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When most people retire they may take a cruise, play bridge on Wednesdays, go to the spa with their best girlfriends, or park in front of the television.

Not so from Marlene Berthelot. She is a compassionate woman that has spent her lifes savings helping orphaned children in Haiti.

Formerly a science teacher in Boston, Mass., Berthelot also spent 22 years as the owner/operator of three very successful assisted living facilities in St. Petersburg. Now retired, she has chosen to throw herself into Save Our Haiti, a Haitian mission to help orphaned children.

 

In 2008, Berthelot went back to her birthplace of Haiti, the first black independent Republic, to start a home and school for orphaned children. Using her own money, she turned an unfinished, small hotel of about 8,000 square feet into the site.

She employed nine people, which included the teachers, cooks and janitors and started with 20 children. The children ranged in age from two to nine, and thrived because of the education and care they received.

In 2010, while Berthelot was in the United States for her daughters wedding, an earthquake hit Haiti causing death and devastation throughout the island nation.

 

Our building just collapsed. The earthquake leveled it, Berthelot said. When she returned to the ruins, she and the staff salvaged what they could to set up a makeshift tent city in which to operate. They did this for more than six months while they sought donations from everywhere they could.

Berthelot applied to the Digicel Fondation, a non-profit charitable organization that distributes and utilizes funds for the sole purpose of building communities in Haiti, to help with the reconstruction.

 

The local mayor got involved and took Berthelot around to find a place to move the school to.She received 15 acres of land from Digicel and plan to plant crops on 10 of them. However, the gift came with a caveat. She will need to raise at least $97,000 to match the foundations funds in order to rebuild.

They have plenty of donated items since the earthquake such as clothes, bedding and school furniture, but can not afford to ship them to Haiti. It will cost $8,000 to transport the goods, and very little cash donations have been received.

 

The number of orphans has now risen to 60 and they are even helping two sets of families. Berthelot says she has spent all of her own money, but has one last possession she is willing to part with to help the orphans.The very last thing that I have worth anything is my personal collection of Haitian and African art, valued at about $50,000,Berthelot said.She says the artwork is a collection of original oil paintings by renowned Haitian artists Cedor, Ismae and Sojourne.These pieces are all I have left, but I am willing to sell them if I can find buyers,she continued.She is currently looking for places to exhibit her art, including local museums around town.

 

One of the orphans found $50 and brought it to me one day to help rebuild the home. I just grabbed the child and hugged her. People in the U.S. are just so fortunate. They dont even know how much, Berthelot recalled as a tear streamed down her face.

 

If you would like to join the cause for Save Our Haiti, please write to Haitian Mission Par La Foi, Inc. P.O. Box 530307, St. Petersburg, FL 33474 or donate through PayPal www.SaveOurHaiti.org

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