Kevin Riordan: Offering Haiti hope, and clinics

Leslee and Frank Jacobs at home in Medford. They have opened five clinics in Haiti and she is returning for a three-month stint.
Leslee and Frank Jacobs at home in Medford. They have opened five clinics in Haiti and she is returning for a three-month stint. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff)
Posted: January 22, 2012

A minor cut and an ordinary tube of antibacterial cream inspired Frank and Leslee Jacobs to build their first medical clinic in Haiti.

"We were volunteering at another clinic, and a man who worked on cars came in," Frank, 58, recalls, sitting next to his wife in their Medford home.

"I put some cream on his finger, and the man's entire countenance changed. And it occurred to me that something we have lying around up here could make such a difference down there."

That was 1998. Since then, the Jacobses and supporters of their Hope Alive! Clinic Ministries Inc. have opened five clinics in Haiti.

The facilities, photos of which can be seen at, operate year-round and are staffed by 22 local medical professionals, augmented by regular planeloads of volunteers from the United States.

All of this was in place before an earthquake devastated Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, on Jan. 12, 2010.

Fortunately, no staff members were injured, the facilities suffered minimal damage, and all five clinics started to see patients again after only a few days.

"Since then, we've stepped everything up," Leslee, 55, says, noting that the ministry has begun to build water-purification systems and provide food and other assistance to local orphanages.

Last year, more than 14,000 patients were treated at the clinics, including the main facility in Mariani, west of Port-au-Prince. Others are in more remote parts of the country.

As I chat with the Jacobses, it strikes me that the term evangelical Christian has become so politically loaded that some dismiss the good work of grassroots believers.

Frank, a Pittsburgh native, is a salesman for a chemical company; Leslee, who grew up in Marlton, recently left her receptionist job to spend three months in Haiti, beginning Monday.

The couple, who have three grown children and one grandchild, don't draw salaries for their Hope Alive work. The nonprofit has an annual budget of about $100,000, virtually all from private donations.

The Jacobses' Haitian journey began with church-sponsored trips in the late 1980s, "helping people and spreading the Gospel. It was amazing," Frank says.

"The kids break your heart," he adds. "They're hungry. There are a lot of orphans . . . and some make their shoes out of plastic soda bottles."

The Jacobses have been to Haiti dozens of times, usually as leaders of groups of U.S. volunteers.

The ministry, Frank notes, is often "a springboard for other people who've got something they can give."

Pam Miller, 59, a registered nurse from Woodland Township, Burlington County, will make her fourth Hope Alive trip in February.

A lifelong seamstress, Miller began making simple skirts for Haitian women and got the idea of helping some of them learn to sew.

Because many Haitian homes lack electricity, Miller went in search of vintage, treadle-powered sewing machines. She found four, and recently secured a donation of 11 more. She hopes to train women who want to escape lives of prostitution to make and sell clothing instead.

Medford Lakes resident Jolene Wagner, 59, has been a Hope Alive principal since the beginning. She does mostly clerical work, and also developed a program for American women to sponsor Haitian children.

"We're so blessed here in the States," Wagner says. "I applaud Frank and Leslee for what they do."

The couple aren't in it for the accolades.

"We're stepping out on faith," Frank says.

"We had no idea how we were going to do any of this," Leslee says. "But we know this is what God wants us to do.

"People say, 'Why don't you help people in your own neighborhood?' And we do. . . . But nothing compares to the need in Haiti."

Kevin Riordan:

Frank and Leslee Jacobs, of Medford, talk about the clinics they built in Haiti, at

Contact staff writer Kevin

Riordan at 856-779-3845,,

or @inqkriordan on Twitter.

Read the metro columnists'

blog, "Blinq," at

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