By Alex Temblador
Jennifer Schenk and her wife Amy Syres met while working for an orphanage organization in Haiti 6 years ago. They fell in love, started dating, and decided to leave the organization to start their own: Second Mile Haiti, a non-profit that aims for family preservation in Haiti. After beginning Second Mile Haiti, Jennifer and Amy kept their relationship separate from their business, that is until 2016 when Jennifer began receiving harassing messages from donors which resulted in her and her wife officially coming out on Facebook. And that’s when things got bad.
They lost $65,000 worth in donations and now their non-profit is under fire of having to close its doors in 2017 if things don’t change.
The entire experience has stunned Jennifer.
She told The Next Family, “I was completely shocked that we were losing donors who had been supporting us for years. Not only were they financial supporters but they would send such sweet messages like, “God is blessing your work,” “The work you are doing is amazing,” and “Praise Jesus for your work.’”
She added, “One minute, people thought what we were accomplishing was great, and the next, people didn’t want anything to do with us.”
“Technically, Amy and I started Second Mile as a couple. We’ve been in a relationship from Day 1, since opening Second Mile’s doors. The organization’s mission never once changed in those 5 years, and we have always stuck to our principles so it was hard for us to believe that people who had seen, praised, and supported the results of our program, could turn their backs on the organization.”
When asked how it felt after coming out and how it resulted in a great monetary loss to their organization, Jennifer noted:
“I felt sad. I didn’t feel sad so much for Amy and I, but for all of our employees, beneficiaries, and others in Haiti who depend on us. It’s hard to be the Executive Director and the primary fundraiser, and to know that our organization suffered a large loss in funds just because of our personal relationship.”
“It didn’t hurt us much, but it did hurt all those families we were trying to keep together.”
An organization such as Second Mile Haiti should never suffer because of discrimination. According to Second Mile Haiti’s website, 1 in 10 children in Haiti live in orphanages even though 80% of them have living parents. When parents feel it is too difficult for them to care for their children, many take their children to orphanages so that they are fed and housed.
Second Mile Haiti is hoping to combat this. They created a live-in rehabilitation center “that invites caregivers and children to stay with [Second Mile Haiti] during the rehabilitation period which is typically 4-6 weeks long. The caregiver goes through health education, business, gardening, and literacy classes. They graduate the program with the knowledge to care for their family.” Second Mile Haiti also helps these parents to set up a small business to help support their family.
Jennifer and Amy hope to take this model and spread it around Haiti, thereby reducing orphanages and keeping families together – an honorable dream that shouldn’t be affected by their love or marriage.
From the backlash of their coming out, Amy and Jennifer’s non-profit has lost $65,000 in donations, which is one-fourth of their entire budget. But they’re hoping to make that back and continue helping Haitian families to stay together.
“Our goal is to fundraise $65,000, but more importantly to find people to share our passion with, people who see our vision and want to add their voice. We hope to find new donors who fall in love with the work we do and aren’t dissuaded by our love life,” said Jennifer.
Click here to donate to Second Mile Haiti today.
Though the harassment and the backlash hurt Jennifer and Amy on a professional and personal level, this entire experience hasn’t come without its sweet moments.
“On the personal side, I was relieved [to have come out],” Jennifer said. “It’s really taken so much stress and strain off our relationship.”
And despite the backlash from their American donors, the Haitian people appreciate the help and work that Amy and Jennifer do for them.
“Our employees respect us for what we do and what we’ve accomplished. [Our relationship has] never been an issue,” Jennifer said.
“When we got married in September, we took a three-week absence from Haiti. When we returned many staff members walked up to me with a sly smile on their face and said congratulations. They never said why they were congratulating me, but that was their way of sending a subtle message.”
She added that there was also some love and support from their current donors and others on Facebook:
“Even though we received many messages of disappointment, many people reached out and said it didn’t matter to them about our relationship. They would continue giving to us. I had one couple that signed up to be a monthly donor of $500 for all of 2016, and the message said, ‘We stand with all of you.’ That was super encouraging.”
“Right after my post, it felt like people came together on Facebook to send messages of love to us and others and to highlight what we had achieved, together, as a couple. It has allowed us to speak freely and openly and reach out to groups of people who preach a message of love and tolerance.”
Help Jennifer and Amy keep families together in Haiti by taking a moment to donate and send the message that love is love and whether it’s here or abroad, all families deserve to be together.
Check out the video below to learn more about Second Mile Haiti: