The Jervis family has found a home away from home in Haiti
The last two years the trip was dedicated to running a 10-day basketball camp in Cite Soleil, considered by many the poorest, most dangerous city in all the land. What began as a relief mission has become an annual vacation.
Here is their story:
Jerry Jervis, 46, father: “We’ve done lots of trips. We’ve gone to Mexico with our church, with friends, Latin America. We have a friend who works with an organization in Africa, and after the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, our friend forwarded us an email on behalf of the first lady of Haiti (Elisabeth Delatour Preval) asking if anyone could help. Schools had been closed for months, and they asked if anyone could donate school supplies. Anything, really. Leaders of the organization were going to go there. We said we’d love to help.”
Tami Jervis, 46, mother: “I’ve always been up for an adventure – it’s always been part of my heart. I wanted to do this with my kids, to show them life outside of western culture, to give them a bigger eye for what goes on in the world.”
Zac Jervis, 17, oldest son: “When I was younger, like 8 or 9, and we first went on missions, I was excited to go somewhere not in the U.S. and travel, to go and do whatever I could – whatever my parents asked me to do.”
Tami Jervis: “In college, I did a lot of stuff in Mexico. In high school, I went to South America for the summer. That started my passion for being with people who lived in completely different situations than myself. It changed my whole world view.”
Jerry Jervis: “We asked if we could personally take school supplies there. Our friend said he never had anyone ask to go there as a family.”
The Jervis family first flew to Haiti in October 2010, nine months after the earthquake, and stayed in a rental home in the city.
In 2011, Jerry Jervis emailed the pastor at his church, Brea’s North Hills Church, asking if he knew any missionaries in Haiti. That’s how the family met Assemblies of God missionary Bill Smith, a humanitarian, father and nearly 30-year Haiti resident.
Tami Jervis: “I’m very grateful we got to take the kids with us. The only way to get things in to Haiti then was to carry them in. Taking bags there as a family, we took two 50-pound bags each filled with school supplies. I let my kids know that we wouldn’t have luggage. The only thing they could take on the plane was a backpack. We spent hours putting everything in backpacks. As a mom, I thought I hadn’t thought this through. I didn’t know what situation we were walking into. I prepared the kids for very minimal resources, for sacrifices. They were all on board.”
Jerry Jervis: “This was Haiti right after the earthquake. It’s always chaos in Haiti, but this was a desperate, bad chaos.”
Bill Smith, via email: “It is not the norm to have an entire family arrive in Haiti. When I was first contacted by and found out their youngest was only 7 or so at the time, I was a bit concerned, but my concerns quickly dissipated when I met them. They arrived in Haiti with huge hearts to serve.”
Tami Jervis: “We got there, and the airport wasn’t really built. We stood on the landing strip after we got off the plane, and there were hundreds of bags stacked up. I stood there with my youngest. It was 115 degrees outside. It was so hot. My kids are looking all over for our luggage. My youngest started crying. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done. This is a little crazy.’”
Jerry Jervis: “Our last stop was Cite Soleil, and even people in Haiti don’t like to go there. The UN drops in once a week, just to let them know they’re there. Bill built a school right in the middle of the place. The head warlord, the head gangster, whoever, Bill put his kids through school, so he has complete protection. Nobody messes with him. I asked Bill if we should take the kids in there, if he could protect us.”
Tami Jervis: “We couldn’t have done it without Bill. He has the most incredible relationship with the people there. He can go anywhere and he’s respected and loved. Kids run up to him on the street. He’s touched so many lives there.”
Zac Jervis: “You have an image in your head of what to expect. Our first year, we saw a six- or seven-story building in the city completely flattened to a one-story house. You could count all the levels. The coolest thing for me was seeing these kids, who are in so much pain, so much poverty, and they’re the most fun people to be around.”
Tami Jervis: “My daughter and I cried the whole way home. We didn’t want to leave. Haiti got inside our hearts.”
