As a gifted tennis player who attended the Ross Tennis Academy, Tripp Tuff understands firsthand one of life’s basic maxims: Talent is universal, opportunity is not.
That may be why the 25-year-old Bridgehampton resident has launched himself into a leadership role with Wings Over Haiti, the East End-based charity that has built two schools in Haiti, a country of grinding poverty where humanitarian work is one of the few lifelines for children and their families.
Or, perhaps, it’s because as a 12-year-old he would come home from school and tennis practice to hear his father, Al Tuff, a builder, speaking with Jonathan Glynn, a Sag Harbor artist and the founder of Wings Over Haiti, about building a school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. It was 2010 and the country had sustained its most devastating earthquake, which wiped out 90 percent of its schools.
“My dad was very, very involved,” Mr. Tuff said, describing his father’s volunteer work as a building consultant in the design of the first Wings Over Haiti school, which today has more than 250 students. “He advised Jonathan and the team on construction costs and materials, and I would hear him talking about it all the time, so I was very aware of the work he was doing. Then, as I got older, he encouraged me to get involved in the organization.”
Five years ago, Wings Over Haiti broke ground on its second school, in Ranquitte, a remote mountain village with 400 children but no school. The younger Mr. Tuff began volunteering at the organization’s annual summer benefit — Hamptons Artists for Haiti — its main fund-raising source, which has facilitated the opening of four classrooms for 100 students in Ranquitte, along with a basketball court and a garden.
But Mr. Tuff, who played tennis at DePaul University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a master’s degree in public health, knew there was more to do, especially in the area of health care. During college, he was a member of Global Brigades, a student-led, nonprofit humanitarian group that sent him to Honduras and Guatemala to work on outreach programs there. Now, he wanted to apply that experience to Haiti.
Last year, Mr. Tuff approached Mr. Glynn and his co-director, Arthur Bijur, and offered his services: to secure additional funding through health care grants, particularly to cover the cost of medical supplies and nutritional meals for schoolchildren in Ranquitte.
“Whatever it takes to help improve the lives of the students when they’re at school,” he said recently, between teaching tennis at private courts around the South Fork.
It’s a slow and ongoing process, he said, adding that he has teamed up with Jade Sheinwald, a recent master’s graduate of Columbia University who specializes in international education development. Their work will continue into the fall, even though Mr. Tuff will join the staff at Hofstra University as an assistant coach for the men’s and women’s tennis teams while waiting to hear about his applications to medical school.
In March, Mr. Tuff flew to Haiti for the first time and visited the Ranquitte school, where he spoke with teachers, parents, and children. “The kids seemed really happy to get a good, healthy meal every day,” he said. “And, we provide filtered water, which is huge.”
Magalie Theodore, a Haitian-American whose family owns the Ranquitte land upon which the school stands, explained its importance for the village. “The school has grown beyond the realm of mere education. It serves as a sanctuary and provides solace from the chaos that envelops families each day.”
But the lack of medicine available to the school nurse was of particular concern to Mr. Tuff. “The cleanliness and healthy environment of the school doesn’t always translate to similar conditions in homes, which means a lot of runny noses, as well as viral and fungal infections,” he said. “But the nurse can only treat the kids with whatever medications she has available, which isn’t much. So my goal is to outfit her with medicines to treat all kinds of illnesses because the nearest medical facility is an hour’s walk away.”
“Tripp brings a new energy and set of skills and interests to our effort,” said Mr. Bijur, who has volunteered with the organization since 2016. “His focus on the health of our students adds another dimension to the school’s role in the children’s lives and the community.”
Harnessing youthful energy and passion also led Wings Over Haiti to join with the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, as it seeks to implement a pen pal program and offer mentoring opportunities to its students. On July 29, the grounds of the Hayground School will be the new location for the sixth annual Wings Over Haiti benefit bash, which will include a silent auction of the works of more than 60 East End artists as selected by Folioeast, as well as an open bar, food, raffle prizes, and live music.
Mr. Tuff will be there, too, splitting his time between bartending duties and manning the buddy program table, where donors can sponsor Ranquitte students, the very ones he met in March.
Tickets and more information are at wingsoverhaiti.net.