By John Burton
RED BANK – The Grains of Grace program may be new to Aslan Youth Ministries, but the organization’s work and commitment to the people of Haiti is not.
The ministries, located at 255 Harding Road, is partnering with Pilgrim Baptist Church, 172 Shrewsbury Ave., and other religious-based organizations to continue and expand the Grains of Grace program, through which donations are used to “adopt” Haitian families. The families are provided with rice and small amounts of fuel that offer help to their meager existences.
“This is an outgrowth of other programs” that Aslan has been conducting for Haiti over the years, said S. Craig Bogard, Aslan’s chief executive officer and cofounder.
The Grains of Grace program was founded in 2007 by Step of Faith Ministry from Wall. Aslan Youth Ministries, which has been making trips to Haiti since 1996, and Pilgrim Baptist Church have now joined with the Wall group on its trips to the poverty-stricken island nation and are now seeking donations to include more families in the program.
Organizers say that it takes $250 to provide a family with a 50-pound bag of rice and the fuel every four months for a year. One-hundred percent of sponsorship dollars go toward assisting the families in L’ Acajou, in Haiti’s northwestern region.
Volunteers from Pilgrim Baptist Church will be joining those from Aslan Youth Ministries in late May to offer a helping hand and deliver food – purchased with donations – to the adopted families.
Community partners in Haiti will distribute the food and supplies for the remainder of the year.
Bogard and his wife Lynn Ann founded Aslan in 1975 to provide programs for underprivileged and at-risk area youth. As part of the ministry’s mission, Bogard, volunteers and some young people enrolled in programs, began visiting Haiti 18 years ago.
In a nation about the size of Maryland, they found most of the population “living in abject poverty,” Bogard said. They saw people living in small huts made of straw and mud “in the middle of nowhere” without the most basic of sanitary facilities.
Things are so dire, that people mix mud with what little food they have for their families, just to stretch it to fill the stomachs, he said. People there subsist on about 600 calories a day, with a protein intake that is the least of anywhere in the world, he said.
Over the course of nearly two decades, Bogard has taken about 50 trips to Haiti, which adds up to about a year in the country.
“I have immediately and completely fallen in love with the people,” he said.
Bogard and his organization have worked to help more than 200 youngsters receive an education that may be their only chance out of poverty. Along with that, Aslan operates a summer day camp in Haiti each year with youth members traveling there to help and there is an ongoing construction project to build modest housing units.
Aslan has been working for years to establish a medical clinic in the region. The ministry purchased 6 acres and has built a facility, constructed out of Conex steel freight containers, that is 40-feet long and 8-feet wide.
The clinic will have a dental lab, examination rooms and x-ray machines, powered by a 50,000-watt generator, once wiring is completed. It will be staffed by Haitian residents, one who has gone to medical school in the Dominican Republic and two others who have attended nursing school in Port-au-Prince. Their education was paid for with funds raised by Aslan. Bogard hopes medical teams from the U.S will eventually come to work at the clinic.
It’s been a long, uphill climb to establish programs and continue work on the organization’s projects because of the “shortsightedness” of government officials, taking so much time and compounding costs to get anything accomplished, Bogard said.
The bureaucracy there seems to only have gotten worse as the need has increased since the 2010 earthquake with so many people living in “poverty that is so grinding and dehumanizing,” he said.
If I didn’t have such love for the people of Haiti, I would have given up,” he said.
But, he feels it is important to continue and sustain the programs. “We don’t want to start a program like this and then stop it because it is so critically important to these people.”
To contribute to the Grains of Grace initiative or to volunteer to join the team traveling to Haiti this spring, call Pilgrim Baptist Church, at 732-747-2343.