NEW MARKET — When Hurricane Matthew swept across Haiti in October 2016, the city of Jérémie was in the eye of the storm.

The winds and rain laid waste to nearly every building in the isolated city, where a newly built highway and cell phone service had just begun to connect residents to the outside world.

Students from Southmont High School will help rebuild the city next spring on the first mission trip for the Interact Club, the youth arm of service organization Rotary International.

“I don’t think a lot of people really understand what [people are] going through there,” junior Hannah Thompson said, as she and her twin sister, Bailey, sold baked goods to raise money before a Rotary meeting at Southmont’s fieldhouse.

Southmont is the first local school to form a chapter of the club. There are more than 20,000 chapters in 159 countries, according to Rotary’s website.

Local Rotarians eventually plan to start clubs at Crawfordsville and North Montgomery.

“The youth are our future and the more people that we can get at that age to really grasp [Rotary’s mission], then maybe we become a better society for it,” Rotary president Aaron Morgan said.

Students select one international and a local project to pursue during the year. 

The group focused on Haiti after learning about the Crawfordsville Rotary’s ongoing work in the country.

Rotarian Ron Hess, who helped start South’s club, has led trips to drill wells, repair roofs and assist with hurricane relief. Hess was returning from the country this week.

The students began raising money by selling hot chocolate at Sunday’s downtown Christmas Parade. Other fundraisers will be planned. Rotarians collected additional donations during Wednesday’s meeting.

Sponsor Mary Scheidler said students would decide on a local project after the new year. There are 40 students in the group. 

Club president Ryan Sowers, a senior, said he wants the project to be labor-intensive.

“If you help other people, that makes your relationship with them positive,” he said.

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