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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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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Hope reborn in Haiti

Hope reborn in Haiti

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” 1 Corinthians 13

Among our church’s longest and strongest Outreach relationships is that with the St. Joseph Family. Founded in the 1980’s to provide a home for boys living on the streets, it has come a long way and this year achieved two new milestones, in which our partnership played an important part.

In the 1994, the boys in St. Joseph’s Family saw a new need in their community. Many disabled children in Haiti were faced with bleak futures—they often were born into families without the financial resources to provide the care needed and some in the culture did not accept these children, viewing them as a sign of God’s disfavor. This led the St. Joseph Family to take a leap of faith, creating Wings of Hope, a home for disabled children, once again using the approach of rebuilding a family for those society had neglected and rejected.

The earthquake in 2010 shook the foundations of many institutions in Haiti, and the St. Joseph Family was among them. Both of their facilities were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. For the last five years, the thirty members of the Wings of Hope family have been living in a jury-rigged rental house in the hills above Port-au-Prince. The love and support of the caregivers remained unchanged, but the physical challenges of a three-story house accommodating severely disabled children, many in wheelchairs, were daunting.

Faith, hope and love are the true foundations of the St. Joseph Family, however, and they put these to work, dreaming of new facilities to replace the old, places where loving care could take place in a setting tailored to the needs of the children. With the help of their Raleigh-based fundraising arm, Hearts with Haiti, they raised money for a world-class facility and began construction. Your generosity through the Capital Campaign tithe played a key role in this process. In January the new Wings of Hope opened in Jacmel.

Our Mission Team visited the new Wings in late March and was blown away by the new facility. Brightly colored, all on one level, and surrounding an open-courtyard, it’s a facility designed with the needs to the disabled first and foremost.

The bCardsoy’s rooms, paid for by your donations, was bright and spotless, with beautiful Haitian art decorating the walls, and the girls dormitory was similarly beautiful. The smiles on the faces and the joy in the voices of the children provided the clearest message—they love their new home. We were blessed to share the Easter service with them and were moved to tears by the way in which all, even those who cannot speak in words, are included in the service. We also had a chance to give each child a set of Easter cards made by the children in our Sunday School classes, which were received with great excitement.

The St. Joseph Family has also experienced a second re-birth over the last year. The plan of the founder was to ultimately turn over leadership of the Family to the alumni of the program. That is now coming into fruition as boys who grew up in the family have become young men, and are assuming leadership roles. Three of them, Maya Fond-Rose, Daniel Jean Mary, and Walnes Cangas spent the last three weeks in the US, meeting and thanking supporters and spreading the word about the good work of the family. A group from our church shared dinner with them, hearing first hand of their triumphs and challenges. All of us came away with a new sense of commitment to our partnership, which has brought much to so many in Haiti and in our congregation. We also hope many more people in our congregation can join trips to visit Haiti, and experience the beauty of the land and people first hand.

– Mark, for Global Outreach

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Children Today, Adults Tomorrow

Children Today, Adults Tomorrow

The new program, “Timoun Jodi Granmoun Demen” (Children Today, Adults Tomorrow), directed by Bill Nathan, is already having a demonstrable impact on the lives of the young men involved. Bill developed this program to help the graduates from St. Joseph’s Home for Boys transition into independent living through job skills and independent living skills training.

In Jacmel, Camelo (a graduate of the SJF) is heading up the program for the boys who graduated from Trinity House:

  • Dadzy is attending music school and making good use of a drum set that was gifted to him. Because he is blind, he has additional challenges that he has to overcome, but he is working hard to achieve his goals! His goal is to become a professional drummer; in the meantime he works at Wings playing drums for the kids during their therapy classes.
  • Peter is going to school to learn how to be a carpenter. He also works full-time cleaning Lekol Sen Trinite and part-time at the guest house in Jacmel.
  • Reginald also has both physical and mental challenges, but he also embodies the Wings motto, “possibilities, not disabilities”! Reginald is working as a cleaning person at Wings of Hope, and according to the SJF leaders, he is extremely conscientious and a very hard worker.

Camelo is working hard to teach these young men how to live independently, beginning with teaching them how to save their money by putting it into a bank account. With all the training they are receiving, they will one day be prepared to give back to the community of Jacmel.

