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Jerry Costello

 How Love Provides Wings of Refuge

               Chances are that you haven’t heard about Samantha Kauffman yet. She’s just 17 and graduated earlier this spring from Wayne Hills High School in New Jersey. She turned in quite a record with the Wayne Hills swim team, too, notching three county championships. She’s now a freshman at the University of Delaware, planning to take her swimming career to new levels there. But if Samantha has any plans for Olympic stardom, her profile by Sean Farrell in The Record of Hackensack doesn’t mention them. Instead, the headline over that profile lists her biggest talent, and it turns out to be “helping others.” An apt headline it proves to be.
               Samantha Kauffman’s special interest is helping the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, and she does so in a direct and personal way. She zeroed in on a children's home, and there she found Fegans, a six-year-old boy left orphan by the storm. The two bonded at once, and thus began a close and enduring friendship. But as close as she is to Fegans, he’s only part of the reason that Samantha keeps going to Haiti, again and again.
The whole country, it seems, has been devastated by the earthquake, almost daring the impoverished land not to bother rebuilding. Samantha Kauffman is just one of many—visitors from other countries, and most of all, Haitians themselves—who are there to make sure that doesn’t happen.
               “The earthquake” requires no further identification. It happened in 2010, registered an almost unheard-of measurement of 7.0, and came close to obliterating a country already regarded as the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Billions of dollars followed in humanitarian aid, yet the rebuilding process is painfully slow.
               It was three years after the quake, in 2013 that Kauffman made her first visit there, and she almost turned back. The never-ending smell of garbage, the overbearing heat, and the unending poverty were almost too much for a 15-year-old—which she was at the time—to take. But she had been sent by her church, the Powerhouse Christian Church of Wyckoff, and she determined to stick it out. Then she saw the Wings of Refuge children’s home, and she quickly changed her mind for good.
               “The first time you get there, they latch onto you, and they don’t even know you,” Kaufmann said of the children. “I wanted to go home so badly. Then I met the kids, and it changed my life.”
               Nearly three dozen Haitian children are at the Wings of Refuge home, ranging in age from three to 15. They’re fed there, learn their lessons, play games. “They’re thankful for what they have,” she said. A volunteer back in the U.S. put Kauffman’s contribution in perspective: “Samantha loves those kids. There’s not many teens that I’ve seen who are willing to give up time, energy and money to go to a really poor place.”
               The needs of Haiti are immense, enough to try the patience of even the dauntless. But Samantha Kauffman, dauntless by any measure, plugs on. She realizes that she can’t change the entire country, but she’s making a start. And there are those kids.
               “They have nothing,” she said. “But they have everything…because they have each other.”


For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, LEADERSHIP IN MERCY, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org<mailto:mail@christophers.org>