SHELDON—Eight years after a N’West Iowa family founded Touch of Hope in Haiti, the nonprofit ministry is caught in the midst of social and political turmoil the Caribbean country is undergoing.
However, Webert and Kayla Raymond have not lost hope.
The husband-wife duo gave an update on the work the ministry has accomplished during a presentation they to the Sheldon Noon Kiwanis on Monday at the Sheldon Community Services Center.
Kayla’s parents, Renae and Dell Grooters of Rock Rapids, founded the ministry in 2011 after Dell brought the family there for a mission trip. The year before, the family had met Webert, who ran a small, makeshift school in the Haiti village of Simonette.
The ministry’s first main project was to construct a building for the school, which was completed in the fall of 2011. More school buildings were constructed in the following years on the campus, along with a cafeteria and an office building.
By the 2016-17 academic year, more than 1,000 students in preschool through 11th grade were enrolled. Webert said the first class of high school students graduated this spring, with 13 of the 14 students in the class passing the final exams.
“Our first high school graduation was a big deal,” Kayla said.
In addition to the schools, Touch of Hope sustains the Tytoo Gardens Orphanage in Simonette that cares for 34 children. The nonprofit also has a program called Starfish that offers resources to help poverty-stricken families stay together.
Meanwhile, Kayla owns and operates Rosie’s Boutique, a store in the Haitian city of Cabaret that sells Haitian-made goods. It expanded in 2018 and employs 33 full-time workers.
While the business sells products made by other Haitian businesses, it also creates its own handcrafted greeting cards and operates a cafe that makes salsa and serves tacos. The boutique’s profits are put back into Touch of Hope.
“We have 26 women who make the greeting cards, five who work in the kitchen or in the boutique and then we have two security guards,” Kayla said.
The boutique is named after Kayla’s Haitian goddaughter who died at 13 months old from a respiratory infection.
Kayla still is close friends with Rosie’s mother, Judeline, who is the production manager for the jewelry company, Beljoy, whose products Rosie’s Boutique sells.
Kayla and Webert had their daughter, Rubie Jo, the same time Judeline gave birth to another daughter of her own, Gracie.
“We have come full circle, and we are raising our daughters together,” Kayla said.
“It’s probably my greatest choice the days that we make jewelry together and our little girls play off to the side together.”
Kayla’s mother opened a Rosie’s Boutique store in downtown Rock Rapids in 2016. Like the original location, the N’West Iowa store sells Haitian-made goods and has a coffee shop where the proceeds get donated back to Haiti.
Although Touch of Haiti and Rosie’s Boutique have reached important milestones, Kayla and Webert said this year also has seen bad news.
Since the second week of September, the ministry’s schools have had to be closed due to ongoing, widespread protests that have broken out across the island nation. Kayla said the boutique in Simonette also has been closed, although employees there and at the schools still are being paid.
Webert explained the protesters are demanding the resignation of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse because of accusations he misappropriated billions of dollars that were supposed to be invested in public services.
“Essentially, Haiti is a mess,” Kayla said.
“But we’re trying to just stay focused on what the Lord has called us to do, which is serve our village and do that through the school, education and making sure the kids at the orphanage are well taken care of as well.”