Haitian native leverages local support to help homeland

7 Aug 2014 | Cpl. Jackeline Perez Rivera

A Marine retiree initiated a project to help children in her homeland of Haiti with the help of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station New River and local communities.

Joele Montes, who retired after 22 years as a Marine and served the military community as a prevention specialist with Marine Corps Community Services for more than six years, has turned her focus to helping her homeland fight poverty.

Operation: Shoeboxes for Haiti, a project where members of the local community donated toys and supplies to an orphanage in Haiti, is one way Montes and Annette Salmon decided to help Montes’ birthplace.

“Haiti is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen,” said Montes. “The people are warm and very positive. You see people with no shoes and barely clothed and they are smiling. They enjoy life and they remind us of a greater purpose.”

Montes spent her life seeking ways to serve God, she said, and after a successful military career and years supporting the military as a civilian she sought a new path.

“From a spiritual perspective, I spent my life wondering what else God wants me to do,” said Montes. “I was still looking for something else.”

A trip to give a small town a water purification system took her back to Haiti for the first time for longer than a day since she was 13 years old. She visited briefly in 1993 after the death of her father.

The minute she landed in Haiti she felt like a piece of her heart that was missing had been filled, Montes said.

“I felt like I no longer had to search because that something was there,” said Montes.

 Her focus was then renewed toward eradicating poverty in her home country, she said.

“Going home was very rewarding,” said Montes. “The poverty in Haiti was always a concern for me and I feel like I am now able to do something about it.”

While working on the project to create a water purification system, Montes was introduced to the Èglise Baptiste Armèe du Christe, an orphanage that serves school-age children.

She decided to focus her efforts on helping the orphanage, she said. It began with a visit where she spoke to the pastor and noticed a need for new showers and restrooms. She immediately donated half of the funds needed.

When Montes returned to North Carolina she spoke to Salmon about her experiences.

“Joele’s example spoke to me and I wanted to be a part of that,” said Salmon, spouse of Col. Timothy M. Salmon, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station New River and Melbourne, Fla., native.

Salmon had seen other projects to provide gifts in shoeboxes to children Haiti which inspired her to bring the idea to Montes.

“I thought it was a wonderful community project,” said Salmon.

Montes and Salmon reached out to the community, including places of worship throughout MCB Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River and Jacksonville.

They distributed paper angels with lists of items the children needed with a child’s age group and gender on it. They sought 100 shoeboxes to accommodate each child of the orphanage.

It shocked them both to discover they received more than double that. The community donated 250 shoeboxes for the youth.

“We didn’t know we would get such an overwhelming response from the community,” said Montes. “It makes me feel great.”

Donors not only picked items with love, creativity and generosity, they also left messages of hope and prayer with the shoeboxes, said Salmon.

The children loved the gifts, said Montes. Montes along with her children and others, took the gifts to Haiti in person.

“They couldn’t thank us enough,” said Montes.

Projects like this, which showcase the community’s willingness to help, bring out the beauty of humanity, said Montes, and inspire her to continue on her path.

It’s a small gesture, but Montes and Salmon continue to seek new ways to help Haiti.

“We are not looking to rush to the next project,” said Salmon. “We’re seeking opportunities where we can do the most good.”

It only takes a single person to reach out and help, said Montes.

“It was a rewarding and life changing experience for us,” said Montes.