Resurrection Living

Resurrection Living

In this story, Shelley Wiley, one of the founders of Hearts with Haiti, shares how the family at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys represents “resurrection living.” This is a family who – in many ways – is like any other. There are arguments, laughter, eye-rolling, and complaints about chores. But what has always set the SJF apart is their posture of genuine hopefulness and gratitude and the firm belief that, with God, all things are possible. 

In January of 1997 I took my first trip to Haiti and stayed at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys – this was in the days before the chapel and roof were complete. It was also before there was a pump system for water in the house, so a daily chore for the boys was hauling 5-gallon buckets of water to all of the bathrooms.

The house was full, with boys ranging in age from about 5 to 20, along with assorted guests. Laughter would ring out when guests and boys played games, or when the Sunday morning darts tournament was underway.

To this day, though, I still believe that what captured my heart was the evening gathering of the boys and Michael, to which guests were always invited. Any of you who have visited will probably have your own memories of “Bravos.” During bravos, boys give a “bravo” to others for things they did that were kind or for assistance given or even simply for being a friend. Bravos were followed by family discussion of random issues that needed to be addressed, such as missing school books or upcoming field trips. Last, the family would then turn to evening devotions and prayers.

During the prayers, boys would pour out their prayers of confession, owning up to ways in which they were not being who they could be. There were also prayers of thanksgiving for the life and resurrection and hope that becoming part of St. Joseph’s brought them.

They all understood, even the youngest, that their lives had changed from suffering to resurrection living.

Like all families and homes, things were not perfect. Sometimes the house ran out of operating money, and they would have to wait for their allowances. Sometimes some of the boys did not want to do their fair share. And yet, I couldn’t help but be moved by the raw honesty in the boys’ prayers and in their voices.

But, where it became most clear to me that Michael’s vision of providing “family” for the boys was a holy calling was in just how normal the boys were. The youngest ones needed help and attention. They sometimes drifted off to sleep during devotions. They looked at the older boys with admiration.

The oldest guys had moved into the stage of life where they understood it was time to be helpful and to give back. They willingly took on their chores. One would get up very early to go pick up the bread for the day. Another would get up early to make many gallons of sweet, sweet lime juice for all the others.

And then there were the young teens. At bravos, they would often roll their eyes as others expressed appreciation. They would poke at the little ones. At times they were a bit surly or in very grumpy moods. In other words, they were going through that change from childhood to young adulthood, with all the attendant changes in hormones and moods, and they did it freely. When they went too far in their grumpiness, their punishment was extra chores, or requirements to help the younger ones with their homework. Just like in a “normal” family.

As I have gone back again and again over the years, I’ve seen those same awkward young teens turn into amazing adults. They mature and grow, just like we all hope our children will do!

What I realized was that the boys of the St. Joseph Family were allowed to be who they were at the various stages we all go through as we mature. But they were also being nurtured into responsible young adulthood by Michael, the older boys, and even the men who had grown up at SJHB and came back on the weekends to visit.

They didn’t all make it. I remember one boy who had survived on the streets by stealing what he needed to live, and they could not get him to break that habit, and thus he had to leave. I remember another boy who simply thought the chores and daily routines of being a part of a family were not fair to him, and he left of his own accord.

But so many more did understand the new life and new possibilities that were given to them because of the St. Joseph Family. The ones who couldn’t manage family life were also given second and third chances to make the adjustment, and many were helped to survive on their own for a time when they couldn’t.

Finally, though, it has always been the eye-rolling that has given me the most hope. Being 13 years old is difficult anywhere, but even more so for these boys whose early lives have brought them so much suffering. I know in my heart that if these surly teens can grow into strong men, something akin to resurrection is surely going on!

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Being seen by Michael

Being seen by Michael

Some of us have been fortunate enough to have someone in our life who has looked past who we are and seen who we could become. Michael Geilenfeld was that person for me. I came to Haiti with an artist’s heart, but an undeveloped one. When I saw what Michael brought out in the boys who lived at St. Joseph’s, I knew I was onto something, although I could not have named it. The more I saw these street boys doing nearly professional level dancing in the Resurrection Dance Theater, the more I marveled at his ability to affirm people and actually make them think they could accomplish more than they ever dreamed.