Bravo, Camelo, Dadzy, Peter, and Reginald!

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Transitioning into independence

Transitioning into independence

In 2013, the World Bank reported an unemployment rate in Haiti of 7% (the unemployment rate of youth 15-24 is over 17%). At first glance, the statistic doesn’t seem all that bad – especially given a 5.5% unemployment rate in the U.S. However, consider that over two-thirds of workers do not have formal employment. Without proper education and training (only about half of all Haitians are literate), most Haitians are forced to choose between an unreliable income and deplorable, unsafe working conditions. And because the country’s challenge is a shortage of skilled labor, opportunities for sound, reliable employment are only available to those with proper training and education.

The St. Joseph Family has always emphasized a quality education as a cornerstone of the ministry, providing tutors and individual attention so that each child can grow into their fullest potential. And now, St. Joseph’s Home for Boys is embarking on building the next logical step to facilitate the transition from St. Joe’s to sustainable employment and independent living.

Timoun Jodi Granmoun Demen (“Children Today, Adults Tomorrow”) provides each young man at St. Joseph’s with personalized career counseling and a transition plan for moving toward financial independence. Together, the boys and their mentors will identify a vocational path and the steps necessary for achieving their goal. Regular one-on-one meetings will ensure progress is being met and identify any necessary course adjustments.

Wootrod, Sonson, and Emmanuel have already begun their journey toward adulthood and are the first participants in the program. We are excited to see what the future holds for them, but we need your support to provide them with a future full of possibilities! Mèsi anpil!

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What is done in love is well done

What is done in love is well done
The reflection below is written by Sara, a long-term volunteer at Wings of Hope. Jonas, who passed away recently, was an SJF employee working at Wings of Hope. He loved and was loved by many. 

Jonas grew up at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys and was one of the original street boys who started what is now the ever-growing St. Joseph’s family. The values of respect, hard work, and faith that he learned there as well as the love and acceptance he received growing up in the St. Joe’s family, are part of the reason why Jonas became who he was: someone who could help even the most broken heal and find hope.

When I came to Wings of Hope for the first time in 2011, Peterson was one of the most quiet and withdrawn people there. He mostly kept to himself except when he was working with Jonas to wash the residents’ laundry. Jonas understood Peterson, and they had a connection that is hard to put into words. Peterson came from a background that afforded him little trust, especially for adults, and Jonas knew just how to make Peterson feel at ease. They were “best buddies,” to say the least. The consistent mentorship, compassion, and attention that Jonas gave to Peterson is one of the largest reasons why I believe Peterson began to slowly open up to visitors and why he has become one of the more engaging residents currently living at Wings of Hope today. Jonas helped to nurture Peterson’s ability to be vulnerable with those around him.

Van Gogh once said, “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much, performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” Jonas lived his life full of love and commitment to others, and it was such a beautiful life.

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Rest in peace, Jonas

Rest in peace, Jonas

The reflection below is written by Alice, a long-term volunteer at Wings of Hope. Jonas, who passed away recently, was an SJF employee and worked at Wings of Hope. He was loved by many and will be missed dearly. Rest in peace, Jonas…

I got to know Jonas while interning at Wings of Hope. On my first day there I was very overwhelmed and intimidated. I had been 4 times before but never on my own. I decided to choose laundry because I would be doing something hands-on. From that day forward, Jonas became my best friend at Wings. He taught me most of my creole (very patiently), opened up to me and told me all about his life, upbringing, wife and kids, he took me to the market to buy produce, and got me amazing deals!

The first time we went to buy produce, we were walking back to Wings and I slipped on the pavement and fell. I was bleeding profusely from my knee and toe, but it really didn’t hurt. He was so worried and slowly walked with me back to Wings and had someone come into the house and check on me multiple times. We used to go about once every other week after work to grab a prestige at the local shack.

As much as I knew he enjoyed just simply hanging out after work, I think he also wanted to come to make sure I was okay and no one was bothering me. Any time someone approached me he would ask if I was okay. Each time I was in Haiti I not only appreciated our friendship more but also appreciated who he was as a person overall.

