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GOSHEN -- It started out as a dream and a prayer, but Marcia Wilson's vision of sending a school bus packed with supplies to Haiti is quickly becoming a reality.
Wilson has traveled to Haiti twice to help island residents recover from a catastrophic earthquake in 2010 and has been thinking of ways to further help since her most recent return about a year ago.
Wilson and a group of friends spent much of their time in Haiti at New Life Children's Home, an orphanage in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.
"It's a beautiful piece of paradise in the middle of a lot of chaos," she said about the orphanage.
A year ago, Wilson helped organize the "Art for the Heart-Haiti" concert and art auction. Now, with help from local businesses, churches and individuals, Wilson is planning to send a bus, filled with supplies, to the children's home.
GETTING A BUS
About a month ago, Wilson saw a school bus for sale as she was leaving a local grocery store and began to think about what a bus could mean to New Life Children's Home.
That bus was too expensive, but it put Wilson on the lookout for another -- one that the children's home could use to take kids to the doctor's office or on field trips, to transport water or other goods and to transport volunteer groups to where they're needed.
A few days later as she was driving home to Goshen from Fairmont, Wilson's eyes fell on a filled parking lot of school buses, all for sale or up for auction.
"I said, 'Lord, I want one of those buses,'" she said.
After running to Silver Lake a few times to talk with Clifford Zehr, the owner of Kerlin Bus Sales and Leasing, Zehr showed her a 57-seat bus complete with a hydraulic lift and space to park wheelchairs.
Wilson, already overwhelmed by how well the bus would meet the orphanage's needs, grew even more grateful when Zehr told her it would be hers for free.
A COMMUNITY EFFORT
Wilson's momentum continued when, a few days later, she stopped by Quality Drive Away on her way home from a haircut. It agreed to deliver the bus to Miami for free. Maple City Chapel agreed to cover the bus on its insurance plan.
As word of Wilson's efforts spread, others began contacting her. Local medical supply companies called her to donate walkers, crutches and other medical supplies and individuals have donated money and relief items. Becka Jiménez, a fourth-grade teacher at Mary Beck Elementary School in Elkhart, encouraged her class to begin collecting supplies for the orphanage. They turned it into an entire week of studying Haiti, the country where Jiménez's parents happened to have also been missionaries.
Jiménez brought in some of her parents' artifacts and Wilson came to speak to the class.
Now, the students are also pen pals with the New Life children.
Jiménez said Mary Beck Elementary has the highest number of students on free-and-reduced lunches of any Elkhart schools and that her class has some behavioral issues.
"But for them, when I saw them working towards this goal and being missionaries, I saw them working together," she said.
Altogether, the class brought in multiple carloads of supplies and raised $278.85, an amount they said could save 164 lives with cholera vaccines.
Jiménez asked the students to bring in simple things they would be able to spare like a notebook, even if a few pages were already used, or some pencils. She didn't ask for clothes or money from the students, but a few did bring in their own clothes and one girl brought in a handful of change she wanted to share.
The kids learned about Haitian culture, were able to see some Haitian toys and learn how Haitians live, but the kids took more than a cultural lesson from the week.
"We gave them a whole bunch of books and we gave them a bunch of backpacks," Shamar Neely, 10, said. We learned "that even the littlest stuff could mean big things to them."
HEADING TO HAITI
Wilson said the bus will head to Haiti in late May. She and a few others from the area will be there from May 25 to June 5.
"I don't care if I have to fly in to be there, I am going to be there when the bus gets there," she said.
Preparing the bus for its journey to Port-au-Prince has been an experience all its own.
"The story is wonderful because it's so inclusive of so many people," Wilson said. "It's about people. They are so inspired -- Somebody gave you a bus?"
That story is far from over, Wilson said. "I am going to follow this story all the way through," she said.
Wilson had the bus at April's First Fridays, raising money to transport the bus from Florida to Haiti, by selling space for people to sign their names or write a short message, and is still collecting donations. Wilson said she is willing to bring the bus to groups if they want to sign it by calling her at 875-8168.
"It's going to be used for so much," she said. "It's going to bring a lot of joy and a lot of hope."