Even after observing how one of Michael’s key beliefs affected these children – that the Creator obviously was a God of creativity and thus would be honored if His children developed that sense in themselves and He would affirm their efforts – I never dreamed that principle could work for me also.

Again, it was Michael who helped me realize my creative potential. I showed up in Haiti with a video camera I had barely removed from the box, and even though I had no experience, he opened himself and his mission to me, giving me full access to tell the story of St. Joseph’s. His unbridled belief that I could pull off such an ambitious documentary project convinced me also, and I went on to do several video documentaries about this remarkable ministry.

Shoe Shine Dance - RDTHI also went on to teach memoir writing at St. Joseph’s, and I have never worked with a group of students more open to creative expression. The boys then turned their memoirs into plays and performed their often-difficult stories of living on the streets to audiences who were moved beyond words. Michael had created a safe environment of love and support and affirmation through the arts that – in my experience – is unmatched.

I have returned to St. Joseph’s many times. I have been a group leader on many of those trips, during which I would be in charge of 15 or 20 adults or teens, and I have never seen a place that inspires people the way St. Joseph’s does. I would even say being welcomed into the St. Joseph’s family has changed the lives of many of those adults and children, in addition to me. His is a model of unconditional love and encouragement and affirmation that is rare, and I am eternally grateful that I have been a beneficiary of Michael’s enormous God-given creative and loving spirit.

— a founding member of Hearts with Haiti

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The Gift of Music

The Gift of Music

As if an evening of music wasn’t gift enough … this gift of music magically transformed into gifts of love and support for the children and young adults at Wings of Hope.

Let me back up…

Cathy, who is a very talented musician herself – and who also knows several talented musicians – has hosted a wonderful fundraiser for several years to benefit the children of Haiti. This year she brought together artists from nearly every genre – from ragtime to chamber music, from country / folk to broadway – to provide a wonderfully entertaining evening for members of the community.

But Cathy didn’t stop there. She wanted to use this event to do something even bigger. And bigger she did. By the end of the evening, Cathy had raised over $4300 to send to Wings of Hope. (That will fill a lot of hungry tummies with labouyi, Cathy!)

Mesi anpil, Cathy & friends, for your love and support and for your incredible dedication to our mission!

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Reconnecting with friends

Reconnecting with friends

Last weekend the Hearts with Haiti Board of Trustees came together to meet face-to-face for two days in Raleigh, NC. Because board members are dispersed throughout the U.S. and Haiti (we are fortunate to have both Bill Nathan and Daniel Jean Mary on our board), most meetings are held via teleconference. However, once a quarter we celebrate the opportunity to come together in person to both conduct business and share in fellowship.

In addition to a productive set of meetings, we made time to rekindle friendships as we came together to celebrate the 30th anniversary of St. Joseph’s here in the U.S. We received warm wishes from old and new friends, visited communities of long-term support (where Bill and Daniel entertained elementary students with stories from Haiti), and even got to enjoy the Haitian version of “happy birthday”.

What a blessing it is to be a part of this community and this family!

brothers separated at birth

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Happy Anniversary, St. Joseph Family!

Happy Anniversary, St. Joseph Family!

On January 31st, the St. Joseph Family in Haiti celebrated the incredible milestone of their 30th anniversary. To give a little perspective on how much has changed over the last 30 years, let’s look at what life was like in 1985 in the United States…

  • A gallon of gas cost $1.09
  • A movie ticket was $2.75
  • The average price for a new car was $9005
  • The FDA approved a blood test for AIDS
  • Popular films included: Back to the Future, The Color Purple, Out of Africa, and Rocky IV
  • The song “We Are The Word” was recorded by various popular artists to raise money for famine relief in Africa

I will refrain from sharing popular clothing and hairstyles with you…

In Haiti, “President for Life” Jean-Claude Duvalier (nicknamed Baby Doc) was in power, running a terrorist regime that resulted in thousands of murdered and tortured Haitians. (Thankfully and blessedly, he fled the country one year later…)

In 1985 many of the long-term volunteers who have served at SJHB and Wings weren’t even born yet, and the leaders of the SJF homes were just babies.