He is by far the most hard working person I’ve ever been around. And not ONCE did he complain, never ever. Whenever myself or other volunteers would help with laundry, he would give us the clothing and he would do the blankets, even though those were much harder. Although I’m sure it was partly because we couldn’t do as good a job 🙂 He did laundry 5 days a week and spent a 6th day cleaning the kids house. Always with a smile on.

The last time I was there he asked if Taylor and I wanted to walk down to the market after work. I was tired and hesitant, but I hadn’t spent much time with him in that week. Taylor and I went, and we ended up hanging out for 2 hours. We grabbed a Prestige, and right when it became overwhelming with other people coming in, he decided it was time to go. On our way back to Wings (he always walked us back, although his house was the opposite direction), we asked if we could stop at the other orphanage. He and tiRalph came with us, because they didn’t want us going alone. He was just as loving with those children as the children at Wings, and I’m sure his own.

I am so thankful for that last memory with him. A genuine, kind-hearted, beautiful soul. He made a positive impact on the St. Joseph Family, and he will always be remembered for the kindness and love that he shared!

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One cup of water at a time

One cup of water at a time

The streets of Haiti are hot and chaotic. Dust and gravel rumble underneath the wheels of broken down and overly crowded pickup trucks. The sun beats down, blinding and scorching. It burns your skin and dries your throat. Trash and debris. Livestock. Rusty motorcycles and graffiti line the alleyways.

But a long descent down Delmas 91, and you find yourself at the doors of the St. Joseph Home for Boys. Knock on the red iron gate, catching a glimpse of a wooden cross mounted in the chapel above you and the cascading greenery, overgrown and luscious. Take a step inside, and you are home. A cool breeze rushes through the courtyard while your eyes adjust and absorb a shock of bright colors. Paintings and statues. Potted plants and trees with the faintest twinkle of Christmas lights. Beautiful mosaic tiles and butterflies. And laughter. Quieting the sound of the street, filling your heart, calming your nerves.

It isn’t just that St. Joseph’s Home is beautiful. Or that it is safe. Or that it is peaceful. When you step inside the doors of St. Joseph’s, into this beautiful and quiet haven, you step into a family of love, acceptance, and friendship.

The boys and young men of St. Joseph’s welcome you into their lives. They are playing soccer by the kitchen, washing clothes in basins by the stairwell, making art in their study room. Algebra and French are scribbled in chalk on boards resting against bright yellow walls. In a community where domestic slavery is common, and more commonly not addressed, the boys of the St. Joseph’s Home are healing, maturing, and learning. Learning what it means to feel safe. What it means to be responsible. What it means to be a Christian. What it  means to be loved.

You are handed a glass of ice cold water and told you are welcome. That by your presence in this place, in this family, you are showing love. And that you are loved. This is the miracle of St. Joseph’s: witnessing boys learning to love, because they are loved. Just a glimmer of the God-given blessing of family. A family built from love, ever-growing, flourishing, and changing. One cup of water at a time.

 

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Investing in women, investing in the community

Investing in women, investing in the community

Of all the things that we Americans take for granted, the ability to read and write is probably at the top of the list. I remember with clarity how, on my first trip to Haiti, the gentleman sitting next to me was unable to complete his customs form, and the flight attendant – without missing a beat – helped him perform the task. Up until his signature, of course. Which he formed as a large black “X.”

Unfortunately, that was not a one-off event. I have witnessed it each and every time I have traveled to Haiti.

According to UNICEF, nearly half of all Haitians (48.7%) are illiterate. But the St. Joseph Family is working to change those statistics.

In the seaside town of Jacmel, the leaders of the St. Joseph Family have formed a women’s group, comprised of 30 mothers of children at Lekòl Sen Trinite, to teach them how to read and write and how to crochet. According to Bill Nathan, “When we first starting working with them they didn’t know how to read or write, and now they can read. I see a lot of changes in the mothers now because of this program. Whenever they sell a bag (that they crocheted), the money goes to feed their children.”

This remarkable program was begun by a long-term friend of the St. Joseph Family. She and the leaders visited the homes of the women in order to get to know them better and understand their needs.Says Bill, “It’s very important to know the people  that you are working with. We are going to continue working with these mothers and the children in the community of Jacmel.”

In addition to providing the mothers with skills and an education, they also are learning to value the importance of providing an education for their children… something that the teachers at Lekòl Sen Trinite very much appreciate!

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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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