Back to school for the SJF Boys!

Back to school for the SJF Boys!

Education and family are two important components to the SJF philosophy of raising responsible and caring children. The five young men supported by St. Joseph’s Home are learning those lessons in very real ways. All the boys live either with their families or in a foster care situation. This allows them to experience family life and be a part of the larger community. Four of the boys are continuing their academic education, which is provided for by St. Joseph’s. The fifth young man is getting ready to embark on a vocational education, which will give him the foundation to support himself.

Photo of Steevens

Steevens

Steevens, whose mother and father are both deceased, lives with his uncle and attends a school in the neighbor where he lives in the Bon Repos section of Port-au-Prince. He is in ninth grade and his favorite subjects are math and politics. Steevens has big plans for his future with his dream being to someday become a lawyer. For now though, his favorite pastime is playing soccer. He plays on his school’s soccer team.

Gasthy, a member of the St. Joseph Family in Haiti

Gasthy

Gasthy and Ti Ralph are brothers. They share the same mother, but have different fathers. Ti Ralph’s father died when he was young. Both boys live with their mother. Gasthy is in seventh grade. He took the government exams last year and did very well. His mother sells things in the market area and he always helps her transport her wares to and from the market. Gusty dreams of being a professional soccer player, but if that doesn’t work out, he thinks a good plan would be to learn how to install windows and work on a construction crew. Ti Ralph lives with Gasthy and their mother. He has struggled academically and did not pass his academic classes last year. Because he is getting older, the path for Ti Ralph is now to pursue a vocational education so that he can learn a trade to be able to support himself. He is thinking about learning how to install tile. In his free time he likes to sing and play soccer. He also helps his mother in the market.

photo of Wisleme

Wisleme

Wisleme lives with his mother. His father died when he was very young. He is in eighth grade and dreams of going to medical school. He likes to read and play soccer.

Lulu is from a very poor and remote mountain village. He is living in a foster care situation so that he can continue school and be supported by the SJF. He is in sixth grade and does very well in school. He loves to write and dreams of becoming a journalist. He also loves to play the drums and to play basketball.

Photo of Lulu

Lulu

Lulu, Wisleme, Gasthy and Ti Ralph all live in the same area in the mountains just outside of Port-au-Prince. Because they live close to each other, the SJF is able to provide a tutor for them. They meet with the tutor five nights a week to help them with their academic studies. Even though Ti Ralph is no longer attending an academic program, he also attends these sessions to continue his education informally. Because Steevens lives far away from the other boys, he studies on his own and with his classmates.

Besides paying for the tuition for the schools and vocational education for the boys, the SJF, through donations received for the Tree of Life program, is able to help with basic needs for the boys. SJF leadership members are present in their lives and meet with them on a regular basis.

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Beyond the Storm

Beyond the Storm

Friends, Your outpouring of love and support have been overwhelming. We can not thank you enough for your love, prayers, and financial support. While the St. Joseph Family was fortunate enough not to experience significant damage to their buildings, the damage they did suffer has a significant price tag to it. Evaluations are still being performed and estimates gathered, but as of right now, repair and replacement costs look like they will be upwards of $20,000. In addition, assessments are still being performed on the homes of employees and LST families, and we will share those reports with you when we receive them. But, thanks to the generosity of donors like you, repairs have already begun, and we are well on our way to meeting those expenses. Thank you!

Because you responded so quickly, the children and staff of the St. Joseph Family have been able to return to the comfort of their daily routines. Days are filled with school, physical and occupational therapy, friends, music, sports, tutoring, and lots of love. Every day the 32 kids at Wings, 5 boys under the care of St. Joseph’s, and 150 students at LST receive the best possible care – all because of the generosity and compassion of donors like you. But being able to continue to provide top quality care requires a simultaneous focus on ensuring there is proper funding to support the day-to-day operations of the SJF.  Below, we’ve highlighted a couple of fun and easy ways for you to support the ongoing needs of the SJF, and we’ll soon be announcing a very exciting matching grant opportunity. We need your help to spread the word about the transformative ministry of the St. Joseph Family and ensuring that there are sufficient funds to maintain this critical ministry well into the future.

