Students from the CENA School in Haiti are using supplies donated from Vision 1804, founded by Darline Gilson and Briana Thezard when they were students at Mount St. Mary’s. Photo courtesy of Vision 1804

Mount St. Mary’s Grads are “Moving Mountains”

By: Megan McIntosh

In the JBK theater at Frederick Community College, Darline Gilson and Briana Thezard moved the audience as they discussed how they managed to start a nonprofit organization while still attending college.

The young Mount Saint Mary’s graduates spoke in early February as part of FCC’s Moving Mountains Speaker Series. The women are currently running Vision 1804, an organization they created that helps support educational funding in Haiti. They said the idea came to them during their freshman year.

“I really wanted to support students who weren’t able to support themselves,” said Thezard. Both women have Haitian roots. Gilson was actually born in Haiti herself, yet was one of the few lucky enough to attend school. However, she knew a lot of less fortunate people who were not able to attend classes. Gilson grew up wanting to help students in Haiti because of this.

Starting their organization did not come easily for the women. It required a lot of work and took a lot of time to set into motion.

“With everything you do in life, there are always sacrifices,” Gilson said. The two constantly gave up opportunities to party, watch television, or play games. Instead, they spent time brainstorming and working towards their goal of forming their nonprofit.

Gathering a board of directors proved to be one of the most difficult steps in starting their organization. With few options, they turned to social media, opening the opportunity to anyone who was interested. It still took a long time before they found people worthy and capable of the job.

“A lot of people wanted to gain something from it,” Gilson said. “They wanted to be paid, but we just don’t have the money for that.” Thezard added that many people wanted to join just to say they were part of the organization, yet they were not willing to offer time or effort to the cause.

Eventually, the pair was able to find people who wanted to help. From there, they communicated with a Haitian school to find out what supplies the school needed.

“We asked them what they needed instead of assuming.” Thezard said. As it turned out, the biggest necessities were tuition and basic school materials.


Darline Gilson, left, and Briana Thezard, founded Vision 1804 while students at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg.

Photo Courtesy of Moving Mountains

As of today, they have successfully provided a school in the Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince with supplies. Although the girls are currently only supporting one school, they hope to eventually help more. Though they make no profits, Thezard claims the thankful calls from parents are extremely rewarding.

As an overall message from their presentation, both women hope that listeners learn to understand that failure should not deter you.

“Of course you are going to experience failures in your life, but it is important to remember that failures are not the end and you should always keep going,” Gilson said. “You just need to find your purpose, and don’t let anyone stop you.”

Robin O’Brien was one of nearly 20 people in attendance. She heard of the presentation through her homeschool community and was thoroughly moved by the girls’ determination.

“It was really amazing to hear the story of young people setting a goal and accomplishing it,” O’Brien said. “With something that seems insurmountable to lots of people, like starting a nonprofit organization, watching someone set their goals and make it happen is pretty awesome.”

The audience was also able to ask questions and speak personally with the featured speakers after the presentation. They were urged to visit the Vision1804 website and work toward their current goals.

Gilson and Thezard were two of several speakers making an appearance this semester. Students interested in hearing speeches like this one are welcome to attend the Moving Mountains Speakers Series. Attendance is free and all interested parties are welcome.

More about Vision 1804 is at: https://www.vision1804.org/

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