It’s hard to formulate a philosophy for life at age 16, but if someone that young can have words to live by, Rachel Wheeler has a suggestion.
“You don’t have to be an adult to change the world,” says Rachel, a sophomore at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek.
Starting when she was just nine years old, Rachel began to raise money to help the earthquake-devastated areas of Haiti.
“I just wanted to help and I wanted to do as much as I can,” Rachel said.
So with help from her parents and friends, Rachel started her fundraising efforts. Fast-forward seven years, and she has raised roughly $500,000 for Food for the Poor, an international relief agency based a few blocks from her school.
Food for the Poor has used the money to build 75 concrete block homes and a school in the Leogane area of Haiti, one of the neediest places on earth. Dozens of families suddenly have shelter, clean running water, and a school for 350 kids.
“I do feel a sense of accomplishment because I know that I’ve helped people,” Rachel said, speaking to us in an interview in her school’s library.
You won’t hear Rachel boasting about her accomplishments. People at the school say she’s too humble for that.
“But what she does do is she leads by example in a quiet way,” said North Broward Prep’s headmaster, Elis Ecoff. “And she’s able to give other students advice on how to follow your passions and to not wait until you’re an adult to be able to make a difference.”
There’s no question Rachel’s fundraising has made a profound difference in Haiti.
“The areas she has helped have truly felt hopeless and forgotten,” Said Angel Aloma, executive director of Food for the Poor. “these are people who had experienced little hope, all of a sudden now, they have a start in life, because a home, then a school, and what happens is once they have a home it’s much more likely they’ll get a job, all because of a girl who started at nine years of age with this dream and is making that dream a reality.”
Food for the Poor builds its homes in clusters to form a community. The one in Leogane is called Rachel’s Village, and when she visits, Rachel is treated like a hero.
“When I did go they all were, like everybody was yelling my name, they were carrying me into the village and everyone I saw was saying thank you, thank you,” Rachel said. “I know that I’m doing a good thing and I know that it’s helping people and when you really see it from them, it actually like, hits you.”
Unlike most privileged teenagers in this country, Rachel Wheeler never takes her blessings for granted. It’s a lesson forged from seeing third-world poverty up close, and it fuels her drive to do more, to help more.
“I think I’ve succeeded but I want to do more, I don’t want to stop here,” Rachel declares.
She’s bent on saving the world. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid who’s still learning algebra.
You can donate to the effort by going to www.foodforthepoor.org/Rachel.