Mèsi anpil, not only for responding so quickly in a time of great urgency and need, but also for being there – day after day, month after month, year after year – for Haiti’s most vulnerable children.

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Extended Family

Extended Family

In June I had the chance to introduce my daughter to Haiti, and to the St. Joseph’s Family.  Having said that phrase so many times, the word “family” starts to simply become part of the name, but this visit once again reminded me of its true meaning.

The only thing about the trip that worried me a little was the airport arrival, as I had previously arrived with a group including old Haiti hands.  It can be a bit chaotic, and seeing my brother Walnes standing at the end of the gauntlet of tap-tap drivers awaiting our arrival made my morning.  He made us welcome at St. Joseph’s in so many ways.

Perhaps the highlight of our entire 10 day trip was the invitation he gave to visit his new house under construction in Peguyville, just a couple of miles from St. Joseph’s.  It was so delightful to meet his wife, brother-in-law, toy poodle (no kidding!) and especially his two children, the youngest asleep in her crib.  My daughter fell in love with his son, who followed us upstairs as we took a tour of the construction site and heard Walnes’ vision for the house and his studio.  It was the sort of “family visit” one can expect when you are welcomed into St. Joseph’s family.

— Mark

new home construction

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What makes St. Joseph’s so unique?

What makes St. Joseph’s so unique?

My daughter and I had the chance to spend 10 days in Haiti in June, along with a group from another Haiti non-profit.  During our trip, we stayed in three guesthouses in Port-au-Prince, and it reminded me why St. Joseph’s Guesthouse in Petionville is the best.  Seeing Walnes at the airport awaiting our arrival began the hospitality. It continues once the gate opens and you’re greeted by a pitcher of ice water and glasses, and it doesn’t end till you are delivered safely at your next destination.

The spacious rooms, the bookshelf in case you forgot a book, the amazing breakfasts with fresh mango and Haitian coffee, the gourmet dinners, and the chance to see old friends and meet new ones — all make St. Joseph’s uniquely special. During this visit, however, my favorite feature is the remarkable view from the lounge atop the new building because it allowed me to show my daughter the entire city in one view.

photo of rooftop at st. jospehs

We had just arrived after a long day traveling, starting at 3 am, and it gave us the chance to see the city’s life unfold below us.  We watched folks doing laundry, chatting with friends, going shopping, flying kites, and chasing chickens. This panoramic view helped us understand we’d entered a new world, both exotic and yet so familiar.  It is unforgettable, and yet available each time I return.

— Mark

Sunset at St. Joe's

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Ralph’s story, Part 1

Ralph’s story, Part 1

When he was little, Ralph had a father and mother, but he did not have a functioning and supportive family. His young life was full of neglect, abuse and rejection. His mother abandoned him when he was little. His father was always chasing adventure and wasn’t a stable influence in his life. His dad grew up on the streets and often brought what he learned from years on the streets to his parenting style, and that meant beatings for Ralph. His grandmother was a loving presence in his life, but he couldn’t live with her for his entire youth.

Ralph’s father, Arnold, was one of the founding members of the St. Joseph Family. Even though his street habits were ingrained in him as a young man, before the St. Joseph Family existed, and therefore he struggled with always living a constructive life, he recognized the positive sense of family that the SJF created. When he became a father himself, he knew it was a good place for a child to be. When Ralph was little, Arnold would bring him to St. Joseph’s Home for visits. When Arnold needed a place for he and Ralph to live, it was Michael he asked for help, and they were allowed to live on a garden property owned by the SJF.

Ralph’s father, Arnold, was one of the founding members of the St. Joseph Family. Even though his street habits were ingrained in him as a young man…he recognized the positive sense of family that the SJF created. When he became a father himself, he knew it was a good place for a child to be.

One day when they were living on the garden property Ralph endured another beating from his father. With that beating, Ralph had enough and ran away. Ralph was about eight years old. Like his father before him, he ended up on the streets.

