When Phyllis Wittner, a Larchmont resident and Mamaroneck Town councilwoman, read about the club, she knew they would face an additional hurdle: funding and orchestrating the expensive series of vaccinations required for travel to Kenya.
That’s where her husband came in: Dr. Murray Wittner, a specialist in pathology and parasitology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the director of the Travel Clinic at Montefiore Hospital, contacted Mount Vernon teachers Tashina Haywood and Josephine Kirkland Hudson to be sure they had the necessary information. He met with the parents and staff at the school to answer their questions and concerns.
“After that, Dr. Wittner went on a true mission to make sure we had the vaccines,” said Ms. Haywood.
First he suggested the teachers contact Sanofi Pasteur, the pharmaceutical company, for help in defraying costs of the vaccinations. Dr. Wittner volunteered his services, as did the staff at the Travel Clinic, but Sanofi Pasteur was not forthcoming with the vaccines.
Plan B was to put the teachers in touch with Dr. Victor Shuster, head of Albert Einstein’s Department of Medicine, to see if the vaccines could be purchased at a reduced rate. Dr. Shuster flatly refused. “We’ll cover the cost completely,” he told the teachers.
So, on three separate occasions, the Mount Vernon children and adults trekked to the Travel Clinic in the Bronx for their shots.
Dr. Wittner oversaw their vaccinations. “The kids were absolutely terrific, he said. “I’ve never seen a group of 10 to 12-year-olds so well-behaved.
With the help of Dr. Wittner and his colleagues, the Longfellow group saved thousands of dollars. The total cost of the trip, originally $3000 per family, was reduced to $2300. Additional fundraising by the school brought the cost down another $340 per family. The school also raised $5000 to buy mosquito nets for the Kenyans they would be visiting.
A Thank You Award – and Then the Trip
For their generosity and support, the Wittners were invited to the O Ambassador Club’s thank you celebration at the school on May 28, a few days before the trip. All of the donors were there, including the teachers and parents who sacrificed to make the trip possible.
“To my surprise, they gave me a plaque honoring me as a humanitarian,” reported Dr. Wittner.
“He’s awesome,” said Ms. Haywood. “There is no other word.”
The children made their trip in early June and are now back in Mount Vernon. “The kids were able to see a different culture and appreciate what we have,” said Ms. Haywood. Both the adults and children were also amazed at the unity of the children at the school they visited.
At one point, after days of rain and mud, “we saw the [Kenyan] children – on their own during recess – get up and get stones to build a pathway” so they and the visitors could walk through the yard without getting muddy.
“It was a blessing for our children to see that with team work a dream works,” said Ms. Haywood.