Longform

Healing Haiti

Page 4 of 6

"Yeah, I think so," Aaron replies after flipping through a few pages while on the phone.

"Did you double-check?" she asks.

"Um, no. Not really."

Sure enough, one of the last pages in the application is missing Aaron's signature.

"She's good," Aaron says. "Valerie also handles all the thank-you notes. It turns out when people send you money, they like it if you write them a letter once in a while to say hi. Who knew?"

Over his bed is a bulletin board loaded with various letters he has received. One is a small note on purple stationery. It's from an elementary school student who sent Aaron a donation. "She may have raised like three dollars or something," he says as he examines the note. "But I'm definitely going to write her back. She just saved 150 children. Kids respond to things like that."

Below that note is a letter from Gov. Charlie Crist, personally thanking Aaron for everything he has done fighting hunger and helping the environment. "I don't really care as much about these kinds of things," he says. "I know that sounds bad, but that's how it is."

Next to Crist's letter, Aaron has tacked up an unfolded napkin covered in red numbers. "This is my version of a spreadsheet," he says with a smile. The numbers on the napkin represent Planting Peace's monthly budget. Lines of addition and subtraction are scrawled in every direction. "Each one of those 700s is one orphanage," he says. There are five. "When you're responsible for a bunch of orphans — these are like my kids, ya know? — you damned well better know where the money's coming from."

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.


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."

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Michael J. Mooney