“Poor Papa,” my grandmother said to me, followed by a laugh. “He’s always being recognized as Carol’s husband around here.” While it is true he is often known as “Carol’s husband”, it is a stretch to believe he finds anything wrong with it. He knows he is blessed to have such an amazing woman as his wife; his biggest complaint is with trying to keep up with her.
My grandmother started Dayspring Ministries in 1976 as a foster program but, in 1998, after retiring from foster care, she decided to change the mission of Dayspring Ministries following a heartbreaking trip to Haiti. After seeing people live in tin huts, drink dirty water, bath in rivers, and live off a dollar a day, I do not believe she has ever been the same. Perhaps the biggest testimony of her commitment to her Haitian friends lies in the fact that 99% of donations go to Haiti, with Dayspring’s only costs being paper, ink and envelopes. The change she seeks to bring about in Haiti has changed the lives of many orphans, widows and those in need of medical help. Unlike many of us, my grandmother sees how ordinary people can make a difference; just $1 a day from one of us can save a life in Haiti.
Heidi: Where did you grow up?
Nana: I was born in Dover and lived for two years on Lake Hopatcong. Then my family moved to Staten Island until I was eight, and from there we settled in Whippany, NJ.
Heidi: Where did you go to College? What was your initial plan for your life?
Nana: I went to Marietta College in Ohio and Ohio State University where I was a music major. My father wanted me to find a college-educated husband and get married, but I’m not sure I had any real plan for my life when I was in college.
Heidi: How did you end up in Chester, NJ?
Nana: I wanted to live in NJ and my husband, Bruce (a business consultant), was commuting to NYC at the time. I came from Whippany, so we were looking in this local area. We knew that Bruce was going to be transferred to Florham Park eventually, so Chester seemed like a good place to live.
Heidi: What did your family look like before foster children?
Nana: Our first child was actually children, we had triplets, two identical boys and a girl. After they all left for preschool I was home alone. At that point we decided to adopt, rather than take a chance on having another set of multiples. We adopted our five-day-old African-American daughter, Allison, and two years later we adopted our Korean daughter, Jamie, who was five years old. When the triplets were about ten, we started taking in foster kids and were eventually able to adopt our first foster baby, Christopher.
Heidi: What led you to start taking in foster kids? When did it begin?
Nana: A friend of ours from church knew a family who was having some problems with their teenage daughter. She wanted to know if the girl could stay at our house for a while. She only stayed for 3 weeks, but DYFS discovered that we were willing to take teenagers, so they called up and asked if we’d take a brother and sister from Randolph and we said yes. We never officially applied to be foster parents, it just sort of happened.
Heidi: What were some of the reactions you received from family and friends?
Nana: At the beginning, when we only had one or two foster children, everyone thought it was a very noble thing to do. When we ended up having five, six or seven at one time, in addition to our own five kids, then they thought we were crazy.
Heidi: When did Dayspring Ministries first come about?
Nana: Dayspring Ministries was founded in 1981. Its purpose was to provide accountability to our church and friends who gave us money to help with the many foster kids who didn’t come through DYFS. There were many desperate parents who needed short term help for their children, but they didn’t want to get involved with DYFS. Some of our friends were willing to provide foster care for these children, and Dayspring was able to provide some financial support for the children. Many of the children were referred to us from doctors or school counselors, and once a teenage girl was even dropped off in our driveway by friends.
Heidi: How many children have you taken in over the years?
Nana: We stopped counting at 130.
Heidi: What was the most challenging aspect of taking care of foster children? How long did the majority of the kids stay?
Nana: The most challenging part was making them feel like they were part of the family. The funny thing was that the foster kids thought we always gave more attention to our own kids, and our own children always felt like we gave more attention to the foster kids. Some stayed for a couple of months, some stayed for 5 years; the average was six months. The kids were mostly teenagers and we still keep in touch with a few, some are still part of the family.
Heidi: Do you think welcoming these children into your home made a difference in their lives?
Nana: I hope so. I think the main thing that the kids got from living with us was a sense of peace. Most of their families had pretty much disintegrated and the kids had no idea of what was going to happen next. When the kids lived with us, I think they learned that families could live orderly, peaceful lives, and it gave them a sense of security to know the routine. We also tried to make our home their home, and most of the kids liked being a part of a large family.
