Michael Elola and his 14-year-old son Marcus are starting their new year giving the gift of hope and shelter to children in Haiti.
This will be Dublin resident Michael Elola's fourth trip to Haiti and his son's first. Elola owns The Lucky Garden Dublin Garden Supply & Hydroponics, and his son is an eighth-grader and honor roll student at Wells Middle School.
The father-son duo will be in Haiti to help build an orphanage with the groups Extollo International and Kids Against Hunger Pleasanton on the island of La Gonave.
Elola's wife, Natalie Elola, told Patch via email:
"The project will be to build an orphanage for 150 children, comprised of 10 to 20 individual homes that each house eight children and a care person. The plan also includes a multi-use facility, vocational facility, farming and a play area on the grounds. Michael's first three trips to Haiti were spent in Leogane where they built an orphanage from the ground up. We were able to raise the funds for his trips by hosting garage sales, poker tournaments, and support from our friends and family."
Elola said he hardly even knew where Haiti was in 2010 but when his church group sent out the word that there were local organizations seeking volunteers for humanitarian efforts in Haiti, he decided he wanted to help.
"After the quake, I saw the destruction," he said. "Everything just crumbled. I have kids and my heart went out to the families and children. Seeing the poverty and those children starving.... Once I went, I fell in love with the place, the people."
Elola says he figured he could at least teach others some of his construction skills.
"I am pretty handy," said Elola. "I have all of the skills you would need to build a house. I am mechanically inclined and know about plumbing, electrical, concrete and gardening."
Elola said Marcus has been interested in going for some time.
"Marcus would tell his friends at school that I was going to Haiti to help and sometimes Marcus would come home with a dollar that one of his friends had sent with him to take to me to bring to Haiti," he said. "I don't feel it is dangerous at all, but there is danger in anything. It really is just facing God and God's going to protect."
According to the Extollo International websites, the La Gonave island is a 40- minute boat ride from Port-au-Prince, which was devastated in January of 2012, after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and turning entire towns to little more than rubble.
Natalie says the trip to Haiti will cost $3,300 for her husband and stepson.
"Over $2,200 of this cost is just the cost of the plane ticket! We are asking some of our main vendors for support financially or in product that we can sell to help raise the funds for the trip. During this holiday season, we all seem to be so blessed with an abundance of food to nourish our belly, warm cozy places we call home, and plenty of materialistic things to entertain us and put a smile on our face. We quickly seem to forget or just simply don't know the fact of how many people go to bed hungry, cold, alone, and live in fear for their lives daily. We want to make a difference in this world one child/person at a time and without the love, prayers, and financial support of our friends, family, vendors we are limited with what difference we can help make locally and globally!"
To prepare for the trip Elola says uses the web and searches Google Earth to get a feel for the lay of the land. However, getting ready to leave his family takes quite a bit of planning.
"I have four kids and my wife runs our business while I am gone as well," Elola said.
Elola says there is a constant need for help in Haiti and that people can help whether they have a particular special skill or not.
"There is really a place for anyone there," Elola said. "The kids over there just need a person to show them some love. There is always a need for doctors, nurses and teachers in Haiti. A lot of doctors and nurses went right after the earthquake, but those kids still need check-ups. There are so many ways people can help."