FREDERICKTOWN — The massive earthquake which struck Haiti in January may feel very far away from Knox County, but a Fredericktown business and many of its employees are working to make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people of Haiti affected by the devastation.
Life changed dramatically for 20 young girls between the ages of 3 and 10 when the orphanage where they live was heavily damaged during the earthquake.
The Burgett family, which owns Fredericktown-based Kokosing Construction, had a long-standing relationship with the missionaries who run the H.O.P.E. (Haitian Orphanage that Provides and Educates) orphanage in Haiti.
Greg and Cathie Benson, originally from Fredericktown, are the Haiti field directors for Christian Services International.
Tim and Toby Banks run the H.O.P.E. Orphanage. They are the legal guardians of all 20 girls who live in the orphanage; the girls are not eligible for adoption.
Instead, the girls are raised in a Christian environment with the goal of one day sending them into their home culture as educated, independent young women with the leadership skills to make a difference in their homeland.
Carol Burgett explained her family’s relationship with the two missionary families.
“Our daughter, Heather, became friends with the Bankses before they were missionaries,” she said. “We’ve known them for over 10 years — long before the earthquake.”
When the earthquake struck Haiti Jan. 12, it heavily damaged the orphanage, making it unusable. The Bankses and Bensons sought to take the children from Haiti during the worst of the devastation, until the orphanage could be rebuilt.
However, the Haitian government would not allow the children to leave, because they are not eligible for adoption and must stay in Haiti.
When Heather learned from Toby Banks how desperate the situation was for the two families and the young girls they care for, her father, Brian, chief executive officer of Kokosing Group, and her grandfather, Bill, founder of Kokosing, stepped in to see what could be done to help.
Brian Burgett and Greg Benson began an e-mail correspondence and developed a plan for Kokosing to rebuild the orphanage. Fundraising efforts began immediately, with Kokosing offering to match up to $250,000 in funds raised to pay for the rebuilding efforts.
The Burgetts have pledged to provide the materials necessary for the construction, but Kokosing employee Matt Wushinske, who is helping with the fundraising, said finding a way to get the much-needed supplies into the country is extremely difficult.
“We’re working on getting some materials shipped in, and depending on when that happens, we can develop a timeline for construction,” Wushinske said.
The Burgetts have appealed to the public to help with the fundraising. So far, over $132,000 has been raised, matched by an identical amount from Kokosing. That puts the fundraising at more then halfway toward the goal of $500,000.
Kokosing has also appealed to its employees to offer their time and talents to help with the rebuilding efforts. So far, 47 employees have volunteered to travel to Haiti in two-week shifts to take part in the rebuilding.
“We’re still determining who is going to go,” Carol said. “There will be a number of people from the Burgett family who will be going.”
“We’re also hoping to get people from outside Kokosing,” she added.
She said sending skilled American construction workers will provide the Haitian people with more than just a rebuilt orphanage.
“We hope to train some local Haitians as well,” Carol said. “We’re building an orphanage for these 20 girls, but we’re also trying to train local workers in construction techniques to better their own construction skills. That will provide them with an edge when construction starts in Haiti for rebuilding.”
Carol said the Burgett family believes in the worth of the project, and knows it is achievable.
“We think it’s a great project and we don’t think we’ll have any difficulty getting volunteers,” Carol said. “We don’t know how long it will take to construct this orphanage because it’s very difficult to get supplies into Haiti.”
Wushinske said the first team of workers is set to arrive in Haiti the week of March 20, to begin laying the plans for the rest of the project.
Local engineer Jim McGuire has drawn up plans for the new building. Now retired, McGuire has been to Haiti on mission trips before and since the earthquake, and was involved in the construction of the original orphanage.
“The underlying center of this story is God,” McGuire said of the rebuilding effort. “You can see God in action through the whole process, and I’m just glad to be a small part of it.”
McGuire said he anticipates the workers who travel to Haiti will not only provide change for the people they are helping, but will be changed in the process as well through serving others.
All tax-deductible donations to the project can be sent to Christian Services International with Building H.O.P.E. written in the memo line. Donations can be sent to Kokosing Construction, Attn: Brooke Hoeflich, P.O. Box 226, Fredericktown, OH 43019.
More information is available on the Kokosing Web site at www.kokosing.biz.