Two of my friends -- Jeff Gacek and Alyn Shannon -- left the corporate world, sold their business of many years — and have since found their passion helping the people of Haiti. Long before the earthquake rocked this corner of our world, Jeff and Alyn's Healing Haiti has been helping take care of the old and young of Haiti.
The recent earthquake has put them and their organization in the midst of the devastation. Read their story as featured in a local Minnesota paper. If it inspires you to contribute -- the information is included below. I am so in awe of what they are doing ...
Helping Haiti heal
by Kristine Goodrich, Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 6:40 PM CST
WHITE BEAR LAKE — One school collapsed. Another is damaged but still standing. The children still sleep outside because they’re afraid aftershocks will bring it to the ground.
Three of their four schools were damaged or destroyed, but Healing Haiti founders Jeff Gacek and Alyn Shannon thank God none of their children or employees were killed in the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.
The White Bear Lake couple founded their nonprofit after their first trip to Haiti in 2006. They now run an orphanage, provide financial support to three schools and an elder care program, truck in water to a slum and deliver food through Feed My Starving Children. They traveled to Haiti after the quake to assess the damage and provide emergency relief.
It took days and dozens of phone calls to learn the status of their schools and orphanage.
The Reiser Heights school, about two hours south of Port-au-Prince in the Les Pinasse mountains, survived with no damage.
Terra Promise school, in a Port-au-Prince shanty town called Cité Soleil, sustained significant damage but is repairable. The Christian School for Poor Children, in Titanyen, a coastal village approximately one hour north of Port-au-Prince, was destroyed.
Healing Haiti found new space to rent in Titanyen but the youths from Cité Soleil still are living in makeshift tent compounds next to their damaged school. An immediate goal is to find better shelter before the rainy season begins next month.
Before the quake, their orphanage was caring for 53 orphans in temporary quarters while a new center was built, called Grace Village in Titanyen. The under-construction building was damaged, but repairs have begun and they hope to speed up construction so they can take in more orphans; they’ve already added four.
Gacek left five days after the earthquake struck. He flew into the Dominican Republic and rode a bus for eight hours.
“The closer we got to downtown Port au Prince, the worse it got. If felt like we were in the middle of Beirut or Iraq,” Gacek wrote on the Healing Haiti blog. “The buildings looked like they had been bombed. The sheer magnitude of the destruction surrounding us is hard to comprehend.”
Visit healinghaiti.org for more information about the organization and how to contribute. Checks also can be mailed to 2629 South Shore Blvd., White Bear Lake, MN 55110.
For a blog including photos and video from the most recent and prior trips to Haiti, visit healing-haiti.blogspot.com. Along with visits to the Healing Haiti-supported schools and orphanage, he helped deliver water, transport injured people and get four children into the United States.
Healing Haiti staffs a water truck delivering 87,000 gallons of water each week to Cité Soleil. Since the earthquake they’ve added a second truck to bring water to tent cities, clinics and elsewhere throughout the area.
Gacek also helped American medical personnel transport earthquake victims to and from medical care facilities.
“One by one, trip after trip we loaded people onto the truck,” he wrote. “Most had crushed or broken limbs or were victims of severe burns.”
Later in his trip, Gacek worked with the U.S. Embassy to bring four children to adoptive parents in the U.S. The children’s adoptions’ were still pending but were fast-tracked after the earthquake.
“I started thinking about what an incredible opportunity God had put before me,” Gacek wrote. “I wondered why he would choose me to do this. I didn't know anything about the adoption process...
“One by one I was able to release these children that God had entrusted me with to their new adoptive parents. It was incredible to see and to be a part of ... God was working though me to fulfill his purpose for my life... It is God's plan for our lives that we should seek not our own and in doing so, we will find true joy, peace and fulfillment that we all so desperately desire. I found my little piece of heaven right here on earth.”
After a week manning the phones at home, Shannon joined her husband in Haiti.
Gacek, and later Shannon, stayed most of their nights with Troy and Tara Livesay, Minnesota natives who were living as missionaries in Haiti. While Gacek sought to get more children out of Haiti on humanitarian parole visas, Shannon aided children at an orphanage, cared for patients and sorted supplies at a clinic and helped deliver water.
“By now I was used to seeing all the concrete and steel rebar that came crashing down everywhere but I was not prepared for what I would feel while delivering water in Cite Soleil,” she wrote. “There were makeshift tents everywhere. The sounds of helicopters overhead and the mass destruction made me feel like I was in a war zone ... It amazed me how life continued to go on for those who didn't perish. It just had to ... they have no other choice.”
Shannon said one of the most moving moments was when the children at Terra Promise sang "Merci Jesus".
“They had so little. Now they have even less. They’re thankful just to be alive,” she said.
Shannon and Gacek will return to Haiti Feb. 26 for three weeks. They’ll lead two mission groups from Eagle Brook Church. The trip was scheduled before the earthquake.
In between the mission groups, they’ll meet with a family considering adopting one of their orphans. They’ve heard from several others also interested in adopting. None of their orphans ever have been adopted, so among Healing Haiti’s many upcoming undertakings is researching the legal process.
Many others have volunteered to travel to Haiti to help rebuild. But Shannon said the best way people can help is by providing financial support. They hope to help stimulate the economy by employing Haitians to do the work and purchasing materials locally.
One positive outcome of the earthquake, according to Shannon, is an increased worldwide awareness of the plight in Haiti, which even before the disaster was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Donations are pouring in — enough to not only repair the damage to their own buildings but also to expand their services and help other organizations.
As the news headlines begin to fade, however, she said she prays Haiti won’t be forgotten. Recovery will take years but with help she’s confident they will persevere.
“The people of Haiti are so resilient; so faithful; so strong. Life continues on,” Shannon said.