Raymonde Jacques, better known as Ms. Mondy in Frankfort, grew up in the small village of Samadek in the mountains of Haiti without the privilege of nearby schools and medical care. She says she “got just enough education to survive.”
But Kentucky friends, who know of her lifelong commitment to helping less fortunate children get an education in her native country, feel she’s earned honorary doctorates in education and human services.
She also loves working as a preschool teacher’s aide, which she has done for decades at Frankfort Independent’s Second Street School. “They call me a jack-of-all trades. I can change diapers and make children laugh,” she said. “Children are my life. When I’m home, I’m dreaming about them.”
Frankfort’s Ruth Maggard has known Raymonde for more than 30 years, and “it has been my honor to be greeted as ‘sister’ by her. She greets many this way. She seems to think of everyone in a familial way. When I think of Mondy, I see a radiance of spirit and nobility in the servitude she provides with dignity and grace.
“Her generosity is manifested in the Haitian Needy Children Foundation (HNCF) she founded in 1996 with gracious support from her Capital City Christian Church (CCCC) family. It is untelling how many young people in that country have been positively impacted through Mondy’s initiative. Another example of her generosity is the number of international students she hosted over several years. Mondy’s deep devotion to her Creator is perhaps the overarching impetus to her reason for being, to her seeing in all humanity as children of one Creator.”
Arriving in Frankfort
Raymonde came to the United States in 1987. Through her church in Haiti, she met the late Doug Riddell, a missionary from Capital City Christian Church in Frankfort. Doug was looking for a caregiver for his young daughter, Beth, who had cerebral palsy.
He found a jewel in Raymonde, an honest, hard-working woman with a compassionate heart and a perpetual laugh. It took two-and-a-half years of immigration paperwork to get her to America, but it was worth it, Doug said.
Raymonde couldn’t speak English when she arrived in Frankfort, and Doug and his wife, Connie, couldn’t speak Haitian Creole — a blend of French, Spanish, Portuguese, English and some African languages. But there was an immediate bonding between Beth and Raymonde.
“That was the key point,” Doug said. “Beth loved her. She would light up when Raymonde was with her.”
In Haiti, Raymonde had adopted a brother’s infant son, Johnny, whose mother had died, and Johnny soon joined Raymonde in Frankfort.
Beth died at age 25 and was buried on Christmas Eve 1999. “I took care of Beth until she passed away,” Raymonde said. “She was my best friend. She never spoke a word, but she inspired me to help those who cannot help themselves.”
After Beth died, Doug and Connie still considered Raymonde and Johnny family.
The Riddells helped Raymonde get a Habitat for Humanity house on East Main near Kentucky State University. Working three jobs (teacher’s aide, cleaning houses, and full-time weekend caregiver for several disabled persons), she paid off a 30-year loan in 15 years. She saved $1 every day for the Haitian mission.
Doug died in 2016 at age 74. He had traveled to Haiti 10 times and there is now a Doug Riddell Library in Haiti. “After he passed away, we received donations from his family, Capital City Christian Church and his friends,” Raymonde said. “The library will serve several small communities for a long time.”
One goal that Raymonde was unable to accomplish was to build her mother a small house in Haiti. Her mom died in 1995, and Raymonde couldn’t go to her funeral. “There was a bad storm in the mountains and no one could cross the river to go call me when she died. I will never get over that,” she said recently, wiping tears from her eyes. About a week after learning of her mother’s death, Raymonde said she heard a voice say, “You didn’t have a chance to help your mother, but you can help many children in Haiti.”
That was her inspiration to start the HNCF, and there’s no such thing as giving up. “I feel the children are a big part of my life,” Raymonde says today. “I will do anything in my power to give them the chance I did not have to get an education. My mother died, but my dream lives on.”
Local pastor does mission work
Dr. Steve Pattison, pastor of Capital City Christian Church, said Raymonde is passionate about the education of kids in the mountains of Haiti where she lived growing up. He has been on two mission trips to that area. Through the HNCF, schools were built in three communities, but the only one still open today is in Samadek, which has about 400 students from first grade to ninth. The other two schools closed “because we ran out of money to pay the teachers,” Raymonde said.
