"13-year-old Rachel Wheeler raises a village"
By Rachel Galvin
It may take a village to raise a child, but is it possible that a child can raise a village? If that child is 13-year-old Rachel Wheeler, then the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
Just four years ago, Lighthouse Point resident, Rachel Wheeler had a goal to help rebuild a village in Haiti that had been decimated by the devastating earthquake.Today, she not only raised enough money ($167,400) to build 27 two-room homes in what has been named Rachel’s Village, but has raised $132,000 to build the replacement of the Ecole Reap de Morel basic school, which was also destroyed during the disaster, and fill it with school supplies. She went to Haiti in March for the school’s inauguration. With 350 kids enrolled, the school is at full enrollment.
Her philanthropic idea began in April 2009 when Wheeler had met Mr. Robin Mahood, president for Food for the Poor. He spoke to the Lighthouse Point Chamber about the programs the nonprofit organization does for Haiti and asked the members to pitch in. He was talking about how a mere $2600 can buy a house, a fact that astonished Wheeler. Her mom, Julie, said, “She was surprised that it only took $2600. [A two-room home with access to sanitation costs $6,400]. Mr. Mahood had given her a replica of a house, stories and pictures of children and houses. We cried when we looked at them. She said ‘Mom, we have to help this man. He is doing God’s work.’ Michelle Green from the Chamber had her come to the Chamber, suggesting that she get 13 $200 donations, which would build a home, and then do that 13 more times and call it Rachel’s Baker’s Dozen.”
Julie thought this was a great idea and so they went. Rachel gathered her thoughts and stood on a chair to read to a full audience of Chamber members about what she would like to do. She came prepared with 15 pre-addressed envelopes in which donors could place money for the cause. She raised enough to build two houses that night.
When Mahood saw her efforts, he asked her mother if Rachel might be interested in not just building 13 houses, but 25 duplexes, a whole village, which would require $130,000. Julie was hesitant at first, wondering if her then 9-year-old would be up for the challenge. But when she told Rachel about it, Rachel jumped at the chance.
The efforts stepped up a notch, including lemonade stands, making pot holders to sell and other moneymaking ideas; a press release went across the country. “It caught the eye of an organic cherry farmer in Washington state,” said Julie. “He has a 9-year-old named Rachel, too, who has also helped people in Haiti.” The first crop of the farmer, she explained, was always donated to charity of their [the ‘workers’] choice. When Rachel’s cause was chosen, the first crop went to her Haitian effort to the tune of $48,000. “It was the biggest crop they ever had. That was a huge boost,” said Julie.
It was during her first trip to Leogane village that she decided to build a school there. “When I go to Haiti and to my village,” said Wheeler, “I see so many happy faces and little children running around and playing with each other. I want to change Haiti for the next generation of people – to let them have a place to live and have a family that is happy, healthy and safe.”
People around the nation have noticed Wheeler’s efforts. She was voted one of the Top 11 Kids Who Made a Difference in 2011 by the Huffington Post and was named one of America’s top ten youth volunteers for 2011. In 2012, she was voted a Huggable Hero by Build-a-Bear. These are just a few of the accolades bestowed upon her.
Her new goal is to build 20 more homes. When the people who donated the land the school was built on saw what positive impact it had, they decided to donate more in order to build more homes. Now, Rachel, who is entering 8th grade at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, is seeking donations again to create even more happy faces in the village she helped to create.
To support Rachel’s efforts, visit her page at www.foodforthepoor.org/Rachel or make checks payable to Food for the Poor. Include source code SC#82561 on the check in order for it to go to Rachel. Checks can be mailed to Food for the Poor, 6401 Lyons Rd., Coconut Creek, FL 33073. All gifts are tax-deductible.