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 August

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Riverlife hopes the temporary project will lead to permanent, decorative lighting of all three of the city's Sister bridges.
Mt. Lebanon Native Daya Nominated for MTV Video Music Award

Mt. Lebanon Native Daya Nominated for MTV Video Music Award

It's the first MTV nomination for the 17-year-old singing sensation.
Remembering A Rescuer of Gentle Giants

Remembering A Rescuer of Gentle Giants

Richard Kohl devoted most of his adult life to caring for homeless large-breed dogs.
10 Things You Might Not Know About The Old Allegheny County Jail

10 Things You Might Not Know About The Old Allegheny County Jail

The former Allegheny County Jail on Second Avenue, Downtown, remains one of Pittsburgh’s most iconic pieces of architecture.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our 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 August

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Edit Module

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Riverlife hopes the temporary project will lead to permanent, decorative lighting of all three of the city's Sister bridges.

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
A Thyme and Place

A Thyme and Place

Old friends Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves reconnect via Facebook and collaborate on a historical cookbook.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

The local pubs that fly the Sharp Edge banner remain a favorite for top-notch beer and tantalizing grub.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Optimism With An Asterisk As Good As It Gets In Steelers Training Camp

Optimism With An Asterisk As Good As It Gets In Steelers Training Camp

Although NFL teams never simply pick up where they left off the previous season, there’s reason to believe the 2016 Steelers could resemble the team that came agonizingly close to knocking off the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos in Denver last January.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

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.
The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

Reviews of "Ghostbusters" and "The Infiltrator," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

This Pittsburgh bride brought all the details together for a flawless “Alice in Wonderland”-themed wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Coming Soon: Historic Lawrenceville Building Ready for Makeover

Coming Soon: Historic Lawrenceville Building Ready for Makeover

Real estate crowd-funding platform Small Change Pittsburgh is raising funds to transform the Butler Street building.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments