Kentucky cities have many people who left mountain communities to make better lives for themselves, yet continued to help others back home. That is Raymonde Jacques’ story, too, but with a difference.
The mountains “Mondy” Jacques left are in Haiti, one of the poorest parts of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Over the past five centuries, Haiti has suffered slavery, colonialism, dictatorships and natural disasters, such as the devastating earthquake that rocked the island six years ago this month. The country’s political corruption and lack of infrastructure have resulted in a lack of investment and good jobs.
But for the past 20 years, Jacques has made it her mission to help people in and around her native village of Samadek.
With generous assistance from friends and her Capital City Christian Church, Jacques has built and supported three schools, only one of which is still structurally sound enough to use. She has organized mission trips and bought supplies. Her dream now is to build a hospital for the area, which has few medical services.
“These people are in the middle of nowhere,” Jacques said when I visited her in her modest home, which is filled with pictures of her Haitian mission work, Kentucky State University students she has mentored and her son, Johnny, 31, whom she adopted from a brother after the infant’s mother died.
“There are a lot of kids in Haiti who need help,” she said. “They can do a lot, but they need help. This is America. People care. But they have to know.”
At age 70, Jacques still works three jobs. She cares for infants in a nursery at Second Street Elementary School and elderly people at nights and on weekends. She also cleans houses. She has become a fixture in Frankfort, where she walks almost everywhere and never stops smiling.
Jacques formed the Haitian Needy Children’s Foundation in 1996 with $100 she had saved from work. She says much of what she earns still goes to the charity, which has tax-exempt status and a board of directors made up of local supporters.
“She works tirelessly, is always cheerful, and is always looking out for others,” said Judy Goddard, who was a teacher at Second Street Elementary when Jacques started working there and has been a friend, board member and supporter of her foundation for years. “She’s very optimistic that God will show her the way.”
Jacques grew up in a remote mountain community about 90 miles from Port-au-Prince. She moved to the capital with her father at age 12 and worked in factories and at a variety of other jobs, including in a doctor’s office.
The only thing bigger than her smile is her heart.
Dr. Nathan Nitz, Frankfort dentist
Through her church, she met Doug Riddell, who was visiting Haiti with a mission team from Capital City Christian Church. He brought her to Frankfort in 1987 to care for his young daughter, Beth, who had cerebral palsy and died in 1999.
After returning to Haiti to visit her dying mother in 1994, Jacques decided to try to dedicate her life to helping children in Haiti. Two years later, she and her son made their first mission trip back. They brought money to buy food, and with a physician friend set up a mobile clinic that helped several hundred people. The next year, she raised enough money to build the first school.
Because the region has few roads, children carried concrete blocks to the school site from the nearest road, where trucks delivered them. Kentucky State students went over with her to help the village’s men with construction.
Maintaining the schools and paying teachers has been difficult. Jacques is focused now on supporting the school that remains open. It has nearly 400 students who attend on a staggered schedule because the barely furnished buildings are small. She hopes soon to raise money to repair the other schools.
“The only thing bigger than her smile is her heart,” said Dr. Nathan Nitz, who is Jacques’ dentist in Frankfort and plans to accompany Jacques to Haiti in March.
While Nitz will treat some children while he is there, his main goal is to help set up a permanent clinic that could be staffed by him or other dentists who come there on mission trips.
Jacques and 13 others from Capital Cities Christian were in Port-au-Prince on a mission trip in January 2010 during the big earthquake. They were unable to reach the mountains, and the disaster delayed their return home by a week.
When the earthquake hit, Jacques said, a room she had just walked out of collapsed.
“It was amazing I survived,” she said. “If the Lord save me from that earthquake, he save me for a reason. I know my purpose is to help these mountain people help themselves.”
How to help
To make donations or for more information, contact the Haitian Needy Children’s Foundation, 236 E. Main St., Frankfort, KY 40601, (502) 352-2971 (Raymonde Jacques) or (502) 330-7630 (Bobby Scott, foundation president)
How to help
To make donations or for more information, contact the Haitian Needy Children’s Foundation, 236 E. Main St., Frankfort, KY 40601, (502) 352-2971 (Raymonde Jacques) or (502) 330-7630 (Bobby Scott, foundation president).