AROUND HERE, what does $35 get you? Maybe a pedicure at a neighborhood nail salon or a sack of groceries at the local Acme?
Even in a recession, for many of us $35 is a negligible amount, a sum that people might not think twice about blowing on something trivial like a trendy T-shirt or a few mojitos with friends.
But that same amount spent in Haiti - whose residents are among the poorest of the poor - that same $35 can provide an impoverished youngster with a month's worth of schooling, including two hot meals a day.
Maggie Jean-Gilles, wife of Philadelphia Eagles defensive guard Max Jean-Gilles, has been trying to get anyone who will listen to understand the profound difference that $35 can mean for the life of a child in Haiti, where 80 percent of the population lives in dire poverty.
Jean-Gilles, also known as Maggie Joseph, stopped by the Daily News yesterday to talk about a new school with which she recently became affiliated. The Genecoit Vertus School of Excellence opened in the village of Francois on Sept. 7.
What Jean-Gilles saw there is night and day from the privileged existence she leads as the wife of an Eagle and as the reigning Mrs. Camden County, but one that she feels connected to, since she grew up in Haiti and knows all too well what life is like there.
Cars rarely pass by the forgotten part of Petion-Ville where Jean-Gilles' school is.
There's no running water or electricity.
Most residents are farmers, who for generations have worked the land for cabbage, beans, corn and other crops.
Families of eight live in one-room huts.
Social services, such as health care, are practically nonexistent. Bare-footed, orphaned children survive by begging door to door.
Originally intended to serve 50 students, 108 students have enrolled in the tuition-free program at Genecoit, where Jean-Gilles is executive director. When the doors opened in September, women came bringing not only their own children but others. Some were so malnourished that teachers couldn't begin to guess their ages.
One 14-year-old showed up, even though the school had been intended for students 10 and younger. School officials couldn't bear to turn her away since, like many of the other students, the girl had never attended school before.
For many of the students, the two meals they get at the school each day is all they get to eat. The kids do their schoolwork on individual blackboards, the same way early American settlers learned.
"We are starting from scratch with the kids," said Jean-Gilles, whose son turns 2 next month. "We had 7-year-olds who couldn't get past B" when reciting the alphabet.
Jean-Gilles became involved in this project after a childhood friend, Genese Vertus, contacted her and requested that she help him reopen the school that his late father had run. After seeing the need firsthand, Jean-Gilles said that she had no choice but to commit herself to do whatever she could for the students, including trading on her husband's status as a professional athlete to raise money.
In November she organized a fundraising cocktail birthday party for her husband at the River Winds Restaurant, in Deptford. And she'd like to get other Eagles' wives to help come up with charity ideas. Her goal is modest - to get 108 people to each pay $35 a month, the way she does. Right now, Jean-Gilles is among just a handful of sponsors who cover the school's expenses. "Max and I . . . this is his contract year. We are not even close to the million-dollar mark. But you can't go through life without giving back."
To learn more about the Genecoit Vertus School of Excellence, call 239-633-4987 or log onto PassionRescueMission.org. Donations can be sent to the Passion Rescue Mission, 2711 Park Windsor Drive #301, Ft. Myers, Fl. 33901.