THE BLOG

What Makes My Heart Happy This Holiday Season

11/30/2011 10:39 am ET | Updated Jan 30, 2012

We started planning the 2011 "Happy Hearts Fund, Land of Dreams: Haiti" gala the morning after our 2010 gala, which featured Thailand. Each year, we highlight one of the nine countries in which we operate in an effort to take our supporters around the world without ever having to leave New York City.

This has been such an amazing year for HHF with highlights including a partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that will enable us to help the children of Haiti get back to learning in safe and happy new schools. Happy Hearts Fund has rebuilt 56 schools in 5 years (with another to be completed in December) including a kindergarten in Haiti that serves 101 children. Before the kindergarten was built, the children were going to school in temporary structures.

At the gala we wanted to celebrate the hard work of our volunteers, recap the past twelve months of progress and thank our incredible sponsors and supporters who are essential to helping us rebuild children's lives after natural disasters (Thank you, ING, Microsoft, HP, DLA Piper and all others who assisted!).

When thinking of an honoree, we wanted someone who has been on the forefront of Haiti's recovery and has provided a sustained response to that recovery. With that thought, we had only one person in mind, Sean Penn. Sean was one of the first responders in Haiti and has committed to a sustained response, no matter the challenges for him or those in the NGO he founded J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

Sean graciously agreed to accept our "Lifetime Achievement" award. While accepting his award, Sean told the audience: "Education is Haiti's current emergency and in the absence of a proper education dies the mind and the soul." Those were powerful words that resonated throughout the evening.

We also honored our good friend and Galtere Ltd. Founder and CIO, Renee Haugerud with our "Heart of Gold" award. She shared her thoughts on Haiti with the audience: "Sustainable solutions will lead Haiti back to prosperity and there is enough love in the room tonight to uplift a nation." (We love you Renee!)

During the dinner, my friend, Josh Groban, performed an inspirational set concluding with one of my favorite songs "You raise me up" (I also danced to that song during my stay on "Dancing With the Stars"). Simon De Pury, Chairman, Phillips De Pury & Company, led a spirited live auction that concluded with donors directly supporting the building of kindergartens and schools in Mexico, Indonesia, Haiti and Peru. Eleven schools were pledged and the live auction portion of the night raised over one million dollars, while the evening overall, raised over $2.3 million!

The entertainment continued after dinner when my friend and one of Haiti's best friends, Wyclef Jean, shared the incredible spirit of Haiti to everyone in the room. The supporters were treated with an amazing show and Wyclef went above and beyond (Thank you Wyclef!).

With all of those things taking place in one night, and guests proclaiming, "I want to go to Haiti!" our 2011 Happy Hearts Fund, Land of Dream: Haiti gala was a big success. We are already at work on the 2012 gala and next year will be even better, so stay tuned.

I'm also happy to announce that in 2012, Happy Hearts Fund will build at least 10 schools and help thousands of children affected by natural disasters. Knowing that makes my heart happy this holiday season!

Lots of love light and Happiness,
Petra