c. 1997 Religion News Service
UNDATED _ When Dr. Laurent Pierre-Philippe won a $10 million jackpot this year, he didn’t quit his day job or rush out to buy around-the-world cruise tickets. Instead, he joined a small but growing number of lottery winners who are using their good luck to do good.
The Baltimore doctor, 55, hopes to use much of the money to support education and job creation in his native Haiti. He’s also finding that doing good isn’t always easy.
Pierre-Philippe and his wife, Josette, were on vacation, on their way to a New Year’s Eve celebration at Disney World, when they stopped at a 7-Eleven in Kissimmee, Fla., to buy $50 worth of Lotto tickets. A few days into the New Year he found out his machine-generated quick pick had won the jackpot. “I’m not interested in buying nice clothes or taking fancy trips; I’m interested in doing what the Lord will allow me to do,”Pierre-Philippe said.
And Pierre-Philippe didn’t quit his job. In fact, he quickly used the first chunk of money to meet the pressing needs of the clinic he has run for the past 10 years in Baltimore’s low-income Franklin Square neighborhood. His Community Medical Rehabilitation Center treats patients recovering from strokes, accidents and surgery.
Before his Lotto windfall, Pierre-Philippe feared he would have to lay off some of his staff. More than a third of his patients can’t pay their bills, and recently the clinic had been losing paying patients to managed care programs.
Pierre-Philippe’s next thought was of what the money could do for his impoverished native town, Port-de-Paix, in northwestern Haiti.
“I had a dream, to see a nice road between the two towns I come from _ the road, then the airport, and then the port. But the money is not enough to do even one,” he said. Right now he’s trying to figure out which of several projects would be of most benefit to his country.
And the money doesn’t come all at once; Pierre-Philippe will get $500,000 a year for 20 years.
In the past 15 years, 15,000 Lotto millionaires have been created, according to Rich Holman, editor of Lotto World.
“You see the same thing in Lotto millionaires as you see in mainstream society,” Holman said, decrying the media focus on winners who blow the money and end up with their lives in a mess. “Most are pretty decent people, with strong charitable inclinations.”
Holman doesn’t keep precise statistics, but has plenty of anecdotal evidence of Lotto millionaires donating to good causes.
For example, in the four years since they won $30 million in Florida’s lottery, Harry and Dorothy Durling have given away more than $300,000 to charities, including the Salvation Army and the United Negro College Fund. The Durlings, who plan to donate at least $100,000 a year for the remaining 16 years of their payments, were surprised to be audited by the Internal Revenue Service. The agency was skeptical about a tax return in which a couple was more than tithing _ giving a tenth to charity, as set forth in the Bible.
Holman’s favorite is Sheelah Ryan. Ryan, who died in 1992, used much of the $54 million she won in Florida’s 1988 lottery to set up a foundation primarily to help single mothers abused by boyfriends or ex-husbands.
Out in California, Sister Josephine Contris, a 76-year-old Catholic nun who had kept her avid lottery playing a secret, has given her $1 million prize to her order, Mount Alverno Convent in Redwood City. The money mainly supports a retirement home for nuns, but a little extra goes to each of the convent’s 22 sisters to donate every year to the charity of her choice.
There is an excellent practical reason that Sister Josephine, Pierre-Philippe and others donate money to charity. The money is taxed at 40 percent or more, and charitable gifts are a way to decrease the proportion of that income that’s taxable.
Choosing your own charity is also a good way of resisting the wave of outside pressure. Not surprisingly, Lotto winners get a lot of phone calls and letters.
“I tell them,” said Pierre-Philippe, “I do not have enough to do what I want to do with my own philanthropy.”
Sticking to his guns was comparatively easy for Pierre-Philippe because he already had plans in place. Years before he won, he had established a foundation in the name of his parents _ the O. and N. Pierre-Philippe Foundation. After his father lost his job, Pierre-Philippe’s mother, Oita, put her son through medical school by working as a seamstress.
“Dormant” is the word Pierre-Philippe choses to describe the state of the foundation before he hit the jackpot.
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Some of the projects he’d already begun with other Haitian-Americans have perked up considerably since the lottery win. He’s a partner in developing a CD-ROM in English and Creole with medical information specific to Haiti. For a long time he has been sending books to Haiti to help children read; the illiteracy rate in northwest Haiti is close to 80 percent. He has a plan to restore mineral springs near his home town, a tourist attraction he believes could do a lot for the region where the average family income is less than $150 a year.
Pierre-Philippe is wary of too much planning and of dictating to others. He left Haiti in 1970, after Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier had declared himself “president for life.”
“There is a kind of Haitian, he has everything set in this mind, he doesn’t care what others say,” Pierre-Philippe said. “We have a problem with that in our country.”
MJP END CASEY