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On Jan. 12, 2010, the lives of thousands of Haitians were forever changed in 53 seconds by a devastating earthquake, leaving many homeless and in need of medical care. It was during the immediate aftermath of this grave natural disaster that Sean Penn founded J/P Haitian Relief Organization as an emergency response to save lives. And with each passing year, millions of dollars are raised to help to rebuild the country.
On Friday night, the organization held its annual gala, an event that usually takes place in Los Angeles, at Sotheby’s in New York City, co-hosted by Bryan Lourd and David Geffen. Many of Penn’s friends were in attendance, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Campbell, Ellie Goulding, Andy Cohen and Donna Karan, who came to show their support for the organization’s newest initiative, Haiti Takes Root, which is helping with reforestation following Hurricane Matthew.
“Haiti was devastated by Hurricane Matthew,” Penn said as he explained the new initiative, “and I watched from another country as news organizations said no one is doing anything for these people.”
Haiti Takes Root will for the first time ever be able to reverse hundreds of years of deforestation, thanks to the generous donations of its supporters, many of whom were in attendance on Friday night. And it was with the help of DiCaprio, who, after making an incognito entrance, made himself very valuable in raising funds. The actor and activist added himself to one of the auction items in order to up the ante from $200,000 to $225,000. A dinner experience with Penn and former President Bill Clinton was bid on for $200k, but Leo said aloud he’d also join the dinner if someone would make it $225k, which they did.
It was a night to remember, with acoustic performances by Damien Rice and Andra Day, who, in the spirit of the evening, performed her hit “Rise Up,” bringing everyone to their feet for a standing ovation.
To close out the event, Penn took to the stage to share a few more words: “Haiti could be an example of not how bad a country could be, but how it could rise up from its current situation and achieve something better. And if it can happen in Haiti, it can happen in the rest of the world, and that becomes an example to the rest of the world on how hope and renewal can be found in the face of death and devastation.”
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