In December, I boarded an airplane bound for Haiti with Dan Jeune, a man who’d just worn a dashiki through Denver International Airport. Since back in my days at j-school, before I was ever paid to write a word, Haiti was a spot I’d hoped to go on a story someday -- because there was no chance in hell I was going to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country on a vacation.
I always figured that story would be about civil unrest. Never did I imagine that it would be a story about a man who'd made it his mission to help Haiti out of its dire economic state – a man living in Denver, Colorado.
But now Jeune has left Denver. He’s trying to re-energize his mission in Miami, which has a much larger Haitian population and is so much closer to that country; he’s counting on the new friends he pulled into the cause to keep hope for Haiti alive here. “Living in Denver was great,” Jeune says. “I met some cool people, we did some positive things and ICOF will continue. Denver is a great city. Happy days.”
Jeune, the son of a Haitian preacher (who himself was the son of a Haitian preacher), first started the International Club of Friendship (ICOF) in Paris, then helped get branches going in Texas and Atlanta. After living in Miami for a time, he moved to Denver, where he worked for an established non-profit and set out to establish a non-profit of his own. In the eighteen months Jeune lived here, he got married, recruited some new members for ICOF, threw some parties at LoDo clubs, raised some money. And in December, he led a handful of Denverites on a field trip to Haiti, where they could see see their fundraising put into action.
Still, he thinks he’ll be able to do more for Haiti from Miami. “Denver is so cold, it’s sometimes hard to get people out of their houses,” he explains. “I don’t think Denver is over. I think we will be able to pull people together there when we need to.”
In Florida, though, he can pull people together year-round right now. “We figured it would be better to spend some time here, since there’s a lot of things you can’t do in one week when you visit,” Jeune says, adding that he and his wife, Stephanie, have been meeting with groups that have connections in Haiti, and could help facilitate their charitable work. And in the meantime, they’ve stayed in touch with ICOF’s members in Denver, and encouraged them to continue working for the cause.
“It depends how much people really want to do in Denver, however many events they think work,” Jeune says. “We’re still planning a trip in either July or August to go to Haiti again. I am probably going next month to organize the trip and make sure everything is in place. Once the trip is announced, once we have a date and some people signed on, everything will pick up again.”
But for now, it’s Dan Jeune himself who’s picked up -- and left Denver behind. – Luke Turf