By Starrla Cray
DASSEL, COKATO, MN “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
This verse sums up what a group of men and women from Dassel-Cokato and the surrounding area have been doing in Haiti, through a new non-profit called Anchored Beginnings.
“We’re a small, intimate organization where you know exactly where your dollar goes,” said co-founder Karen Schaaf of Kingston. “We pray about every step that we do here.”
Anchored Beginnings was inspired by a young Haitian man named Bethel, who prayed for a “team” to help him develop a plan to help the orphaned and poverty-stricken children in his community.
Karen and her husband, Troy, were introduced to Bethel through mutual friends on Facebook. The couple also got to know Bethel’s friend Rachel Krueger, who lives in St. Michael.
Rachel took her first mission trip to Haiti in 2011, and has been back numerous times since. As a way to earn money for Haiti missions, she began an adventure in mid-2012 to fix up homes and sell them.
“Little did I know, God had a bigger plan for these profits,” Rachel noted. “Shortly before my first ‘flip’ was complete, God had been working within our team to bring us together and start what we know today as Anchored Beginnings.”
The organization was incorporated in January 2015, and was granted 501c3 non-profit status six months later. In addition to Rachel, Anchored Beginnings team members include Karen, Troy, and their 20-year-old daughter, Kaileen; Trent Elder of Cokato and his 14-year-old daughter Maisy; and Bill Torola of Cokato.
“God is so good; He is just blessing this ministry,” Rachel said. “We have been able to accomplish quite a bit.”
Fulfilling basic needs
In July 2014, before the group was formalized, members traveled to meet Bethel, and gave a 1,000-gallon water tank to his family.
“Bethel used to talk about how his throat would just burn because he was so thirsty,” Rachel recalled, noting that many people in Haiti are dehydrated and malnourished.
Anchored Beginnings supplied food for Bethel’s family and 28 children, and organized a Kids in Christ program (similar to Vacation Bible School). They also enrolled Bethel in a Christian school to compete his education, and donated medical supplies to serve the community.
Trent went on his first trip with Anchored Beginnings last November.
“I knew I wanted to get involved in mission work out of the states,” he said, adding if funding allows, he is considering serving as a full-time missionary in Haiti.
During that trip, the group helped Bethel’s family construct a chicken coop, so they could raise chickens and earn an income selling the eggs.
“That was a really fun trip, because we literally worked alongside them,” Rachel said.
“That’s what it’s about showing them that they have the ability,” Karen added. “They just need the opportunity.”
By spending time in Haiti, Anchored Beginnings has been able to see the community’s most pressing needs. For instance, the people in the area said they didn’t feel safe at night, so a security wall was installed for protection.
Part of the danger in Haiti is that people are in “survival mode,” Troy said. He explained that citizens don’t know where their next meal will come from, and everyone is left to look out for themselves.
When parents aren’t able to care for their children in Haiti, youth are often sent to live with other families. Known as “restaveks,” these children are given water, food, and shelter in exchange for household labor. Some of these children receive an education, while others do not.
Anchored Beginnings is currently helping to send two young Haitian boys to school, with hopes of sending more in the future. Anyone who would like to help fund education for Haitians can participate in an Anchored Beginnings’ program called Heart to Heart. Described as a “long-distance friendship,” sponsors are able to communicate regularly with the child, teen, or adult they are helping.
“As we grow, our hope is to help other families in the community,” Rachel said, noting that Anchored Beginnings would like to build a community center in Haiti someday.
The organization is taking projects one step at a time, taking care to use resources where they will have the most impact. Currently, funds are being raised for an indoor bathroom. Also on the future wish list is a brick oven to help Haitians prepare meals, and possibly make bread to sell at market.
“We’re really strong believers in not doing it for them,” Karen said. “We’re by their side and guiding them.”
The next mission trip for Anchored Beginnings is slated for the end of July. The group encourages anyone interested to consider volunteering, donating, or praying for the ministry. Many area businesses have already contributed to the cause.
“I’m proud to be part of the Dassel-Cokato area,” Karen said. “Local businesses have been wonderful in giving.”
To learn more about Anchored Beginnings, click here.