Heidi: Any regrets? Do you think other people should raise foster children?
Nana: There were certainly some things that we could have done differently, but we did the best we could at the time. If we could do it all again, I think we would have focused on either teenage girls or teenage boys, instead of dealing with them both under one roof. I think others should become foster parents if that’s what God calls them to do. It is not for everybody.
Heidi: How did Dayspring Ministries end up helping the people of Haiti?
Nana: After 24 years of foster care, we were ready to retire from active duty. About that same time, my son and his wife invited me to visit them in Haiti where they were living for three months as missionaries. I didn’t really want to go to Haiti, but I finally realized that God was asking me to go. After a wonderful, but disturbing visit, I realized that Dayspring Ministries could easily be re-focused to help care for the children and families of the Light & Peace Mission in Haiti, which at that time was a church and school.
Heidi: How did you develop contacts in Haiti?
Nana: While I was in Haiti, I lived with the pastor and his family and was overwhelmed with the needs that I saw all around me. I spoke to the Dayspring Trustees and they agreed to use the Light & Peace Mission as a way to provide assistance to the children. We started by paying the teachers’ salaries ($25/month) at the little Christian school at the Mission. God has abundantly blessed Dayspring in the 11 years we’ve been in Haiti, and now we support seven schools, an orphanage, a food program for widows and disabled, a community medical clinic, and an orphanage for 26 children.
Heidi: What are some of the changes you have seen occur at the Light and Peace Mission over the years?
Nana: The children are happier and healthier. The teachers, because we are paying them a regular salary, are actually showing up and the school has greatly increased in size. We now have a $350,000 orphanage that was newly constructed, which included a brand new orphanage surrounded by a . Our medical clinic is open 2 days a week to meet the needs of the community. We have 15 widows that are in our food program and they receive bags of rice and beans and oil and every week. We are now in the process of starting a widows sponsorship program where an individual or family could sponsor a widow for $30 a month, which would cover the cost of food each day.
Heidi: Have you ever gone back to Haiti?
Nana: I’ve gone back to Haiti more than a dozen times since my first trip. The first thing that drove me back was a little boy that I met there. He was five years old and he adopted me on my first visit. Eventually we were able to adopt him, and now he’s 16 ½. Dayspring has mission trips to Haiti twice a year. We have about 10-12 people on each trip: new people and those that have been there already but keep going back again and again. The one thing that’s special about our trips is that people have opportunities to develop relationships with the people at the Mission. They grow to love the orphans and widows and other people that are there to greet us every time we visit. Garden State Women readers and their friends are all welcome to participate. The teams that go down attend a Sunday morning worship service with the people; have lunch while we visit the widows. We entertain our 26 orphans at our guesthouse several times during the visit. We also visit the school children; we do skits and games. Halfway through the week we travel to either the mountains or countryside where we hold a family health clinic for people at the mission church in that village.
Heidi: What are some of the hurdles you have faced along the way?
Nana: Communication. Pastor Ronald and I used to have to write letters that took anywhere from a week to ten days to get back and forth. With the Internet it has gotten a lot easier. However, the Internet depends on electricity, which isn’t always available, and also on the weather. Heavy rainfall interrupts communication sometimes. Another problem with communication was the language barrier; Pastor Ronald did not always speak English as well as he does now, and I’ve since learned some Creole which helps a little. One of the most frustrating things for me was that things move slowly in Haiti. Just getting from place to place is hard and doing anything in Haiti takes great patience. it’s just difficult.
Heidi: Was it all worth it? And, what keeps you going?
Nana: It’s absolutely worth every minute that I spend. I keep doing it because I love the people. I really feel like this ministry was given to me by God and He was always the one to provide everything I needed.
Heidi: What can we expect from Dayspring Ministries in years to come?
Nana: It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I hope Dayspring will meet the needs of more children in Haiti. I expect the orphanage to grow. We have 26 orphans right now, but I’m sure we will have twice as many as soon as the orphanage construction is completed.
Heidi: How can other people get involved?