Replacements Bassist Stinson Helps In Haiti

Since he picked up a bass guitar and dropped out of 10th grade to hit the road with underground legends The Replacements in Minneapolis in 1983, Tommy Stinson has sold millions of records, performed all over the world and secured his place in the rock ‘n’ roll canon.

As he prepares to embark on a European tour with Guns N’ Roses, Stinson, 43, is devoting his time and money to a new passion: helping children left homeless by the Haitian earthquake.

Photo: AP Photo
Attending the graduation ceremony for former street youth at the Timkatec school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

This summer, Stinson will hold an online fundraiser by auctioning personal and donated items that will be posted on his website, including an autographed bass guitar and two of his signature custom-made plaid suits.

“We’ve got some stuff to auction off that I think will span all three bands I’ve been in, from Soul Asylum, Replacements, Guns N’ Roses,” he told The Associated Press during a recent interview at his home and recording studio outside Philadelphia.

“We’re just going to try to do our best to raise some money to help in our way, help the kids the best we can.”

The mechanics are still being worked out, but the goal is to have it up and running before Stinson leaves for Europe to tour with Guns N’ Roses at the end of August.

“It’s not just people talking about it that’s going to help the earthquake survivors get past this,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of years. … We’re just trying to our little share of the work here with what we’ve got.”

After he decided to donate the proceeds of the upcoming auction to charity, a friend suggested Timkatec, a nonprofit founded in 1994 by a Roman Catholic priest to house and educate more than 500 children in the Port-au-Prince area.

“They pay for education and food and supplies for these kids who basically have no families, no life, no nothing, out on the street, as young as 5, 6 years old,” he said.

Rather than just writing a check, Stinson wanted to see firsthand where his money would be going and recently traveled to Haiti with the goal of “besides getting financially involved, getting emotionally involved.”

In late July, attended a graduation ceremony for 60 young men from Timkatec who earned trade degrees. The school trains destitute boys for work as plumbers, electricians, tailors, shoe makers and construction workers; its sister school trains teenage girls as cooks, hairdressers, seamstresses and child care workers.

“You can see the pride in their faces. You can see the hope. You can see the gratitude,” Stinson said a few days after returning from Haiti.

The experience was eye-opening, he said. Driving through Port-au-Prince, it was obvious that Haiti was in dire straits long before the earthquake, but he was inspired by the aid workers and the young graduates he met during his visit.

“These kids have to be able to focus on something other than their own misery,” said Patrick O’Shea of Sanford, Fla., founder of Friends of Timkatec in America, which raises funds for the Haitian organization’s relief efforts.

O’Shea, 70, was born outside London during World War II and understands the burden of growing up without parents: His mother was killed in an air raid and his father died of tuberculosis while fighting overseas.

“I’m not a rock fan personally, and I didn’t know anything about Tommy,” O’Shea said, “but I do know that this is a guy with his heart in the right place, flying down at his own expense to see what we do, coming here to help raise money to help these kids.”

As the Jan. 12 earthquake falls off the radar screens of many Americans, conditions in Haiti remain dire: An estimated 1.6 million people continue living under tarps and tents on dangerous ground.

Little reconstruction has been done since the magnitude-7 quake pulverized the capital. Piles of rubble and thousands of collapsed buildings remain where they fell. Even transitional shelters are a rarity for most.

Stinson wants to keep Haiti in people’s faces – and he intends to enlist some of his rock ‘n’ roll friends in the effort.

“I don’t really have the money to do this kind of thing, but I put aside the money because I think it’s important,” he said.

Though he’ll be spending much of what remains of 2010 on the road with Guns N’ Roses, Stinson suspects that his help for Haiti won’t end with the upcoming auction.

“After … spending 30 years of chasing the rock dream,” he said with a laugh, “you know, there’s a few more important things in life than that.”