Haitian earthquake survivor, now an Alvernia student, plans to pay it forward

Junior Bernard, majoring in business, hopes to create jobs for people in Haiti

Quake survivor, Alvernia student plans to pay it forward

READING, Pa. - Junior Bernard looks like just another student at Alvernia University in Reading. The 24-year-old man, however, has one heck of a story.

His American dream started in poverty in Haiti, where in January 2010, Bernard experienced firsthand the devastating earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people.

Bernard's story of survival ended up in an email he sent to his American friends. Unbeknownst to him, that email would wind up in some very important inboxes. One belonged to Joseph Cicala, dean of students at Alvernia.

"We were really taken with Junior. He was taken with our university community," said Cicala.   

Bernard said he was already coming to America thanks to his sponsor and friend, Bill Barr, of Bridgewater, N.J. Even before he stepped onto the plane, Bernard said he was offered a full ride at Alvernia  to continue his education. In an instant, Bernard said his American dream became a reality.

"When you think about it, me from Haiti, from a poor neighborhood, today at Alvernia. This is unbelievable because you would no way think this was possible," said Bernard. 

That was Bernard's mentality in April 2010. Nearly three years later, the business major said he knows his life's mission will forever be to pay it forward.

"I've become a motivational speaker and, if I didn't go through anything in my life, there is no way I would have a message to share with people," said Bernard.

Bernard said that, believe it or not, through it all he knew that, "No matter what happens in life, there is hope."

Students and faculty fill Alvernia University's lecture halls to hear Bernard's message when he gives his presentations.

"I think of Junior and realize, you know, I really have been granted a lot of great things in my life and to not overlook them," said Aaron Benusis, an Alvernia student. 

These days, Bernard said he is writing a book with the hope of motivating others to never lose faith in their dreams. He also has dreams of owning his own business. His plan, he said, is to be able to give back to his motherland by investing in Haiti and creating jobs for its people.

"I was born poor. And today, I'm taking my life somewhere," said Bernard.

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