Healing Haiti

Aaron Jackson went from homeless to hero. Now, with the help of Rainn Wilson, he's trying to cure a country.

Above the door to the bathroom hangs a dry-erase board with a calendar drawn on it. "This is something new I'm trying," he says. "We have to bring in an average of $170 every day just to break even. That's before the deworming, before the deforestation, before everything. It's $170 a day just for the food and to run the shelters." On each day, Aaron has written a number: 20, 70, 250, 0, 10 — money has slowed since the early CNN days. Donations made via PayPal.com are written in blue, checks in green, and everything else in red. "I've really never had to worry about the money side of things before," Aaron says. "If we wanted to do something to help someone, like building a new school or something, we just did it. Somehow the money was just there. I promise I don't even have a clue about how it worked. And I've only been doing this for, what, four and a half years?"

Now he's in the unusual position of manager, and it seems every venture he has started now needs more of everything. He has been thrust into the uncomfortable position of fundraising. "I'm just an idea guy," he says. "I don't know anything about raising money."

But if Aaron is making a transition from charity boy into philanthropy man, he's about to have his bar mitzvah.


Aaron Jackson
Orly Olivier
Aaron Jackson
The worm show
Orly Olivier
The worm show

The route to the W Hotel is marked by ten-story pictures of P. Diddy drinking vodka and Bel-Air mansions so large that even the Fresh Prince would have thought them rare. Larry King is sending a producer to cover the Rainn Wilson event, so Aaron arrives at 11 a.m., two hours before the party will begin.

Aaron and Wilson had emailed dozens of times discussing details of the party, but the two had never met. When they see each other in studio number three on the second story of the W Hotel, Wilson drops his bag and gives Aaron a bear hug, lifting him off the ground. Wilson wears a tie with a black vest, a long black jacket, black jeans, and Chuck Taylor Converse shoes. Aaron wears jeans and a T-shirt that reads: "30,000 Kids Die of Hunger Every Day."

Once he catches his breath, Aaron introduces his 15-year-old brother, Will. Wilson introduces his wife, author Holiday Reinhorn. They chat about women's education around the world. Aaron explains how people running orphanages in Haiti often steal the aid money, leaving the children homeless and starving.

The décor includes bright-purple sunflowers that rest on each table, and large paintings of the faces of Haitian girls and boys sit on easels.

This party is all Rainn Wilson's idea.

He was in his trailer on the set of The Office, in the San Fernando Valley, battling to get a wi-fi signal. When his computer pulled up the CNN.com homepage, the featured story that day was about Aaron.

"Aaron's story really struck a chord with me," says Wilson, who is a member of the Baha'i faith, which stresses unity across humanity. He speaks with compassion, wholly unlike the characters he has played on The Office or in Juno. "The thought that this child of privilege, this kid who literally grew up right in the middle of a golf course, would give up everything he had and dedicate his life to helping people, that really resonated."

Wilson quickly fired off an email to Aaron telling him what great work he was doing, adding at the bottom: "By the way, I play Dwight on the TV show The Office. If there's anything I can do to help you out, let me know."

Aaron doesn't watch much television, so he wasn't sure what to make of Wilson's email. But after a few seconds with Google, he recognized the opportunity.

"First Aaron would send me these emails," Wilson says. "He'd say, 'OK, how about you dress up like Dwight and go out to the streets and try to sign people up to donate like $100 each?' Or 'Why don't you dress up like a homeless person and go knocking door to door around Beverly Hills?'"

Wilson suggested a party instead. "I wanted to make this a big event to raise the money for Aaron, for the people of Haiti," he says, "but I also want to establish a West Coast presence for Planting Peace."

As the luncheon's official start time nears, Wilson says he isn't nervous, "but it's so hard to get people in L.A. to come out to a charity event. We've had more than 100 RSVPs, but when Sunday morning comes and you have to get out of bed and get dressed and drive down to the hotel, we'll be happy if we get 70."

Before Larry King's folks arrive, Wilson goes into another room with his assistant, Adam Mondschein. There they rehearse the worm skit. Mondschein explains that the most worm-like costume he could rent was Patrick the Starfish from SpongeBob SquarePants. "We need it to look like feces," Wilson says. "What looks like feces?"

He practices slapping the head and delivering a realistic knee to the groin. They decide to remove Patrick's pants and cover the costume with black electrical tape and twisted toilet paper.


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