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South Valley Riverton Journal

Masquerade ball fundraiser leads to clean water solutions in Haiti

Jan 08, 2020 01:58PM ● By Kaleigh Stock

By Kaleigh Stock | [email protected]

On Nov. 22, Now Charity, a young charity based out of the South Valley area, held a masquerade ball at Riverton’s Sandra N. Lloyd Community Center to raise money for water filtration systems for Les Cayes, Haiti. The Masquerade Ball featured 18th and 19th century dance lessons from the Old Glory Vintage Dancers, live entertainment and a silent auction. 

Kimberli and Tom Grant, a husband and wife duo, led the Old Glory Vintage dances. The pair has practiced vintage dances for almost 25 years. The Grants first learned vintage dancing at fundraiser balls they led when they lived in Georgia. When they moved to Utah and couldn’t find a vintage dance group, they decided to create one themselves. 

The couple led the dances in full garb, corset, hoop skirt, waistcoat, long gloves and all, but they were not alone in this effort. Most everyone in the room at the Now Charity Masquerade Ball for Haiti was decked out in full ball gowns or vintage suits and obligatory masquerade masks. With talented and experienced teachers at hand, crowd members picked up the dances quickly and seemed to enjoy themselves.

In addition to the formal dances, the crowd swayed and free-danced along to a cover of Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancing,” as sung by Kate Davis. 

Following Davis’ covers, Vashti Smith and Mark McOmber performed a dance. The dance appeared especially beloved by the crowd that cheered energetically in response to the performance. 

McOmber said he wanted to be sure credit was given where it was due. Grinning, he playfully said, “Smith is an amazing teacher. I am a student .... Mark isn’t anybody, except a student!” 

One of the most remarkable aspects of Now Charity is perhaps its chief executive. Now Charity was started by Dylan Sayre, a young entrepreneur from Sandy. At 21 years old, Sayre already runs a landscaping business, involves himself in other entrepreneurial projects, such as work in sales, invests the majority of his income in real estate and travels the world, all in addition to running Now. When the South Valley Journal contacted Sayre, he responded from Spain and Morocco where he was doing some personal, solo traveling to open his mind up to other perspectives. 

Where does Sayre’s drive and entrepreneurial ambition derive from? He said he wasn’t always so galvanized. In some ways, he had to grow up faster than other kids his age. When he was a child, his parents were addicted to heroin and he sometimes saw things a child should not have to witness. When he was 7 years old, he was separated from his parents and put into foster care. 

Sayre’s paternal grandmother later adopted him. He said when he lived with his grandmother as a teen, he was a bit of a “troublemaker.” 

“I wasn't a super crazy kid,” he said. “But I definitely didn't have any direction in life. When I was in my junior year going into my senior year of high school, my student counselor sat me down and told me that the way things were going, I wasn't going to graduate. That hit me really hard because I always wanted to be somebody, and so we made some extensive plans, and I dedicated myself to school and work from that point on.”

Sayre decided that enough was enough: He was ready to take control of his life and change its course for the better. He considered the lives his parents had led and the devastation it had brought to the family and realized something had to change. 

“I didn’t want to be that person,” Sayre said. “I wanted to have a positive effect on the world.” Clearly, becoming a troublemaker was not the way to reach the goals that had already begun to foment in his mind. 

Today, Sayre is compassionate toward his parents, but at the same time has learned from their mistakes without needing to make those mistakes himself. 

“Really, they are good people who went through some hard times,” Sayre said.  “They lost me as a son to the state and turned their lives around later. But when I grew up that way, it wasn't hard for me to realize that I didn't want my [future] kids grow up like I did.”

When asked about his motivation behind starting a charity at 21, Sayre responded, “Obviously buying a home and flipping it is not something most 21-year-olds are doing. It isn’t typical. I was trying to go above and beyond. With the charity, it was the same thing. I’ve gone out of my way to do something unorthodox.” He said he started the charity because he was ready to use his business-mindset to “do something worthwhile and positive that will help people and change lives.”

