From Pizza to Promise, Dexter Couple Uses Their Business to Create Sustainable Change in Haiti

Founders of the “Solutionary Movement” Project 418, Jason and Suzei Povlich, recently spoke at Dexter Rotary about their work rescuing children living in the streets of Haiti.

Married since 2001, the Dexter couple own four Jet’s Pizza franchises, one at 506 N. Main St. in Chelsea. They use the profits from their businesses to fund two children’s homes called “The Hope Centers” in Delmas and Kenskoff, Haiti.

When Jason told us he owned the Jet’s Pizza in  Chelsea, I had a flashback:

Three years ago a friend wins two tickets to a Rusted Root concert in the parking lot of Jet’s Pizza in Chelsea. We arrive. It’s mid-summer and the place is packed. The parking lot has been converted into an outdoor beach. Truckloads of beach sand have been dumped and spread out. There is food, drink, and a tropical design to the place. The crowd is having fun. My son, living in Lansing, shows up unexpectedly with friends. Now I’m even more excited. The warm up bands and dancers finish. Rusted Root takes the stage around dusk. At some point they cover Suspicious Minds and I’m beside myself…

Throughout it all my friend has been yelling into my ear how the owner is doing all of this as a kick-off for some charity he has started for kids in Haiti. “Really?” I think to myself. “All of this for a charity?” This is pretty extreme and one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard of. From that night on, every time I drive by the Jet’s Pizza in Chelsea I think about the Rusted Root concert and wonder what has become of the owner’s charity work.

Suzei & Jason Povlich pictured here with Rotary President Elect Rick Vanden Heuvel

And as if in answer to my ongoing question, Suzei and Jason are at Dexter Rotary’s weekly breakfast to talk about their work. It all began the year before they were married when Suzei made her first trip to Haiti in 2000 to visit her parents who worked in there.

“I felt an extreme calling when I went to Haiti,” Suzei said in a 2015 Chelsea Update article. I wanted to go somewhere where my eyes would be opened, and I saw a need in Haiti.”

“Suzei and her family have worked in Haiti for almost 35 years,” Jason told Rotary. “I married into a family that was working in Haiti and when I asked Suzei to marry me, she said, ‘Only on one condition – if you take me back to Haiti.’”

The couple married, built their businesses and a family, and Jason kept his word. They made their first trip together to Haiti in March of 2013 where they organized “mass food parties and passed out tons of clothes” as Jason describes it. “We did huge feeding of 500 to 1,000 people. We would do leadership and business talks. We realized it wasn’t a lack of resources as much as a lack of education, and I knew that was something we could do.”

Jason told us, “Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Just getting the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter are a problem.” Another trip soon followed, and then another. In three years they made 20 trips to the impoverished country.

In 2015, Suzei and Jason founded the solution-driven nonprofit Project 418 as an effort to come alongside and work with Haitian communities to develop sustainable initiatives that create long-term change.

The name “Project 418” comes from the scripture in Luke 4:18 which states, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free …”

“We knew that was a part of us,” says Jason. “We wanted to heal the broken-hearted.”

Six months later they opened Hope Center and went into the slums of Citie Soleil, a place Jason told us “the U.N. calls the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere with thousands of children living in the streets.”

They rescued 43 kids on that first trip. A year later, they opened a second Hope Center in Delmas and saved another 35 kids. Jason told the Rotarians about one young girl, Neeka, whom they found sleeping in the gutter. The team literally had to pick her up and take her with them. She had been abused and then abandoned. A few weeks at Hope Center transformed her into a smiling, happy young girl … now safe.

The task in Haiti is daunting. “People bring their children to us but we just can’t take them,” Jason says. “We’re not ones to go out and raise money. We do business to raise money to support this project. This is only the second time in 15 months that we’ve spoken. These presentations aren’t our norm, but we love to watch people become a part of this and see what it does for them to become a part of something bigger.”

The Povlich’s are planning another trip to Haiti this Fall and are inviting those who may want to join them to come along and see firsthand what Project 418 is doing in the lives of the children at the Hope Centers.

Dates for the trip are Oct. 23-30 and the team will be completing some much needed living space, funding a new roof for a multi-use building, painting a mural, bringing art and music education as well as other educational support.

More information about Suzei, Jason, Project 418, and their trip can be found at https://www.project-418.org/

 

 

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