Long before this month's earthquake in Haiti, Pelege Lareus tried to bring awareness to the poverty and need in his native country.

Long before this month's earthquake in Haiti, Pelege Lareus tried to bring awareness to the poverty and need in his native country.

Lareus, a Newark High School graduate, founded the Hand to Hand Foundation two years ago to support his village, Baie-du-Mesle, back in Haiti.

Baie-du-Mesle is in the southwest part of the country, west of Port-au-Prince, on the coast. Lareus, who moved to the United States when he was 13, has two sisters, a brother and other family members still living in Haiti. He said all are safe.

"Even before that, 17 years ago when I left Haiti in a boat, I always felt like the people in Haiti are misunderstood and need a helping hand," he said.

He said he formed the Hand to Hand Foundation to bring aid to the people of Baie-du-Mesle, and now they need more help than ever.

"They are not getting any aid," Lareus said. "There is no running water. My goal is to bring some light to them and give them a voice.

He said the First Congregational Church on East Broad Street is donating collections to the Hand to Hand Foundation, which is a registered nonprofit organization, and he is working on a fundraiser with an Upper Arlington teacher.

"I encourage people to donate to the organization of their choice," said Lareus, who now lives in Upper Arlington. "We need to raise enough money to go down there. We need to do not just a one-time thing; we need to do it continuously."

For more information on the Hand to Hand Foundation for Haiti, visit the Web site at http://handtohandhaiti.com.

gmartineau@thisweeknews.com