The Cole family of Elburn has a history with Haiti that dates to January 2010, just after an earthquake devastated the country.
“Right from the beginning, our family felt called to be involved,” Kim Cole said. “Haiti is already such a poor country, and then to have this earthquake happen of such a great magnitude and so many lives that were lost, we just really had a heart for them.”
Cole said opportunities to help Haiti started coming together through several churches in the area soon after the disaster. The family’s church, Lord of Life in La Fox, organized a clothing drive. And Kim’s daughter Madelyn, a sophomore in high school at the time, helped with collecting and sorting clothing to send to Haiti.
The following year, Madelyn worked with a group of women at her grandmother’s church, Batavia Congregational, sewing dresses made from pillowcases to send to Haiti.
When a group planning a mission trip to Haiti came to Lord of Life Church to talk about the work they intended to do at an orphanage damaged by the earthquake, Madelyn didn’t hesitate to sign up for the trip. When Kim found out her daughter had signed up to go, her first thought was, “That’s wonderful.” Her second thought was there was no way her 17-year-old daughter was going alone.
Kim’s husband Scott ended up going on the mission trip with Madelyn as her adult supervisor. As the owner of a construction company, Cole Enterprises, Scott also was able to bring his skills and talents to the project.
Madelyn and Scott joined a construction team consisting of members of Lord of Life Church and King of Glory Church in Elgin that made repairs to a girls dormitory and a school connected to the orphanage as well as drilling a well for them.
Both Scott and Madelyn returned from the trip changed.
“When you’re in a third-world country and you see how other people are living, it just really opens up your eyes,” Kim said.
Three years after the earthquake, there was still devastation throughout the country. A corrupt government, lack of electricity and no waste removal system made it difficult to make any progress. There were 170,000 people who died from the earthquake, 300,000 who were injured and 8,000 who died from cholera that swept the countryside afterward.
In addition to the orphanage, which houses 40 girls, there is a church of 200 active members and a school that serves 185 students.
The girls who live in the orphanage sleep in bunk beds three people high – five to six to a room. They have no possessions, and with a pile of communal clothes, the first one up in the morning gets the first choice of available clothing.
The meals are rice packages from Feed My Starving Children and Stop Hunger Now.
It was particularly meaningful to Madelyn to watch as the shipment from Feed My Starving Children arrived as years before she had volunteered with the organization, packing similar packages.
“It was really rewarding for her to see this come full circle,” Kim said.
It also was impossible for Madelyn to come back home and go back to life as usual.
“You’re going with me the next time,” she told the rest of her family.
The Cole family has returned to Haiti twice since then: at Christmastime in both 2014 and 2015. Instead of spending their money buying each other Christmas presents, they buy plane tickets to Haiti. The youngest Cole sibling, Eloise, joined her dad and Madelyn in 2014; Kim and Scott’s son, Patrick, followed suit in 2015.
The girls at the orphanage have become the Cole’s extended family.
“The first day we’re there is the best,” Kim said. “The last day there are tears of sorrow and hugs, knowing it will be another year before we see them again.”
Last year, they also were joined by a Maple Park electrician, Andrew Anderson, and his daughter, Kendall; mason Tim Stevenson; Gary and Sue Kessler, who led the first mission trip the Cole’s experienced; and a number of others from the church.
With $5,000 raised from a GoFundMe page, the team of 11 bought and installed solar panels and wired the compound, providing lighting at night for the children’s safety.
“God was putting all the right people in place,” Kim said. “Everybody had a job to do.”
One member of the group, Christina Jackson, a nurse, performed medical exams for each of the girls. And a local mobile dental unit was located to do teeth cleaning and exams.
Eloise Cole, 11, raised $300 last year through lemonade stands and bake sales, allowing her to rent a bus to take the girls to the beach for the day. The girls’ typical days are spent on the grounds of the orphanage and the school. They had never been to the beach.
“They all got to swim around,” Eloise said. “I felt very proud of myself and wanted to do it again.”
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SOURCE: Kane County College – Susan O’Neill