Hope Exchange aims to help Haiti, others

Published 10:27 am Wednesday, June 22, 2022

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On Albemarle’s North Second Street, a few blocks south of U.S. Highway 52, sits an old, nondescript brick building with a few out-of-the-way shops.

Several months back, two friends with big ideas opened a new business there.

Now passersby may notice large blue and yellow, orange, green and pink pinwheels hanging by invisible threads in the picture windows, much like dreams dangle from invisible threads of hope.

In fact, hope is a big deal to these women. They named their shop The Hope Exchange.

Rachel Gardner Louis and Krissy Mills Cardwell met in an Albemarle doctor’s office. Louis was the physician’s assistant and Cardwell was the patient. Sometime later they bumped into each other at North Albemarle Baptist Church, then discovered a mutual interest in Haiti. Louis’ ties to Haiti are very personal. During a medical mission trip, she met Williamson Louis from the Haitian village of Titanyen and the couple married in 2015.

Williamson Louis with children at an orphanage supported by HHCM. (Contributed)

In 2016 Cardwell traveled with the Louises to Titanyen as part of NABC’s mission team.

The friends have made that trip many times since, but last November they set out on a journey of another kind, with no need to pack a bag or board a plane. Service remains the focus of their teamwork but includes outreach to the local community in several ways.

The women talk about The Hope Exchange as a place for fellowship and learning for everyone. They especially want to lend support to moms and teachers who often feel alone and discouraged.

Rachel and Williamson Louis, founders of Higher Hope Connect Ministries. (Contributed)

“We want to serve families of faith and lift each other up,” said Assistant Manager Mandy Eudy.

A list of hopeful expectations includes Bible studies and other classes, as well as space for tutors or anyone seeking tutoring.

A sturdy table already invites kids and adults to gather around to exchange ideas or play a game of chess.

“We offer consigned educational books and materials, games, puzzles and some toys, only gently used,” said Cardwell.

Shelves of published curriculum from Abeka, Apologia, Math.U.See, Saxon, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin and others provide a growing selection of resources for at-home and at-school educators. Area residents no longer must drive to Mecklenburg County to find a brick-and-mortar store of this type.

Eudy and Cardwell are veteran homeschool moms with more than 20 years of combined experience running their own homeschools. They’ve both been integral to the Lift Team homeschool co-op group which meets weekly at NABC.

Cardwell said several other homeschool co-op groups are active in Stanly County and offer support for 1,000 families with registered homeschools in the county. (The number comes from the North Carolina Department of Non-Public Education report for the 2020-21 school year.)

Shoppers will find not only educational items, but soaps, candles and crocheted or knitted handcrafts from a few local vendors. A selection of handmade jewelry is offered in partnership with a couple of churches in support of other mission work.

“The Hope Exchange is a place we want to have available to the community to encourage U.S. children to learn, but also support school children in Haiti,” said Rachel Louis.

Higher Hope Connect Ministries is the nonprofit the Louises founded to help children through sponsorships, as well as provide medical care and create jobs.

“My husband, being from Haiti, knew firsthand the hardships children face trying to pay for their own schooling in Haiti,” she said. “Many families have to choose food over schooling.”

School sponsorship for one child is almost $1 a day, according to Louis, and inquiries are welcome at higherhopecm@yahoo.com. A Facebook page also gives information.

Table displays of jewelry and wall-mounted metal art made from bottle caps and metal oil drums highlight the ties with Haiti. Purchasing these ministry products made in Haiti helps provide the basics for families.

“We buy goods at fair wages from Haitian families so they can support their children and not have to give them up to orphanages,” said Louis.

“You can walk from the church to four orphanages in Titanyen,” added Cardwell.

Consignors may choose to donate any profits to Higher Hope Connect Ministries, or receive 50 percent of sales as a store credit, or a check for 40 percent of sales each month, according to Cardwell.

“We hope you can come see us and know your purchase makes a difference in children’s lives in your community and around the world,” Louis said. “Children are the future.”