Suffice it to say that 30 years is a long time. And during this time, the St. Joseph Family has not only survived, but thrived, despite multiple coos, hurricanes, political upheavals, and a massive earthquake. The family has grown from a small unfurnished house to three thriving missions, providing services to over 200 of Haiti’s most vulnerable children. And the family has evolved, fulfilling the founding vision of a Haitian-led organization that raises their young children to be future leaders.

None of this would be possible if it weren’t for your gifts, your visits, and your prayers. Whether are a long-time supporter or are making your first trip to visit the St. Joseph Family this year, thank you for being a part of the family! You are the reason that we can celebrate this monumental achievement.

Congratulations, St. Joe’s!


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30 Years with the St. Joseph Family

30 Years with the St. Joseph Family
Thirty years ago I took a leap of faith and got into a cab to go across Port-au-Prince to visit Michael Geilenfeld and the five boys he had come to know during his time with the Brothers of Charity. His mom, Mabel, asked us to visit him at the start of his new adventure.
There were four of us; none of us spoke Creole and the cab driver didn’t speak English. All we had is the address Michael’s mom gave us.
When we arrived at the small house behind the cardboard factory Michael and the boys had just finished their morning meal. They had no furniture, only mats on the floor on which to sleep. They were hoping to get enough money to purchase a guitar and some furniture. What a humbling experience!!


Previous to our visit, some journalists from the Gazette, our hometown paper, had also been there. When we returned to Cedar Rapids there was a separate section in the Sunday Gazette about our trip to Haiti and their visit to Michael’s. They were so impressed with the work he had started.


In the past thirty years I have traveled to Haiti at least once a year. Most years I have celebrated their anniversaries with them in person, missing very few — which tells you how much they are in my heart.
The St. Joseph Family is my family.
We have watched many of these boys grow up and take on leadership roles. Gary and I have hosted the Resurrection Dance Theater at least three times. Each time they became more professional. I am so proud of them.


In 1994 we visited just after they took over Wings of Hope and they were still in the rented house. We visited the house in Fermathe that was to be remodeled and become their home. What a big leap of faith for the family.


I have witnessed through the years the growth of the family to include Trinity House in Jacmel and eventually Lekol Sen Trinite and now the new bakery.


A little more than 12 years ago my daughter, Renee, decided to join the family. We were so pleased with her decision and also a little frightened for her. I remember vividly leaving her in the square in Petionville to catch the bus to Wings of Hope. She has grown and prospered in the family, and I am very proud of her.


Since the earthquake five years ago many things have changed. The loss of two of the homes meant a long rebuilding process. The original house on Delmas 91 was purchased and used as a temporary home until the new St. Joseph’s home was build. What a joyful anniversary that was when the new building was dedicated!


Wings of Hope was very lucky to find two adjacent homes to rent so that they could keep the members of Wings of Hope safe. Although they have been made to be handicap-accessible, it is only nominally so. Hopefully this year they will be able to move into the new home being built in Jacmel. It is built on a flat piece of ground and will meet the needs of the Wings family very well. It is adjacent to Trinity House and the Nuovo Vi Bakery. It should open many new opportunities for the Wings family.


It is with great regret that I am not there in person for the celebration 30th Anniversary of the St. Joseph Family, but I will be with you in my thoughts and prayers.


These thirty years have not been without challenges, but “with God all things are possible” — as has been proven many times over the years. I wish all the best for all the family.


Michael is a very special person who wanted to help the children of Haiti. May God Bless him and the St. Joseph’s Family.


— Lucy Dietrich
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