Promise Due



Virginia Montanez with Ali and Jamie McMutrie at their orphanage fundraiser in Nov. 2009.

Photo By Mike Woycheck

"If you ever need anything, just let me know. I’ll do everything I can for you, OK?”

I’m 35 years old, and I have never said anything even remotely close to that to anyone. Not ever. So I really can’t explain to you why I said those words to then 21-year-old Ali McMutrie, of Ben Avon, as I hugged her goodbye at Altar Bar in the Strip District, where I attended a fund-raiser last November for the BRESMA orphanage she and her sister Jamie, 30, managed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

But I did. I hugged her, looked her right in the eyes, and I said that to her. She returned to her life in Haiti shortly thereafter. It was about six weeks later that Haiti was ravaged by a 7.0 earthquake that left BRESMA crumbling, forcing Jamie, Ali and their young charges to move to the orphanage yard with a limited supply of food and water.

It was late afternoon on January 13 that I received a phone call at my home. On the other end was Pittsburgh Magazine’s Jonathan Wander, a dear friend who first brought Jamie and Ali’s story to light when he wrote a feature that explored their lives in Haiti saving and caring for orphans.

I could hear a touch of panic in Jonathan’s voice as he explained to me the dire situation in Haiti and particularly at BRESMA. I listened as he relayed a hastily written e-mail the McMutrie family received from the girls, begging for help in evacuating the orphans to America before food and water ran out, before sickness set in and before inevitable panic-fed violence breached their walls. They were terrified for their children’s survival.

“If you ever need anything, just let me know. I’ll do everything I can for you, OK?” Payment had become due on that promise.

With Jonathan by my virtual side, we went to work to see if we could use social media, particularly the readership at my blog and my Twitter account, to spread Jamie and Ali’s need for help as far and wide as we could in as short a span of time as we could.

I knew in my head that, of course, calls to senators and other politicians would EVENTUALLY allow BRESMA to be reached, but I also knew that if we could make this story prominent, help would arrive so much faster—before the inescapable happened and before what could have been a triumphant story became a very tragic one.

My role behind the scenes of the BRESMA rescue was never about me, other than my extraordinary desire to live up to my words to Ali. It was about the children. Saving those children.

I began with a tweet that simply said, “I’m about to seek your help in finding some very rich and very powerful people. Be there for me.”

And Pittsburgh, as always, was there for me. The outpouring that resulted immediately following that tweet was, in a word, explosive. ‘Burghers began spreading the call for help to their friends, their co-workers, their readers, their readers’ readers, anyone who might know anyone and on and on. Some spent HOURS contacting our politicians. Some went to the famous, bombarding their Twitter accounts with pleas on behalf of Jamie and Ali. Some e-mailed me to offer help with clothing, supplies, money, foster care and access to supplies on the ground. “ANYTHING!”

It didn’t take long before their efforts began paying off. Author Neil Gaiman, actress Alyssa Milano, actor Channing Tatum, the powerful The Bloggess, the even-more-powerful Heather Armstrong, of Dooce fame, and Pittsburgh’s own iJustine heeded the call and began spreading the word to MILLIONS of people around the world with a few clicks of their keyboards.

CNN took note that Twitter had been besieged by talk of a place called BRESMA and sent a crew to reach the girls, thus shedding the first major media spotlight on Pittsburgh’s true heroes, Jamie and Ali McMutrie, who refused to leave Haiti without a single one of their children.
That media spotlight is what led to a push by our politicians that culminated in the orphans of BRESMA being rescued—many of them brought right here to Pittsburgh.

There’s so much to this story—so much to tell about how Pittsburgh’s people didn’t think twice when the call came to help their own through a devastating natural disaster. About how through the power of social media, Jamie and Ali received water and food when they most needed it. I simply don’t have the space here to explain it.

I just wanted to be sure that you know—that the world knows—that the BRESMA orphanage was saved because of the selflessness, bravery and fortitude of Jamie and Ali McMutrie and because of a viral fire of concern that was sparked right here in Pittsburgh by regular ‘Burghers with big hearts.

I learned a lot that terrifying week in January about the good and bad in people. I learned about true heroics. I learned that there are people whose nature is to be completely selfless even in the face of death. I learned that the next time I make an impulsive “I’ll do ANYTHING for you, OK?” promise to someone, I can rest assured that Pittsburgh has my back.

And that is one of the most comforting feelings I’ve ever known.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

For comic book fans, it's the equivalent of black Friday, only much more fun.
Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

The stunning photo of a star trail around Mt. Rainier took two hours to shoot.
Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Governor Tom Wolf, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald say the PUC went too far when it fined the ride-sharing company $11.3 million.
The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

Most people crawl deeper under the covers during a nighttime thunderstorm, photographer Dave DiCello does just the opposite.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
The Eaglets Have Landed

The Eaglets Have Landed

The bald eagles nesting in Hays once again have given birth to a new generation. We take you into the nest to see how quickly the two chicks are growing.
Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Severino's follow-up to Cure is already winning national accolades.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

For comic book fans, it's the equivalent of black Friday, only much more fun.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

The much-anticipated Japanese pub from Tamari's Roger Li and Round Corner Cantina's Derek Burnell will serve food and drink deep into the night.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Lawrenceville's New, Different Nighttime (and Morning) Destination

Lawrenceville's New, Different Nighttime (and Morning) Destination

The Abbey on Butler — part coffeehouse, part restaurant, part bar — could prove to be a major Lawrenceville destination.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

The Bucs’ wild-card failures the last two seasons have cast a shadow of doubt if not impending doom over a season that otherwise ought to be ripe with promise.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Local fashion line Kelly Lane has the perfect dress to kick off your summer style.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Captain America: Civil War is the Best Marvel Flick Yet

Captain America: Civil War is the Best Marvel Flick Yet

The superhero throwdown caps a hot streak for the comic studio. Plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

You don’t always need blue skies and sunshine to have a beautiful and memorable wedding. One couple shares their advice on making the most of a rainy wedding day and what to do when the forecast is less than ideal.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation hosts a one-of-a-kind house tour on May 7.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
A Week of Education for Adults & Children Alike

A Week of Education for Adults & Children Alike

Remake Learning Days, a program offering new and future-forward educational experiences, is set for various spots throughout the area.

Comments