A ministry that serves Haiti is based out of north Jefferson County and is 25 years old, but few people have ever heard of it.
Here Am I Inc. was founded by Icy Mae Frederick of Fultondale and Elise Cadet of Haiti in 1988. Prior to the official ministry, however, Frederick became involved in Haiti ministry in 1974 after her husband died. She remained faithful to the ministry until she died in 2008.
A group from north Jefferson takes a trip to the school at least once a year; the most recent was in February.
Dr. Doug Alford was on the February trip, and Frederick had been working on him for a long time.
“Icy May was a patient of mine for many years,” said Alford. “She would come in for a visit and talk about Haiti. ... It had always been on my heart from the things she said.”
Alford signed up to go, and said he will never be the same.
“It changed me forever, the way I look at stuff, the way the Lord has blessed me and my family,” Alford said. “I’ve been on mission trips before, I’ve seen poverty before. But Haiti will change everything about the way your view your life. They have true poverty. These people truly have nothing — no water, no food, no clothes.”
Here Am I consists of the Holy Bible Church and School in a remove village of Petite Riviere de Bayonaise, three miles from the closest power and eight miles from the closest town of Gonaives, according to Richard Bradley of Gardendale, who is involved in the ministry.
The school has been in operation 25 years and has 14 full-time teachers and about 600 students.
In addition to the school and church, one of Frederick’s dreams was to establish a medical clinic. Bradley said the closest medical help is eight miles away and is accessible by a 30-minute ride on a rough road on a motorbike.
Alford helped realize Frederick’s dream in the short-term by treating 600 patients in four days.
Also on the February trip was Will Hardman, of State Farm Insurance in Gardendale.
Hardman’s job was to help with the shoe ministry.
“We lined the children up, washed their feet and provided them with brand new socks and shoes,” Hardman said. “We were praying form them continuously.”
Alford said one of the most touching moments for him involved Hardman.
“The kids loved him,” Alford said. “He taught them to sing ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ They didn’t speak English, but they were copying him. It would send chills up your spine when they all started singing.”
Hardman said the trip made him view his own life differently. “We get upset because we can’t get a cell phone signal; they are thrilled to walk three miles to get water that we were told not to drink,” he said. “When dealing with the Haitian children, it made me appreciate the opportunities my children have here.”
After Frederick’s death in 2008, Hal and Daphne Heis managed the ministry. However, funding continued to decrease without Frederick’s “strong presence,” Bradley said.
After Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in January 2010, north Jefferson residents went to Port Au Prince to set up a soup kitchen. There, they touched base with Cadet — the man with whom Frederick started Here Am I — and planned to go back in June to visit the school.
“The team came back overwhelmed, both by what they saw had been accomplished, and by the needs,” Bradley said. “The school had swollen to over 600 children without the funds necessary to feed and teach them.”
Since then, mission teams have visited the school every year.
In May, the Heis family turned the ministry operation over to a new board, headed by Alford.
Teams from the area have helped the school purchase books, build new classrooms, install playground equipment and a basketball court. They have also worked in a local orphanage providing food and cots. They have helped roof the Holy Bible Church as well as build a new church building in Souvenance.
In addition, Rotary International, including the Gardendale and Decatur Daybreak clubs, have helped improve water quality in various towns.
Bradley said much has been done, but the needs remain great. Here Am I is seeking churches with which to partner, as well as individuals who will give monthly.
Alford also encourages churches and businesses to donate, or even better, to volunteer for a future mission trip to the school.
“Once you’re over there, it will tackle your heart,” Alford said. “You can’t get it out of your system.”
To learn more, call (205) 631-6131 or visit www.hereamihaiti.org.