallaudet’s Master’s in Social Work program, she completed her internship at the Buea School for the Deaf in Cameroon. There, she confirmed what social work classes had told her. “My experience in Cameroon with deaf children is that they are rarely provided an education,” Dunning said. “The challenge in developing countries is understanding that deaf children can learn. It’s a matter of empowerment and advocacy to improve education.”

Rose, Dunning and Sorkin work to make benefit a smashing success

By the time the event was scheduled to begin, the committee and sponsors had lined up a full day of exercise and entertainment for the benefit, complete with workout guidelines, a few hours of personal guidance by Dunning, and entertainment by DJ Jonathan Kovacs. Food and water would be on site to keep the spinners going. About 75 participants signed up to ride.

As the 10 a.m. kick-off approached on February 5, the weather forecasts grew more foreboding, and the University announced it would shut down at noon. The Spin-4-Haiti event was canceled, yet it succeeded in many ways. Sorkin reported more than $8,000 in donations and pledges, and expects to see more. Rose saw a groundswell of student and community support.

This was a secondary, but much-needed effect of the fundraiser, she said. “We have a tendency to fall asleep at the helm,” Rose said, “while as college students, and especially as Gallaudet students, we have a profound obligation to respond to both national and global deaf communities when they are in desperate need.”

To learn more about Friends of Montfort, or to make a donation, go to

– Rhea Yablon Kennedy

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