HUDSONVILLE, Mich.—Even before it was in the headlines, helping Haiti was on the hearts and minds of Nate and Brenda Yonker.
Nate made the first trip there in 2006 to use his trade skills as a plumber to provide relief to poor areas. The next year, he took his wife Brenda along to experience how badly their help was neeeded.
"It's hard to grasp how much devastation is down there," Nate told Fox 17. "It was a tough country to go to before, but now since the earthquake, it's heartbreaking."
Together, the couple created a non-profit relief organization called Ebenezer DTC in July 2009. The goal was to provide schooling and literacy classes in Petit Grave, about 40 miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince.
"I just fell in love with the people, and didn't want to go back home," explained Brenda.
The couple continued to make trips back and forth to Haiti, but employed Haitian workers to run the center when they returned to Hudsonville.
Then, in January 2010, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit, destroying homes and ravaging cities.
"We didn't intend to do humanitarian work when we started Ebenezer, but after the earthquake we knew we had to do something," said Nate.
The couple expanded their mission to include housing and started providing small, 250 square feet homes to Haitians sleeping in tents. So far, Nate and Brenda have been able to place more than 70 families in these types of houses. Each one costs around $2,700 dollars, which is covered by donations.
"The houses are pre-fabbed in Port-au-Prince and they're shipped down to us," explained Nate. "They're basically move in ready, so we get people out of the tents and into permanent shelters. They're earthquake proof and hurricane proof and they'll last at least 20 years if not longer."
The homes are also helping to boost the local economy since Ebenezer DTC hires Haitians to put them together, and buys all of the supplies from within the country. Even though the homes are little, they're making a huge difference.
Brenda says, "Just to see the joy on their faces and their childrens faces...They will sing, and they will dance around and it's just so much fun to watch."
Brenda and Nate volunteer the time to do the mission work in Haiti, and even fund their own trips. The couple has even begun to bring their five children ranging in age from 10-15 along to help with the relief work every summer.
"It is a sacrifice...but what we get back out of it. We are so blessed," Brenda told FOX 17 News. "Just to be able to give a portion of that back. It's not always easy, but I wouldn't want to do anything else."
Nate plans to travel back to Haiti this January. The family will return next summer.
In the meantime, the Yonkers continue to raise money in West Michigan to help with the relief work happening hundreds of miles away.
Saturday, Oct. 29th, 2011 they will host a benefit concert fundraiser for Haiti at the Ceglarek Fine Arts Center in Allendale. Tickets are $10, and $15 doors at the door. Doors open at 6pm.
The couple has plans to continue their work in Haiti indefinitely.
"I want people here to understand how bad it is still there," said Nate. "We're not going to stop with the relief work until every person is out of a tent."