After spending the past two summers as a counselor at youth camp in Haiti, a local graduate has decided to make it her home for an entire year.
Elizabeth Ratke, a 2010 St. John Neumann Regional Academy graduate, first made the trip to the Caribbean country in 2012 with QUEST Volunteers for Haiti and Religious of Jesus and Mary after a friend told her about the mission trip.
Ratke explained that since she was so active in high school, playing softball among other activities, she couldn't find the time for a mission trip.
Elizabeth Ratke, who will graduate from Catholic University of America with a degree in psychology in the spring, shares a moment with a camper during her time in Haiti. Ratke plans to spend an entire year in Haiti following her college graduation.
"I never really had time to get involved with mission work because I was so busy," she said.
But it was something that she wanted to do. And while a student at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., she got her chance to go on a mission.
Ratke made her first trip to Haiti in 2012 to work in the camp. The trip made such an impact on her life that she again decided to be a counselor at the camp this past summer.
"When I came back from Haiti in 2012, I was hooked," she said. "I wanted to go back immediately. I didn't want to be home - It kind of had a piece of my heart."
The camp serves about 300 children, ages seven to 12, and is free to the families.
Campers are provided breakfast and lunch and participate in a variety of activities.
"We would do recreation with them. The recreation could be anything from basketball to softball. It rotated every day," Ratke explained.
Counselors also would take them to a nearby river to play and lead them in arts and crafts, such as finger painting and bracelet making.
And although there were "huge culture shocks," during her first trip, Ratke said it wasn't long before she decided to go back this past summer.
"When I came home last year, I just felt like I was missing everything. You miss the kids," she said. "... Everyone was just so friendly. You just miss everything."
And now she felt more comfortable as she knew what was in store for her.
"I knew what to expect. I knew that we weren't always going to have running water, that we were going to have to generate our water or the electric might go out," Ratke said.
The experiences not only allowed Ratke to learn about another culture, but others to do so as well, as she spoke to students at local schools in the county about her time in Haiti.
She also is fundraising for two individuals in Haiti. One has Type 1 Diabetes and the other, needs surgery to repair two heart valves.
But her work in Haiti isn't finished yet, as she is planning another return trip. After graduating this spring with a degree in psychology, Ratke will be spending an entire year in Haiti. She said she's looking forward to the simple-way of living.
"You come back to the states and you realize how fortunate we are. I can go right now and get on the computer and it works perfectly. I want to give back to them," she said. "I just miss living very simply. You're just so happy. It doesn't matter if you have a cell phone or a computer, the kids make you happy."