The Jervis family returned to Haiti the following year, with more friends and family. This time, they built school benches and desks, and spent a little more time in Cite Soleil, where they handed out basketball shoes and renovated a basketball court that was damaged during the earthquake.
Fifty kids from ages 6 to 20 showed up to help, with many others hanging out on the sidelines. In summer 2013, the Jervises held their first basketball camp.
Zac Jervis: “The kids there love soccer. There’s a lot of soccer. The kids that spoke English asked me, ‘What sports do you play?’ I told them I played basketball, and they all said Kobe Bryant over and over again. That’s all they knew about basketball.”
Bill Smith: “For the basketball camp, we use a court that was damaged in the quake. The backboards had long ago been destroyed and the court was basically used as a soccer field by the boys. The Jervises raised funds to put up new backboards, and where the wall was missing, they have helped to build cement/block bleachers, thus provided much needed jobs for a few young men during the construction.”
Jerry Jervis: “The first day, Bill says the committee of mob bosses want to talk to you. I’m thinking, ‘Oh no.’ They said, ‘Thank you. We hear about all these people from America, from all over the world helping Haiti, and no one has ever come and helped us or done anything.’ They said they hoped we’d come back next year.”
Bill Smith: “The kids in Cite Soleil have very little to do on a daily basis unless they are privileged enough to go to school. Participation in the basketball camp has to be limited or else we would be inundated with kids and no one would learn adequate skills.”
Tami Jervis: “Our first basketball camp, we planned what to do in the first hour, the second hour, the third. But we got there and the kids didn’t care. If we would’ve bounced a ball with them all day, they would’ve been happy as can be. They’re people not waiting for the next big thing. They’re so happy in the present moment with what’s being offered.”
Bill Smith: “Being in the camp not only gives them value, but they are learning great skills, team work and sportsmanship. They play their heart out.”
Zac Jervis: “They’re all just happy. It’s crazy to see how happy someone can be with nothing, nothing at all.”
Zac Jervis transferred from Brea Olinda High to Orange Lutheran in the summer.
Tami Jervis went to high school with Orange Lutheran’s missions director, Mark Maietta. Together, they organized charity events. Orange Lutheran players, parents and boosters donated gently worn shoes to the cause, shoes that were taken to Cite Soleil in August for distribution.
Jerry Jervis: “Passing out shoes was the most intense part. We sized them and fit them, and it almost turned into a feeding frenzy. It’s a community of people who have nothing, and if they get their hands on a pair of shoes, then they’re set.”
Chris Nordstrom, Orange Lutheran boys basketball coach: “Those trips are indicative of that family. Zac, he has a key role in this as the oldest brother. His dad and mom are driving it, but Zac’s taking it on his shoulders, helping his family. ... This year we’re donating all kinds of uniforms for them to wear during camps.”
Jerry Jervis: “We gave out certificates at the end of the camp, and last year everyone showed up with them. A certificate in Haiti is like a diploma. We’re not even a real basketball camp, but these kids are putting these things in plastic, keeping them under their mattress.”
Zac Jervis: “Our goal is to eventually set up some kind of team down there. There’s one Haitian basketball team that travels, but the main sport there is soccer. People from Cite Soleil are looked down upon. We want a basketball team out of there, so kids know they’re worth something, they can do something, they’re not a nobody.”
Bill Smith: “The Jervis family has a heart to help the people of Haiti advance in their daily life. ... They are always researching new means of support, not to build dependency, but sustainable programs. ... Poverty is not pretty, but the Jervis family is helping people learn skills to rise above it.”
Tami Jervis: “Ask my kids where they want to go in the summer, and they will all say Haiti, which is crazy because Haiti has nothing to offer them in terms of comfort. There’s just something about being with desperate people who love out of nothing. They have their raw self to offer you, and you don’t see that anywhere. It’s so attractive and incredible.”
Jerry Jervis: “Going back is still the highlight of our year.”
The Jervises plan on returning to Haiti and Cite Soleil this summer.
Contact the writer: 714-704-3790 or firstname.lastname@example.org