Jeff Denlinger’s mission work in Haiti began with Gamaelle, his 9-year-old sponsor child.
During a mission trip with the Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church in 2008, a group of sponsors brought gifts to the children of the Good Samaritan orphanage in Port-au-Prince. Each gift bag was filled with soaps, washcloths, toys and candy, small comforts for the nearly 30 children left in the orphanage after being removed from an abusive situation or after their parents had died.
As Gamaelle sat with Denlinger, examining the contents of her bag, she offered to share her lollipop with him.
“It was just the thought of these kids who were so… giving-minded,” Denlinger said. “She finally got something, and her first thought was, ‘I need to give it to someone else.’ I could tell you hundreds of stories like that.”
In the past 15 months, Denlinger has visited Haiti six times, he said. He and his family (his wife and three children) are currently in the process of selling their home to move to Haiti for a three-year commitment to oversee the construction of a new orphanage.
During a visit in January, Denlinger saw a piece of property the orphanage had purchased. Located outside of the city of Port-au-Prince, the land is greener and closer to the mountains, he said.
“That kind of got me thinking,” he said. “It would just take the kids out of that highly populated area and put them in a safer (place).”
On Saturday, Jeff Denlinger and his brother Doug, one of 25 Pennsylvania families who help sponsor the orphanage, will run the JFK 50-mile ultra-marathon in Maryland to help raise funds for the building project, which carries an approximate cost of $150,000.
“This run is basically a kind of kick-off to it,” Jeff Denlinger said.
He hopes to have about half the money raised by the time he and his family move to Haiti in June.
The orphanage is in a 1,200-square-foot rented house. The 22 girls sleep in 10 beds crowded into two bedrooms, Denlinger said. The yard is mostly stone and rock. There is no running water, indoor plumbing or constant electricity, he said.
The orphanage Denlinger is planning will be twice the size of the current building. Two stories tall, it will have five bedrooms and 30 beds. There will be a common area for the children, a private bedroom for the two full-time staff members, a kitchen, a dining area and computer lab, he said.
There will also be a garden to grow fresh produce and an arts and crafts room to make souvenirs to sell, Denlinger added. He hopes to use the proceeds from the sales for a scholarship fund for the children.
During his last visit, Denlinger brought his 11-year-old son, Colton, with him.
“He was amazed… at how nice everyone was and how joyful they could be with having so little,” Denlinger said.
He hopes his family’s three-year stint in Haiti will teach his children how to help others.
“By helping these kids and helping others with their basic needs, it gets you thinking outside yourself,” he said.