Sayre attributes his drive to both a strong, innate desire to “do big things” with his life and the influence of close mentors and friends. 

“Paniagua, a mentor and friend to me really helped guide me in the business world, and while I still have a lot to learn and grow, I think it helped me to realize that my friends and I really could run a charity together and make a positive impact, that it was doable,” he said.

Organized and thoughtful, Sayre has a natural business mindset. He said before taking the first steps, he wanted to make sure he had a clear direction for Now Charity. Using skills he had learned in college business classes and through his work in real estate and starting his landscaping business, he wrote up a comprehensive plan and delegated tasks to a powerful force of friends that includes Kaleb Gerke, Alex Dewey, Brigham Peck, Daxton Kopaunik, Brysen McDonald, Spencer Peck and Porter Degen. Sayre said each plays an individualized role essential to Now Charity’s mission.

Kopaunik, Now Charities data analyst and logistician, said that one day Sayre approached him out of the blue and asked if he wanted to start a charity. While it started as a lighthearted idea, Kopaunik and the other boys who helped jumpstart the charity jumped at the idea. Kopaunik says they felt that their youthful energy could be used for a positive purpose. 

“We’re young, and we’re blessed right now, so we might as well do something good and give a little because we’ve been given a lot,” he said.

Both Sayre and Kopaunik cited the severe lack of resources in Haiti as the reason they decided to focus on Haiti for their project. While the vast majority of Americans have clean drinking water, Haiti is a pocket of the world that has far too little access to this most basic of resources. 

According to one study, only 69% of Haitians have access to clean drinking water, less than any other country in the Western hemisphere. Lack of clean water was already an issue in the country when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake and following aftershocks devastated a large part of the country in 2010 and weakened the infrastructure further. To this day, the infrastructure in Haiti has still not been rebuilt to pre-earthquake conditions. 

“I see these kids and people down in Haiti that are growing up in such terrible conditions,” Sayre said. “Really, I think we can do better. I have a duty to help these people and help better their community as much as I can because at the state they're in they can hardly help themselves. I really just think it's the best thing I could do with my time.”

Sayre said there are many details that people don’t consider when it comes to a project as big as this one, starting with logistical hurdles such as creating and maintaining the water filtration systems themselves. In addition, he wanted to make sure that once Haitians received the water filtration systems, they would be able to use and maintain them. The board of Now Charity decided that biosand filters would be the best option because these filters can be easily replicated with materials found in Haiti. Once constructed, those filtration systems can last for up to 30 years if properly maintained.

Rebecca Yoo, a local civic engineer, has been instrumental in helping Sayre start Now, particularly in helping him understand water filtration systems and processes and how to test water for cleanliness and drinkability, among other logistical quandaries. He describes Yoo as “shy, but very intelligent,” and said he couldn’t have done this work without her.    

When Sayre began establishing contacts in Haiti, he and his team found a close ally in Sayre’s former coworker and friend of three years, Williamson Sintyl. Syntil is CEO and founder of ARISE Project For Humanity. ARISE is another local charity that is currently building a mentoring center in Les Cayes, Haiti. Sintyl says the goal of ARISE is “mentoring Haitian youth and teaching them that they’re capable, magnificent and enough.” Together, Sintyl, Sayre and their teams hope to take a multifaceted approach to create real change in the Les Cayes area and beyond.

When asked whether he believed the masquerade ball was a success for Haiti, Sayre declared, “Absolutely. Obviously Now is a small charity, but we have come a long way since our first events. We first did a car wash and made $300 for four hours of work. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Next, we did a fire walk and made about the same. We made far more tonight than we had at our other fundraisers, so we are very happy about that.” 

Now Charity has gone through expected growing pains, but both the organization and Sayre seem to have an even brighter future ahead of them.