Elizabeth Fantozzi: Marketing & Public Relations Manager
If you are familiar with Lakeside, you have probably seen Willy Sommervil around the grounds cheerfully greeting people and busy at work with his painting and pressure washing business, Willy Worry Not.
Sommervil has been a part of the Lakeside community for 36 years, but grew up near Gressier, a remote mountaintop village in Haiti.
After working nine years for an American Protestant missionary in Haiti and over four years with the United States Coast Guard as a translator, he left Haiti in 1986 to pursue new opportunities in the States. He was invited to Lakeside by the missionary he worked for in Haiti and liked the area so much he decided to settle here.
Haiti is a place he holds dear to his heart, and since 2000 he has worked to help Haitian orphans. His most recent focus has been improving conditions at the Gressier orphanage, home to 60 orphans.
Projects have included adding a 300-gallon water tank and pump house that can be powered by hand, generator, or solar power, which Sommervil self-funded as well as showers, bathrooms and a kitchen which were completed with the aid of donations.
“The smell of the orphanage was terrible. A hole in the ground was used by everyone in the orphanage, it was overpouring like lava,” said Sommervil. “The kids had big bellies and skinny bodies, they needed help.”
Sommervil has been self-reliant for the bulk of his humanitarian work, but he knew the dreadful living conditions of the Gressier orphanage would require additional resources to make the necessary improvements. Once he learned of the need, Lakesider Wesley Kline, and his church in Mount Vernon, Ohio, partnered with Sommervil and accompanied him to Haiti for several projects. Along with Kline, Willy turned to his friends in the Lakeside Guys’ Club.
“Willy is a great guy. He has been a Lakeside Guys’ Club member for forever. He is an extremely generous human being,” said Dick Swanson, Lakesider and Guys’ Club creator. “I claim he is the most generous person I know, and I am very grateful to have him as a friend.”
“Willy can navigate that culture and get things done because he knows the people and the contractors, and I can help with the fundraising. We make a wild team,” said Kline. “It’s been a tremendous project, and to see what he has been able to accomplish is amazing. He’s saved a lot of souls down there.”
Sommervil also helps the community outside of the orphanage by purchasing bags of rice for families who need help finding their next meal.
“A man told me that for three days he couldn’t feed his family,” said Sommervil. “By giving that family that bag of rice, he told me I was helping them live for two weeks.”
This past November, Sommervil and Kline started working on their next project, building a school for the orphanage that would provide educational opportunities to children ages three to 18. In addition to the 60 children living in the orphanage, around 110 children and visitors will come from the outside community for daycare and other services. The school is set to be finished by the end of this month.
Sommervil emphasizes that he relies on God to accomplish his work. “I am just trying to help the kids,” said Sommervil. “If they are happy, then I am happy.”
Orphanage donations can be made at mulberryumc.org or by sending a check to: Mulberry Street United Methodist Church, 205 North Mulberry St., Mount Vernon 43050. Write “Haiti Orphanage” in the memo line.