For Immediate Release
March 26, 2010
Office of College Communications
WENHAM, MA— When word of the earthquake in Haiti hit the U.S., Marilyn Helgesen had only to look at her husband with the question in her eyes: “So, when are you going down?” Helping people in need is natural for Paul Helgesen, and she knew his decision to go to Haiti after the earthquake was not an option for him.
From February 19 to March 7, Helgesen, a resident of Manchester-by-the-Sea and a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary ’80, worked in the town of Blanchard, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, using his carpentry skills alongside a team of 12 medical and construction specialists. They helped reconstruct walls and houses, built exam tables for the medical clinic and created temporary housing for those with nothing. The trip was organized by the Ipswich-based nonprofit Partners in Development (PID), whose headquarters in Port-au-Prince have enabled them to work closely with Haitians for 20 years.
Helgesen, the director of plant operations and sustainability at Gordon College in Wenham and on-call firefighter/EMT with the Manchester-by-the-Sea Fire Department, took personal time for the trip.
“That’s what my vacation weeks are for,” he says. This is not the first time Helgesen has used vacation to serve other people. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, he left for three weeks with the American Red Cross to manage seven disaster kitchens in southwest Louisiana. He’s also been to Mexico several times alongside Gordon students on organized mission trips. “I’m surrounded by a great staff at Gordon who understands this overwhelming desire I’ve been given to get up and go serve where I’m needed,” says Helgesen.
In Haiti he saw firsthand the wreckage of the area and yet the hope of the people. “I was struck by their dignity,” said Helgesen. “They have so little, and yet they never complained.”
He recalled one woman with a sick child who sought help from the medical clinic. She had nothing but only wanted some food for her malnourished baby. Helgesen said she was overwhelmed when, in addition to giving her food, his team also gave her a tent.
“Parents are the same all over,” said Helgesen. “Help their child and they’ll give you the biggest smiles. They don’t expect anything for themselves.”
Now back in Wenham, Helgesen is back at work, in Gordon’s Physical Plant. But he’s always on call in case another opportunity to serve arises.
“I would love to go back where the needs are great,” he says. “Everything in Haiti is so vital, and I got to work with unbelievable people. It was an amazing experience.”
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Gordon College is a multidenominational Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston’s North Shore, offering majors in 36 fields with graduate programs in education and music education. Gordon is nationally recognized for excellence in academics and in character building, and ranks as one of the nation’s top Christian colleges. www.gordon.edu