Virginia Students Follow Legacy of Love to Haiti

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (July 8, 2016)  Most students merely enjoy a break from school the summer between high school graduation and their first year of college. Before Brooke Engelbrekssten enters her first year of college at the University of Pennsylvania this fall, she and 10 other students will take a five-day mission trip to Haiti.

"I have never traveled to a developing country, so going to Haiti with Food For The Poor will give me a unique perspective on healthcare in a less developed country," said Brooke, who is entering the nursing program at Penn with the intention to minor in Global Health. "I know this trip will strengthen my faith and encourage me to lead a better life as I start college."

The group is part of a new college ministry program at the Church of the Nativity in Burke, Virginia. Having an 18-year relationship with Food For The Poor, Nativity has special ties to giving to the poor, especially to the poor in Haiti. The late Father Richard Martin, beloved priest of Nativity who died in 2014 at the age of 74, traveled to Haiti many times with Food For The Poor, helping thousands of Haitian citizens to have a better life.

Alison Fram, founder of the college ministry, grew up going to mass at Nativity. Like her students who have also grown up attending Nativity, Fram recounts sitting in the church pews as a little girl and listening to Fr. Martin's homilies, which often included personal stories about his time in Haiti and calls for parishioners to help. When she returned to Nativity after graduating college, she was inspired to plan this mission trip to the country she has heard so much about, specifically for college-aged students.

"College is such a formative time, time where these young adults are trying to figure out what job to choose and what life to live." said Alison. "This trip gives them the opportunity to gain a unique world view before making these important choices."

The trip was made possible by the generosity of Nativity parishioners. After a simple posting in the weekly parish bulletin, there was an outpouring of donations and handwritten letters of advice, prayers, and excitement from older parishioners. The church also held a Lenten soup supper that helped raise additional money. Father Robert C. Cilinski, the pastor who succeeded Fr. Martin at Church of the Nativity, generously offered to pay the airfare for each student.

"I know this trip will be life-changing for them," Fr. Cilinski said. "Fr. Martin planted in our parishioners' hearts his love for the poor, and I want to continue to shepherd that."

Fr. Cilinski visited Food For The Poor's headquarters last month to hand-deliver a check from an annual donation that will complete Good Shepherd Village in Grand Boulage, Haiti. This village was the 10th built by Nativity and is named in memory of Fr. Martin. The group will be spending one day there during the trip.

The group, representing eight different colleges, has been preparing for the trip since early March, with the help of online video chats and emails. The group has shared with one another their concerns and excitement for the upcoming trip.

Along with spending the day at Good Shepherd Village, the group also will participate in Food For The Poor's feeding program at the charity's Port-au-Prince office and will visit Little Children of Jesus, a home for handicapped children, as well as a village for the elderly and Montesino Orphanage in Ti Tanyen.

"I have spent a lot of time praying and reflecting on what I might encounter while I am in Haiti. I ask God to let me go to Haiti with an open heart and open mind, because I know that parts of our trip will be very difficult," said Brooke. "But God presents challenges to each one of us, and this is his challenge for me."

For several years, Brooke has been waiting for when she would be old enough to travel to Haiti, a country she has grown up hearing about both in church and at home. Her mother, Melinda Engelbrekssten, has traveled to Haiti with other Nativity parishioners. Inspired by her mother's stories, Brooke is eager to see firsthand the living conditions in Haiti and to meet the people she has heard so much about.

"Everyone that goes to Haiti comes back changed, and my mother was one of those people," said Brooke. "I am excited to gain a new outlook on my own life, and really learn to cherish the people and the things I have."

Other travelers in the group are: Ryan O'Connor (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); Katy Moore (Radford University); Jennifer Oliveria (George Mason University graduate); Lauren Sinclair (James Madison University); Lauren Valente (James Madison University); Jessica Powers (Northern Virginia Community College); Madison Sock (Northern Virginia Community College); Sarah Jarvis (Radford University graduate); Micaela Moffet (Loyola University); and Isabela Silva (Virginia Commonwealth University).

Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 95 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit

Lauren Anton

Public Relations
954-427-2222 x 6901