Connections pull together Homes for Haiti’s next big trip

Imagine Missions kids stand outside the SafeTHomes provided by Homes for Haiti volunteers during a previous trip, organized by Susan Ayers. Contributed photo
Imagine Missions kids stand outside the SafeTHomes provided by Homes for Haiti volunteers during a previous trip, organized by Susan Ayers. Contributed photo
By Kate Hayden,

Imagine Missions of Croix Des Bouquets, Haiti, needs solar panels — and Charles City volunteer Susan Ayers had to find a way to keep the technology safe in the hurricane season.

Ayers turned to her favorite tool, Google, and found her way to the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association’s website.

On a spring Saturday morning, she cold-emailed the president of the board of directors and introduced him to Homes for Haiti, the Floyd County-based team of volunteers dedicated to funding housing and infrastructure improvements for Haitian citizens.

“He responded within 20 minutes,” Ayers said.

By Sunday night, the association president pledged a donation of six solar panels to the Homes for Haiti team, along with technical resources on installation and hurricane-proofing.

“I always wanted to make a difference,” the president said in an email to Ayers.

Three months later, she sent an invitation.

“We’re getting down to the end and I still have a couple spots left. Instead of just us talking all the time, do you want to go along and make a difference?” Ayers asked Tim Dwight.

That name might be familiar.

In addition to being an investor in Integrated Power Corp. and a solar energy advocate, Dwight is a former wide receiver and kickoff return specialist for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, and NFL teams the Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots, New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders.

He is perhaps most remembered for his 94-yard touchdown kickoff return in the 1999 Super Bowl as a Falcon playing the Denver Broncos.

Dwight listened to Ayers’ invitation and said yes.

“What are the chances?” Ayers said. “That tells me that this is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Dwight, Ayers and 23 other volunteers will fly down to Haiti on Dec. 29 as part of the eight-day missions work coordinated by Ayers.

“Solar power is (Dwight’s) passion now that he’s retired from football,” Ayers said.

“Every team member just has a role that they fit into.”

Homes for Haiti has a lengthy to-do list for this year’s trip, including:

• Repairing the roof and adding a ceiling, with insulation and ceiling fans, to the Imagine Missions chapel.

• Installing hurricane-proof solar panels to provide reliable energy production for the orphanage.

• Providing medical checkups for all Imagine Missions kids.

• Providing mobile medical clinics, with assistance by a volunteer doctor, physician’s assistant and pharmacist from Iowa, outside of Imagine Missions’ grounds.

• Funding the repairs, by local tradesmen, of the Imagine Missions complex’s security wall and razor wire. Funds were raised by Floyd County area churches.

• Donating five brand-new laptops with funds raised by Charles City High School student Carter West.

• Establish a garden program, led by Iowa State University student Izzy Worrall.

• Building benches for the soccer field, led by Boy Scout Justin Heyer. Solar lights for the field were funded by First Security National Bank.

• Providing a dentist’s chair, donated by retired Charles City dentist Dr. Jodie Buehler.

• Planning a New Year’s Eve party for the kids at Imagine Missions, led by high school students from Homes for Haiti.

“Isn’t it amazing? People just keep giving,” Ayers said, looking over her notes. “Stuff just works out — that’s how you know you’re doing the right thing.”

Most of the tools and medical supplies were purchased at cost from businesses such as Theisen’s or Iowa pharmacists, Ayers said.

Homes for Haiti medical missions give out 30-day supplies of medication for chronic illnesses like diabetes or high blood pressure, along with a note in Creole of what the patient was provided with so they can ask for the same medication from a future provider.

But the bulk of the team’s focus is on raising funds for Imagine Missions’ facility projects, Ayers said.

Providing for those needs gives the orphanage/school complex more resources to focus on the kindergarten through ninth grade classes — grades 10, 11 and 12 will be added in February — and Professional Trade School classes on the weekends. The trade school classes are taught by local professionals for students over 10 years old, on subjects such as plumbing, masonry, computer skills, sewing and beautician skills.

“We’re trying to give them some infrastructure and some building supports so that they can continue ways to help themselves. That’s why this orphanage has such an emphasis on education,” Ayers said.

The team has already sent three shipping crates full of supplies, and despite several roadblocks — including bad weather and an intoxicated delivery driver — those deliveries arrived at Imagine Missions, ready for the Homes for Haiti volunteers to put to use on the building and medical teams.

The orphanage has turned a previous shipping container sent by the Homes for Haiti team into an office, and is raising $14,000 to convert another container into a full-time computer lab for the kids, using the five laptops West purchased on Black Friday. Ayers is still waiting to hear the decision on a grant she submitted to help Imagine Missions with that project.

“This orphanage struggles. And we can go down and we make a difference by doing big projects. … But I worry about how this orphanage feeds the kids today, tomorrow and next week. They’re still getting two meals a day and protein three times a week,” Ayers said.

Homes for Haiti team members will see the near completion of another project during their trip, thanks to an international initiative spearheaded by Floyd County residents.

The international teaching sorority Alpha Delta Kappa raised more than $55,000 in grant money for Imagine Missions after approving a grant submission by Charles City ADK member Susan Jacob.

Project T.E.A.C.H. (Training, Educating and Affirming the Children of Haiti) is building six additional classrooms on the Imagine Missions campus, which are facilitating the class expansion to secondary grades. A group of ADK members will travel to Haiti this spring to help dedicate the building.

“That school is getting close to being done,” Ayers said.

All the money raised by Homes for Haiti team members goes back to Imagine Missions projects — and the team members pay for their own travel costs to Haiti.

“I just feel blessed to be a member of this community because they have been so supportive. And there’s no way we could pull this off without them,” Ayers said.