PACIFICA (KPIX 5) – A business trip to Haiti changed the life of a Pacifica woman. This former paralegal and mother of three is now dedicated to improving the lives of families by bringing clean energy and the hope of a brighter future.

Michelle Lacourciere couldn’t believe her eyes when she visited rural Haiti for the first time in 2009.

“The poverty is so extraordinary that it just doesn’t seem possible,” she remembered. “Here was something inside of me that said ‘you have to do something… do something!'”

So back home in Pacifica, Lacourciere launched a small, sustainable biofuel program to help Haitian farmers. But that was just the beginning.

On January 12, 2010 a major earthquake devastated the island nation. Using her contacts, Lacourciere helped organize the largest earthquake relief effort in the Bay Area. The project spurred her on to tackle one of that country’s biggest issues.

“Energy is a huge problem,” she said. “Only 1 in 8 people has any access to electricity. So without access to electricity, you are locked in grinding poverty.”

At a recent event in Washington, DC, Lacourciere showed off the centerpiece of her sustainable energy solution:

“It’s a solar generator, a 1.5 kilowatt solar array… and that equipment is designed to charge portable battery packs,” she explained.

Each generator, which is placed in a village, can charge and recharge 100 portable battery packs. Each portable pack can charge cell phones and light a home for 5 to 7 days before recharging. That’s 100 homes at a cost of just $6 a month — what an average Haitian family spends now for kerosene.

“Watching a child turn on a light bulb — an 8 or 9-year-old child turn on a light bulb for the first time — it is an astonishing thing to witness,” Lacourciere reported.

“I think it’s nothing short of miraculous to be honest,” added volunteer Jennifer Shedd.

Shedd marvels at the impact Lacourciere has had: so far her non-profit, called Sirona Cares, is operating 14 generators and battery packs that are serving 7,000 people.

“She is giving them the ability to make their life better long term, not a short term thing,” Shedd said.

So for creating long-term, sustainable changes that are improving lives, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Michelle Lacourciere.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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