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Corinne Milien, a sports management student at Bemidji State University, has started a clothing donation campaign to help people in Haiti recover from the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. Milien's parents and extended family are from Haiti. Pioneer Photo/ Anne Williams

'I am American. I am Haitian.': BSU student aims to bring back 800 pounds of donated clothing to Haiti

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It's her first and last year at Bemidji State University, and student Corinne Milien, 23, is not leaving without at least 500 pounds of clothing.

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Milien, whose parents and extended family are from Haiti, is coordinating a community-wide fundraiser called Open Hearts for Haiti, which is asking for donations of clothing, sneakers, diapers, tents, toiletries and more.

After she graduates from BSU in May, Milien plans to personally take all the items donated from Bemidji to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she plans to work with family and local charities there to distribute the donations to those in need after the devastating earthquake on Jan. 12.

Jan. 12, 2010

"I was at practice," Milien said, who is the student assistant for the BSU women's basketball team.

"I'm on campus 10 hours a day, so I don't normally watch the news," she said. "I noticed my mom had called a couple times, but I was being a rebellious daughter and didn't call her back."

Finally, a text message from a friend in Atlanta, Ga., asking her if everything was OK caught her attention, and she grew concerned. So, she called her mother, who lives in Atlanta.

"My mom asked if I was sitting down and then she said, 'There was an earthquake in Haiti and I haven't heard from my brothers,'" Milien said.

"It didn't hit really hit me until I turned on the TV and saw pictures of the devastations on the Internet," she said.

Milien's mother is the oldest of seven siblings. Three of her siblings reside in Haiti, two of whom live in Port-au-Prince.

"We heard from my uncle first," Milien said.

Her uncle got in touch with his wife, who then started calling other family members. A week and a half later, Milien's mother received word that everyone in her family was safe.

Last Monday, Milien said one of her uncles and his family was relocated to Miami, Fla., where they were granted 18 months of temporary residence.

"Both my mom's parents are gone. She is the oldest in her family, so she is like the boss," Milien said. "She is by herself. Everyone is far away from her. She didn't have anyone to grieve with, so it was hard at first."

Making difference

The days following the earthquake, Milien had a lot on her plate.

She was the coordinator of a pep rally at BSU scheduled for the day after the natural disaster.

"That really wasn't a day for me to be peppy, but I was able to pull it off without a hitch," Milien said.

Second semester had started the day before and she was in the midst of applying for graduate schools.

"After everything settled down a little bit, I knew I wanted to get started doing something to help," Milien said.

"I wanted to do something big - something to show that in northern Minnesota, even if people may not have ever met a Haitian person before - they care and can directly help the situation."

Milien worked with the BSU athletics department to set up clothing donation stations at several BSU sporting events this week. She is also asking for cash donations to cover the cost of shipping the clothing items from Bemidji to Haiti.

Milien said a moving company offered to transport the donations from Bemidji to Miami, but she is still trying to find funding to ship the donations from Miami to Port-au-Prince. The cost of shipping items from Miami to Haiti roughly averages about $2.35 a pound.

The moving company has given Milien a three-week storage window before items will be shipped down to Miami. After she graduates, she plans to personally bring the items from Miami to Haiti.

"This is a chance for people in Bemidji to directly affect the outcome of someone's life," Milien said. "Anyone can send a text, but I feel like it's indirect. Do I really know that $10 is getting to where it needs to be?"

"Bemidji should know there is someone at (BSU) who is of Haitian descent, and she's doing this effort and personally taking items down there," she said.

Haiti connections

Milien was born in Miami, Fla., but traveled to Haiti to visit family every summer until she was 16 years old. She went back to Haiti in 2006.

Milien will graduate from BSU in May with a major in sports management and a minor in coaching. She received the 2010 BSU outstanding sports management major of the year award.

Recently, she was selected as a finalist for the Women's Basketball Coaching Association's "So You Want To Be A Coach" program, which assists ethnic minority females interested in pursuing a career in coaching women's basketball.

She wants to coach women's basketball someday.

Milien said she can be goofy at times, but ambition overrules when needed. Milien said her personal experiences in Haiti have affected every part of her life and have made her who she is today.

"I consider myself an American, but at the same time I consider myself a Haitian," Milien said. "I hold pride in both countries."

Previous to attending BSU, Milien served in the U.S. Air Force. She was stationed in Germany for two years and afterwards attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., for two years.

"My great-uncle served in Haitian military when there was a military. Every time we get together, that's all he wants to talk about," Milien said. "He's very proud of the fact that I served for the American government."

"I remember going back to Haiti and seeing the United Nations truck parked outside my grandmother's house," she said.

Experiencing the culture of Haiti, Milien said, developed her desire to be involved in sports.

"When I visited Haiti, the only time there would be electricity was when there was soccer on TV. If there was soccer, there was electricity," she said. "That was a big deal to me."

Growing up, Milien said she spoke French, Creole or Spanish at home. Both her parents didn't speak English.

Both her parents, Milien said, wanted her to know the importance of her Haitian heritage.

"Before my dad passed away, he was a proud Haitian," she said. "My parents are very strong people. They are proud people."

Milien said even though her mother won't be going with her to Haiti, she is proud that Milien will bring relief to Haiti.

"I was stationed in Germany when Hurricane Katrina hit, and I did everything I could to raise money for Katrina," she said.

"If there is ever something I feel strongly about I always do whatever I can to help," she said. "When (my mother) told me something had happened in Haiti, she knew my wheels would start turning."

"That's just the kind of child she raised I guess."

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