Jared and Annie Brown of Tarpon Springs have been working to help poverty-stricken Haitians since 2007.
And early last week, they were heartened.
It was about 3 p.m. Jan. 12 and they had just spoken to the mayor of Delmaf, one of three Port-au-Prince regions, about a new hospital they had consulted on. Mayor Jean Gael told the Browns he planned to snap photographs of the structure the next morning and e-mail them. He was excited about the hospital's progress.
The photographs never materialized. Just two hours later, an earthquake struck.
"We don't know if he's alive," said Jared Brown, 31. "Right now he's missing. We've connected with his assistant, but no one has seen Jean. He's a person of the people. If he's alive, he'd be out on the streets."
Jared Brown had already planned to go to Haiti in February. He will be on a team of volunteers for Project 81, named for the village 81 miles outside Port-au-Prince that they've focused their attention on the last three years.
In March, Project 81 plans to send a train-car-sized crate with hospital supplies and whatever is needed most.
Their mission has shifted to help with the recovery from the earthquake.
"We don't know if the hospital is damaged or destroyed," said Jared Brown, choking up as he spoke. "We worked on it for a year, bringing nurses and doctors who helped construct a floor plan and consult on medicine, equipment, and beds needed.
"We committed to bringing medicine and equipment. Jean was elated that the 800,000 people living in the area would have medical care."
The three-story hospital was to have 15 beds, a third floor designated as a pediatric wing and a dental care facility. Project 81 will still bring hospital supplies, but hopes the Tampa Bay area will help with donations of money and whatever provisions are most needed.
Last year, Project 81 teams made four trips to Haiti delivering provisions to Destiny Village, a nearby village that houses an orphanage. They handed out de-worming pills and much needed food.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, had contacted the Browns last year after reading about the local couple's organization in a St. Petersburg Times article.
"Given the extent of the devastation in Haiti, it's important we all come together as a community and lend assistance," Nelson said. "Project 81 has a record of doing such work."
It's unclear whether Annie Brown will go on the February trip to Haiti. Other volunteers on the team will include two nurses, a photojournalist and a two-member documentary team.
All pay for their own transportation, with people coming from as far away as Missouri and North Carolina, and as close as St. Petersburg.
In addition, the team possibly could include six doctors from Living Waters, a Project 81 partner out of South Florida.
Clay Nylund, 25, of Tampa, the third founding member of Project 81 along with the Browns, will be doing his part here. Nylund, Annie Brown's brother, teaches at Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa and will organize the collection of goods with help from 15 students.
While the hope is that Mayor Jean Gael will be found, Project 81 plans to continue his work by helping the Haitians not only survive, but also prosper, Jared Brown said.
Gael had purchased two garbage trucks and widened the streets, which was a first for the area, Brown said. Plus, he had given financial aid to take children off the streets and get them into schools.
Gael's depth of commitment so touched the Browns, they planned to nominate him for CNN Hero.
"Last time I was in Haiti, we stood together on the hospital roof and looked out over the ghetto. There was a rainbow in the distance," Jared Brown said. "Haiti's people are hard workers and Haiti can flourish, if its people get the opportunity.
"We know not everyone can go, but we'll have footage to show the most effective way to help. If any positive can come from such tragedy, it may be the people of Haiti capturing the world's full attention"