After some time on the streets a kind market woman took pity on him. She gave him cookies and eventually took him to the police station thinking they could help him. The police liked Ralph. He was quiet and polite and got along well with them. But, the police knew that Ralph needed a real home and told him they were going to take him to a good place where he could live.

Ralph was scared because he was afraid if they took him to St. Joseph’s Home his dad would find him. When they did take him there he did not want to stay and he was ready to run away again.

S-01-02-2002-17-13

 

Read Part 2 of Ralph’s story!

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Reading suggestions

Reading suggestions

Books have been on my mind a lot these days.  Alan Stone asked me to offer some good read suggestions for Didi.  That took me to a great bookstore and a fun time of searching through the bookshelves.  I also had a recent phone conversation with a good friend and SJF/HWH donor, Derek Harrison.  Derek was telling me about a book he has written. Derek then sent me a copy of that book.  A few weeks ago I received a book written by Renee S. Larson.   For those who love Haiti and SJF, for people who know they are called to service, here are two “must reads”.

Turning Times: Stories of People Who Serve.  What makes it a recommended read is the focus on people who serve.  Servant Leadership is  emphasized at St. Joseph’s in our formation of the young leaders we are raising up.

Derek writes in his preface, “For all our differences, one thing held in common is that all of us are trying to find our way in a world that sometimes allows us to float contentedly on a sea of calm water and at other times tosses us about in storms that threaten us with drowning. . .  Move not away from troubles and fears, but toward them.  This book is about people who do that.”

Chapter eight, Little Things, pages 331 through 336 focuses on Derek’s time at SJF.

Turning Times is a self published book through Starry Night Publishing.  The ISBN number is 9781519652942.  It can be downloaded on Amazon for $3.

A second suggested read is A Witness: The Haiti Earthquake, a Song, Death, and Resurrection, by Renee Splichal Larson.  This book tells about Renee’s experience of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. At the time of the earthquake, Renee, along with her husband, Ben Larson and Ben’s cousin, Jonathan Larson, were guests at St Joseph Home For Boys.  In the Foreword to A Witness, Rev. Norma Cook Everist writes: “This book is about a few minutes in history and about the years that surround them.  We live in the moment  and yet sometimes, suddenly, swiftly, some event changes everything.  How do we respond?  This book is intimate, deep, and profound, but not heavy; there is even some humor.  We laugh as well as cry.  We see people who go to amazing lengths to care for each other.  Care across boundaries: accompaniment!”

There are many references to SJF throughout Renee S. Larson’s sharing about a love that is stronger than death.

The ISBN number for A Witness is 978-1-4982-2626-6 (paperback);  978-1-4982-2608-0 (hardcover)  A Witness is published by Resource Publications, Eugene, OR.

Peace and all that is good.

Michael

 

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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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Haiti….. Heart…and Home

Haiti….. Heart…and Home

My heart was heavy, my spirits were down and tears that could flood a football field covered my face and soul as I watched with disbelief the result of the earthquake. My mind traveled back 24 years to a hot day in August in a crowded, no air conditioned room at the airport in Port Au Prince, Haiti. I was surrounded by 13, brown faced, bright eyes little boys, with my photo saying, “Villie, Villie?” Although, I didn’t understand them I recognized my face and said yes, I am Villie. With luggage, we exited the building and there beside a red truck stood a tall bearded face, with a wide smile was Michael, the founder of St. Joseph’s Home for Boys. Michael Geilenfeld at the age of 33, from Algona, Iowa came to Haiti 25 years ago as a Brother with the Catholic Church and from that work founded the home for street children.

When we arrived at the house, I was seated in a kitchen chair. Suddenly at the top of the stairs appeared the boys with flowers descending, singing, “Come into this house, praise the Lord.” Each gave me a flower and a hug, and by the time they finished I was an ugly crying mess of humanity.

In that moment, I knew that as long as I lived, I would be connected to this family, this home and these boys who which had claimed my heart, my spirit and my soul. Knowing the history of Haiti, I named my self, “Auntie Willie”, for as an African America mother these were my sister’s children.

