Student to visit school in Haiti named for uncle

Jenna Branchizio, a Henderson State University sophomore from San Antonio, plans to visit a special school in Haiti this summer that educates more than 600 vulnerable students in grades 1-8. The school is named for her uncle, John Branchizio, a Navy Seal who attended Henderson in the mid-1980s.

John Branchizio had served as a board member for Mercy & Sharing, a U.S. based non-profit organization providing care and education to abandoned, orphaned and disabled children in Haiti. He was very active with the organization.

In 2003, John Branchizio was killed when a bomb exploded beneath his vehicle while escorting U.S. Embassy officials in the Gaza Strip. Mercy & Sharing wanted to honor his life, service to his country and to the children of Haiti. So they named a school after Branchizio.

Twelve years later, Jenna Branchizio will see firsthand what her uncle had so wholeheartedly supported in the small Caribbean country just south of Cuba. In fact, she already plans to one day become the school’s administrator.

“The co-founder of Mercy & Sharing (Susie Krabacher) contacted me because she was really close with my uncle,” said Branchizio. “She had been in contact with my mother for a couple of years and wanted to get me involved since the school was named after my uncle.”

Branchizio said she didn’t know much about the school until later in high school. Krabacher called her in September 2014. “I never imagined that one day she would call me wanting me to be involved,” Branchizio said. “After my trip this summer, she wants me to visit more often and eventually take over the school.”

Branchizio will visit in May for two or three weeks. “I plan to meet all the children and sit in with some of the classes,” she said. “I’ll also talk to the graduating students. They also want me to make a speech at graduation.”

The trip has Branchizio a little nervous. “It’s impoverished, but they built a fence around the area,” she said. “I know it’s not going to be the same as it is here. I also have a soft heart… I’ll try not to cry when I see the children.”

Even though John Branchizio died while his niece was young, he has been a great influence in her life. Jenna Branchizio remembers “a very big guy who was very sweet and helpful. He always wanted to help children, and that’s what he did.”

Jenna Branchizio, a dietetics major, credits her uncle for her decision to attend Henderson.

“I came to Henderson because of him. That was my sole reason,” she said. “I looked into it at first just because he went here. I soon realized that it had a really good program for my major, along with an ROTC program.”

Branchizio plans a military career when she graduates from Henderson. She then hopes to take over the John Branchizio School when she retires. “It works out perfectly, so when I actually do end up taking over, I can help with the food and all the diet plans,” she said.

Located in the Cazeau region of Port-au-Prince, the John Branchizio School is consistently rated in the top 10 of the 400 surrounding area schools. More than 600 students are enrolled in primary and secondary education, which includes a hot meal every day.

Ninety-five percent or more of the children consistently pass the state exam, compared to the national average of 40 percent.

Mercy & Sharing was established in 1994 and serves more than 1,200 children annually through a variety of projects, including the John Branchizio School.

“John was fearless and would have given his life for any of the children here,” Krabacher said at a memorial service. “John was larger than life.”

For more information about Mercy & Sharing and the John Branchizio School, go tohttp://haitichildren.com/.