Gail Lenhard traveled to the small island of la Gonave in Haiti not knowing what to expect.
When she arrived at St. Isidore's Parish on a humid day in February, she was introduced to her students for the week. She was charged with helping the students, ages 10 to 18, learn English.
She started out with a word game to help break the ice. The kids loved it, and by the end of the week were uttering phrases such as "I see the dog." They affectionately called her zanmi, which is Creole for friend.
That brief experience left Lenhard with fond memories of the students, and now she is looking for ways to further help them.
Lenhard, 53, is a member of Partners with Haiti Inc. at St. Paul's Catholic Church in St. Petersburg. The group helps its twin parish in Haiti care for the needs of the community.
This Saturday, a walk-a-thon has been organized to help support their efforts, which include upkeep of a clinic in the small village and helping to educate the children. The group meets twice monthly for Creole lessons and to discuss upcoming projects.
The relationship with the Haitian parish began in 1999 when several parishioners encouraged the church to look into the philanthropic work. Each year, the organization spends about $25,000 in its efforts. This March, members will make their fifth trip to the country.
For the past three years the ministry has sponsored two women of the village to attend nursing school in the nation's capital, Port-au-Prince. One already graduated and the other will finish next year.
"I think for the two young ladies it's sort of a miracle or a dream come true for them," Jim Stitt, president of Partners with Haiti. Stitt, 63, said that the women hadn't been able to envision themselves accomplishing so much. The ministry hopes that when the two nurses return, the village's only clinic can be turned into a year-round facility.
For the parishioners, it has turned into an effort well worth their while.
"The main thing is it's a chance to work with people," said Bob Muller who's involved with the group and traveled to the island in spring 2007. Muller, 66, a biologist who lives in St. Petersburg, has been a globetrotter before, serving in the Peace Corps in Tanzania in the 1960s and speaks fluent Swahili.
The humanitarian nature of the mission attracted him. "It's one thing to give your money to an organization," he said. "It's another thing to give your time."