This house at the end of the road was filled with purpose, energy, fellows travelers with different missions, and a sense of we—ness. The children and the paying house guests ate beans and rice as family. I looked forward to folks sharing their day and bonding with kids whose language I could not speak. Hospitality is when the host welcomes you, but there is also the atmosphere that is created by the host where all gather as members of the community and become family. In those early days, for $10.00 a day each guest was provided with 2 meals, safe drinking water, laundry and 24 hour security. These funds paid the rent and supported the needs of the boys, including education and empowering activities, art classes, music, dance, and or karate lessons and tutors.

Over the years I have traveled home to my “other” family, where I have seen the boys grow, finish school, learn trades, become self supporting, get married and begin their own families. I have cried at weddings, funerals, and blessings of new homes. I have cried with joy as we expanded our family by establishing a home for the physical and mentally challenged children. Feeling at home and unafraid each morning I have walked Demas, the main street, to volunteer at Mother Teresa’s Baby Hospital and in the evening rode the tap- tap, truck, or any thing that was moving to get up the mountain and home.

Now I cry as St. Joseph’s Home for Boys is no more, the building collapsed, but the good news is all of the family survived. My annual trip was scheduled for next Thursday, January 21st, the ticket is on the table, two packed duffle bags sit in the living room and I remain in prayer wondering what has happened to the babies, to the other folks I have met over the years.

The second house named Wings of Hope, next to the Baptist Mission, is now where Michael and the boys are living since their own home is uninhabitable.

I cry because a place that was safe & secure, clean & comfortable, a place where you lived in community with Haitians, that you heard roosters in trees crowing day and night, and dogs that become the hallelujah choir as they answered each other. You heard neighbors who might be having a not so friendly discussion work it out. St. Joseph’s rooftop was my Reality TV or HBO, for from there you observed laundry being hand washed, children being bathed or punished, witnessed young people play, study, fly kites and court on adjoining roofs, and the local barber or the beautician performed magic on their clients.

My memory will always yearn for nights on the patio as they were special for me, especially when the neighborhoods roof churches begin their worship. Where else can you see and hear the Lord’s name being lifted up the last thing at night, and before the break of dawn as Michael and the boys would gather in the chapel, meeting to give thanks.

In this house, because the other concrete houses are so close, the neighbor’s music became what I wanted to hear, the laughter of children is what I needed to remind me of what the silence meant when they were not allowed out after dark during the embargo. Seeing little children carrying water taught and constantly reminds me to be more grateful and less wasteful.

If you are not prepared to be influenced, to change, don’t read the history of Haiti and don’t accept the hospitality of this home.. For in the house, tell us what you need and we can show you how to live in abundance without it; learn to live without electricity 24/7, without A/C. microwave, the evening news, total privacy, hot showers, flushing toilets, or getting your socks back from laundry. But think of the joy of living with singing mosquitoes, daily hugs from boys who call you “ Auntie”, the recognizable laughter of the founder, excellent coffee, the beautiful and well prepared  meals — all speaking the visible sign of love.

Learn to live with other members of the family who care as much as you do and who can expand your world and worldview. Live with and know that we all come not only with special gifts, but also our personal needs. Haitians who have suffered from slavery and multiple invasion, try to maintain self-direction in spite of outside pressure and policies, and they seem to carry within them the ability to share, to love, and survive with dignity. I was there years later and watched Haitians of all ages stand in the broiling sun, without complaining just to vote for the first time.

This earth quake was a natural disaster, a wake up call which claimed the world’s attention and highlighted their daily struggles. St. Joseph’s Home for Boys will be rebuilt because we believe in the goodness of God and the people of God.

I have responded to calls saying what can I do, inquires from Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland, Georgia, and Illinois. Where do you run when the earth shakes, who do you turn to when your world falls apart, who do you lean on when buildings crumble, what do you hold on to…your faith, your family and your friends. The motto for the home is “with God all things are possible”. This is my belief; my faith tells me that we will rise from the rubble as family.