Before the school in Samadek was built, “kids had to walk about four hours one way to get to school, and four hours back in pretty rugged territory,” Dr. Pattison said. “You can see the hills all around the school, and see these little specks of color as the kids in their uniforms come out of their houses and start heading toward the school. It’s a remarkable sight. The teaching at the school is pretty simple by our standards, but compared to what they were getting, it’s a remarkable achievement.”
He said Raymonde’s passion for her native country and home “has caused her to do tremendous good. She’s an amazing lady.”
Heading out of Port-au-Prince, (the capital), it’s about eight hours (to Samadek), and half of that is going through woods,” Pattison said. “Haiti is a terribly impoverished country. You have some people there that basically live with a hand out, and Raymonde has no patience for that. You have other people, who know that in order to advance, they have to get an education and work their heads off, and many of them do that. The welcome we got from the people that we were working with was incredible. Because they are so far up there (in the mountains), not too many Americans show up at that place.”
Surviving an earthquake
In 2010, Raymonde and 13 others from Capital City Christian Church were on a mission trip to Haiti when an earthquake hit. More than 200,000 were killed, but the entire CCCC team survived. “I barely made it out of a building that was destroyed,” Raymonde said. “God spared me for a reason.”
When the mission team returned to Frankfort, CCCC and the community put together a fundraiser for Haiti. The Haitian Needy Children’s Foundation received $8,000. Travis Harley, then-principal of Second Street School, worked with the faculty and students of Frankfort Independent Schools to raise an additional $7,200, and Raymonde donated $10,000 from her retirement.
In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew killed 546 in Haiti and devastated the area. “About 5,400 families from eight communities were able to be served bread from an outside community oven we had built that summer,” Raymonde said. “We did the best we could with what we had. Most of the trees and homes were destroyed by the hurricane. The children must be educated about how to reforest and protect the trees. In the mountains, there are no resources to make a living, so they cut the trees to make charcoal and other things. If I had the power, I would make a law that before one tree is cut, at least 10 should be planted.”
A medical lab building has now been completed in the mountains, thanks to a $30,000 donation from a person in her church, and several other donations. It will take another $10,500 to furnish the lab. Another “good Samaritan in Frankfort donated $10,000” to purchase land for a medical clinic, Raymonde said. She has a blueprint for a 50-bed facility, and the estimated cost in 2010 was $2 million. “It’s a lot of money, but if 2 million people contribute, it won’t be a problem,” she said. “The need for the clinic is humongous.” She said she’s lost many family members and friends over the years because they didn’t have medical care in the area.
Mondy’s ingredients for success
Raymonde says she has six ingredients for success: faith, hard work, patience, determination, integrity and a positive attitude.
“I’m not afraid to fail,” she said. “I’m just afraid to not try. If I try and fail, I get up and keep walking. The time will come when I have to slow down. When I establish the clinic, I will slow down.”
She’s 75 now, and still has her full-time job as a teacher’s aide. She still walks to school in the morning, and back home in the afternoon. She said she’s grateful for a good public bus service in the capital city. One of the bus stops is almost across the street from her home.
“The city of Frankfort has done a lot for me. The bus drivers treat me like family. If we didn’t have a city bus service, I would have to have a car. And the money I don’t have to spend on a car, I can give to the Haitian Needy Children Foundation.”
Raymonde said she never married “because I don’t have time. And men are a little intimidated by my generosity.”
She takes frequent walks in Frankfort Cemetery near her house, and she greets everybody she passes with a smile and uplifting words. On a recent walk in the cemetery, she said “good morning” to a man she didn’t know, and he smiled back and waved. Then she said, “It is definitely a good morning because we are walking and seeing the grass. We are alive.”
On her business card for the Haitian Needy Children Foundation is the French phrase, “Vouloir C’est Pouvoir,” which translated to English, basically means, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The card also says, “Please Open Your Heart, We Need Your Help.”
Two local high school students, Carter Rollins and Maximus Breidert, have helped Raymonde raise money to send a Haitian student to school to become a lab technician, she said.
“If two teenagers from Frankfort can help me do that, everybody can help in some way. We need everyone’s participation. It takes a village to raise a kid, and it takes a continent to help a community to help themselves.”
The address for the Haitian Needy Children Foundation is 236 E. Main St., Frankfort, KY 40601. The phone number is 502-352-2971. For more information, visit www.hncf.info.