Speaking last weekend at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, John Calipari wondered if the more than $1 million he, WKYT and UK Athletics raised during a 2010 telethon would have a lasting effect on those who were devastated by the earthquake in Haiti.
Calipari said the money that was graciously given by people in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and across the globe helped keep people alive, but when he visited Haiti last summer with Dr. Pearse Lyons of Alltech to see the rebuilding the money had sparked, he was disappointed to find rubble in the streets, kids without schools and buildings that looked like they had been bombed.
“I was almost depressed,” Calipari said. “(Dr. Lyons) said, ‘Why aren’t you singing? Why aren’t you happy?’ I’m like, ‘Happy? I don’t understand even if we help educate, what are they going to do?’ There is no infrastructure. There are no public schools. They were getting water, putting it into jugs and then going into a tent. There was no road.”
The trip was an eye-‐opening experience for Coach Cal, who had expected the Caribbean country to be well on its way to recovery since the January 2010 earthquake.
“What we all did with the telethon … that was immediate,” Calipari said. “People were dying. Water, tents, food, medicine. But when I went down, I figured out we’re not changing this because it’s not lasting, it’s not ongoing.”
To make a more lasting effect and help Haiti continue to rebuild, Coach Cal has teamed up with Lyons and Alltech to raise additional funds for the victims. Together they hosted a dinner Wednesday night from which the proceeds will go directly to charity.
In addition to the dinner, Calipari is promoting Alltech’s limited edition “Title Town” Town Branch Bourbon, a blue-‐labeled bottle of Kentucky bourbon that commemorates the 2012 national champions.
Lyons said 100 percent of the proceeds from both Wednesday night and the sale of the limited-‐ edition bottles will go to Haiti, in particular to two primary schools Alltech has helped build and fund.
“Every single penny will go to Haiti,” Lyons said. “Three-‐hundred thousand (dollars) will keep all those schools running for the better part of the year.”
Wednesday night’s fundraiser featured a dinner at Alltech’s brewing house and sparkling new distillery, offering 100-‐plus guests the opportunity to mingle with Coach Cal and Joe B. Hall, ask Calipari questions, have their picture taken with the former coaches, and get their autographs.
The event was nothing out of the ordinary for Calipari, but it was an opportunity to continue the effort of rebuilding Haiti.
“Now it’s like we’re taking these kids and putting them into another school, and then those kids have a chance to come to the University of Kentucky and other schools,” Calipari said. “That’s creating hope and making it lasting.”
Lyons said he’s hoping to raise $300,000 from the near 7,000 “Title Town” bottles that will be available at select locations around Lexington, including Liquor Barn. The bottles are expected to be in stores late this week or early next week.
Lyons reached out to Calipari to visit Haiti last year and team up with him for Wednesday night’s fundraiser and bourbon bottle because of his ability to lead.
“Tonight was part of that unifying effort behind sport,” Lyons said. “Most of all, I think people want a leader. A leader does things that others don’t do. A leader sees things that we all see but makes it happen. Tonight, Coach Calipari showed these 100-‐plus people that he is a leader, not just of basketball but of people.”
When Lyons reached out to Calipari, he jumped at the opportunity to give back more to the stricken country of Haiti. Coach Cal described Lyons as a passionate gatherer.
“Whatever you do, if you do it from your heart, if you do it with passion, you can gather people because nothing of significance in this world will be done by one person,” Calipari said. “It will be done by a team of people, and you need gatherers to bring people together. That’s what (Lyons) does.”
Quoting Mother Teresa, Calipari said true poverty is living without hope. Despite the financial poverty Calipari saw last summer, he saw hope in the smiles of young children.
“They were prideful in who they were,” Calipari said. “And they were joyful.”
With the help of Alltech and the Big Blue Nation, Calipari believes they can restore a little more joy in a place that still so desperately needs hope.
“Whatever way you can help,” Calipari said. “There are people that can write checks. Then write a check. There are other people that can’t write a check but they can do this, this and this. That’s what you do.”
photo by Stephen Bailey