— Willie J. Dell

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An interview with Jacky

An interview with Jacky

Photo of Jacky Asse

Jacky Asse is the Director of Wings of Hope – a residential home for children with physical and mental disabilities – in Fermathe, Haiti.

How long have you been a member of the St. Joseph Family?
I came to the SJF in 1991 as resident. I started working for the St. Joseph Family as a dance teacher and choreographer in 1998. In 2010, I became the director of Wings of Hope.

How did you come to be a member of the St. Joseph Family?
My mother died in 1991 of AIDS. I then stayed with family members, but they did not treat me well. I become homeless for a time. A friend of my mother found me and my two brothers and took us to St. Joseph’s Home for Boys.

What made you want to become the Director of Wings of Hope?
It has always been my dream to do the same kind of work I saw Michael doing — helping others. When Michael offered me the job as the director of Wings he saw it as a dream come true. Working at Wings is a way to care for others to a high degree because of the challenges of the Wings children.

As Director of Wings of Hope, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
Putting together a team that cares for the children and works together to give them the best possible care, and many opportunities to learn, grow and know their value.

What has been your biggest “lesson learned”?
I have learned that everyone is equal. No matter what a person’s ability or disability may be, you have to treat all people equally, with dignity and respect.

What is your favorite Wings of Hope story?
I can see the changes in Junior, a young many with severe autism, over the years. For many years, Junior has been very withdrawn and shies away from people. But, I have recently seen a change in Junior, in that he is more involved with the activities at Wings, and in particular more interactive with people. I see this as the whole spirit of Wings, to make the kids know they are loved and supported so that they can be their best selves.

What do you most hope for the residents at Wings of Hope?
I want the Wings kids to know they are a real family and that they can care for each other with love. Even those kids with severe disabilities have gifts and value and that it takes all of them to make the family whole.

Jacky dancing with Wings of Hope resident

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My favorite Haiti experience

My favorite Haiti experience

Each year long-term volunteers dedicate a month or more of their time in service to the St. Joseph Family. Living alongside the residents and staff in one of the homes, they become authentic members of the family and become immersed in Haitian culture. The story that follows comes from Michael, a long-term volunteer at Wings of Hope during the summer of 2014. 

During the 3 months I lived in Haiti this summer, I was blessed with numerous impactful and incredible experiences. Specifically, I had an opportunity to connect with each and every resident of the Wings of Hope Community in Fermathe, Haiti. However, one such relationship stands out in my memory as the most impactful to me. One little boy, William, is the newest member of the Wings family. A few months ago he was dropped off at the front door, abandoned by his family. Naturally, Jacky and the entire St. Joseph Family welcomed William with open arms.

A few months ago he was dropped off at the front door, abandoned by his family. Naturally, Jacky and the entire St. Joseph Family welcomed William with open arms.

As with many of the children who find their way into the Wings family, we knew nothing about William. We had no information on his medical history, diet, nothing. Everything with William was a mystery! When I arrived in Haiti and met William, I instantly connected with him.

There was something special about this kid, and I wanted to find out what it was. After weeks of interactions, I finally felt like I was starting to establish a relationship with William—it was great! This was confirmed when the Wings family loaded up for the annual beach trip. Everyone was in great spirits and excited…except William. He wasn’t sure what was going on or what he was about to experience. Although I was not paired with William that day, I kept a watchful eye on him.

While at the beach, I ended up taking him under my wing and spending some intentional time with him to ensure he was enjoying himself. After 3 whole plates of food (that’s a lot!) he was starting to warm up to the experience. Next, with some coaxing, I was able to get William to enter to water with me. We had no idea if he had ever been to the beach before or if he had ever been swimming. He and I entered with great apprehension; however, within minutes he was all smiles. It was the most rewarding experience for me! I have never experience such genuine happiness!

Photo of Michael and William at the beach

This was my first experience in Haiti that assured me that I served a purpose in the SJF. After that, William and I remained very close and had lots and lots of laughs while I was in Haiti.

— Michael R.

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