Fighting for Yvenson


One week into the school year, Yvenson hadn’t been to a single class. He hadn’t written his name on a single sheet of paper, hadn’t played soccer at recess with his classmates, and hadn’t met his new teacher.

Last year wasn’t exactly a banner year for Yvenson. He struggled in the classroom and, with the help of his teachers, fought his way through some behavior struggles. When he wasn’t showing up to school this year, Greg, our principal, knew he had to take action. He went to visit Yvenson at home. There, Greg learned that the reason his parents had kept Yvenson from school was because they were ashamed. Ashamed of the behavior problems. Ashamed of the struggle of last year. For them, the best solution was to keep Yvenson home; he couldn’t struggle with his behavior if he didn’t go to school in the first place.

Yvenson (right) and Claudy, a work study student

Yvenson (right) and Claudy, a work study student

In some way or another, we’re all left behind. We all have places we don’t want to show up to—because of fear, past failures, struggle, or shame. Some of us, if we’re lucky, have people that will come alongside us, fight for us, and walk with us as we navigate those struggles. Yvenson is one of those lucky ones.

Greg fought not only for Yvenson, but for our school’s DNA as a place where the left behind are advocated for and championed. He promised Yvenson and his parents that he and the staff would fight for him as he continues to take ownership of his education. He assured Yvenson that, no matter what the year before looked like, there is a place for him at Institution One 17.

Yvenson is back in school now. One of our work study students—Claudy—has taken on the role of his “big brother,” spending time building into him and tutoring him after school. It’s a picture of our students learning to do right and stepping into the stories of change and restoration that God’s calling them to while they help others do the same.

Yvenson’s story, still in progress, is a seamless combination of our core values: because Greg took action, because the staff is collaborating to advocate for him, because Claudy is empowering him to take ownership of his education, and because Yvenson knows that his story is precious to God, he is back in school with new chances to experience hope through education every day.

New Name, Same Mission


Ten or twenty years from now, I believe we will look back at this moment in time, this chapter in our organization’s story, as a turning point. Where we are today is not where God is calling us to stay. Our heart still beats as strongly for Haiti as it has since day one of our organization. At the same time, as we continue to grow in our understanding of who the left behind are, we are beginning to feel a new burden as we chase after God’s heart for the left behind around the globe.

Rebranding Announcement Promo.jpg

In response to this burden, we are pursuing opening our second school in Haiti within the next two years while also beginning to explore a new arm of ministry among unreached people groups (UPG). An unreached people group is a community of people with a common sense of history, language, beliefs, and identity that has less than 2% evangelical Christians among their population. Unreached people groups have little to no access to the Gospel, and many have never heard the name or experienced the life-changing hope of Jesus. Of the approximately 16,000 people groups in the world, around 7,000 are categorized as unreached.

In light of this new vision, we are rebranding our organization from Project 117 to One 17 International. Our name change is centered around our swelling heart for the nations. We believe One 17 International better communicates who we are and how we desire to serve the nations while eliminating confusion around the way it reads; we aren’t a project of a church or aid organization, but an independent, self-sustained organization named after the vision of Isaiah 1:17. Despite the change, we are staying true to our mission, vision, and values. The same people lead, support, and advocate for our work and students. We are simply expanding our vision to build and operate gospel-centered, transformational schools for the left behind beyond the borders of Haiti.

The Great Commission invites us to pursue the work of helping every tribe and nation understand and experience the tangible love of Christ. We believe that education translates cross-culturally and can be an extraordinarily effective way to develop next generation church, business, and community leaders that will bring the gospel to all nations.


Steps of Faith

By Jeffrey Bennett

As I transition off of Project 117's board after six years, I can't help but reflect on my journey and experience with their story.

In May 2008, I visited Haiti for the first time. I had visited other developing countries before—Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras—to do medical and dental missions, but Haiti was different. While I thought I had seen poverty in the rural countryside of Honduras, the slum cities of Mexico, or even while bathing in a river in the Dominican Republic, I had never seen the ugliest realities of poverty the way I did in Haiti. No clean water, little food, lack of education, no access to basic health care—hopeless. As a dentist, It changed the way I saw the everyday luxuries of my life in Indiana, it changed the way I cared for my patients, and it changed my path forward.

I returned to Haiti on 2 more trips, with dental teams taking down more dental supplies. But God began working on a different plan for me. As I treated patients in Haiti, I longed for more of the type of relationship I share with my patients here in the States: an ongoing relationship of trust and care that comes from knowing and caring for your patients over time. God had also placed a desire in me to serve for longer than the typical one-week trips that our church was taking. While this presented many obstacles for our dental practice, my wife and I felt strongly that this was our next step.

With the birth of our 2 daughters, however, we felt we needed to find someplace a bit safer than Haiti for us to serve. My attachment to Haiti was strong, but we clearly felt led in another direction. Coincidentally, this was the same time that God had been working in Curtis to start Project 117. So, when Curtis asked me to serve on the founding board, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to maintain my desired connection to Haiti. With a background as a general dentist and business owner, I am particularly thankful for how my gifts of leadership, administration, and the lessons of “hard knocks” from running a small business were put to good use in the development of a new nonprofit organization and a new board for Project 117.

I don’t know if any of us fully realized what God was up to to when Curtis invited us to those first meetings at Oakbrook Church. As I look back on all that God has accomplished in such a short time through Project 117, I am truly amazed! He has shown His favor in allowing the beginning of our first school much more quickly than we had hoped, in sufficient fundraising for two buildings, and in divine alignments with the right people at the right times in the short history of the organization. He has done immeasurably more than we could have even imagined. Looking back, I wonder what more He might have done had we been even bolder in our steps of faith!

As I transition off of the board, I am so thankful for Project 117 and what I have had the privilege to see God do. It gives me hope and faith for future projects. I love that Project 117 gives hope through education, builds character into the classroom, employs Haitians, and fights for the left behind. I think of the children at those desks in Haiti, learning about how they can be the best version of themselves for God—something no one else is teaching them. Their lives are different forever because of a little school on a hillside in Haiti that didn’t exist 5 years ago! How do you give a country hope? One child at a time.

By Sarah Smith

Have you ever asked a kid what they want to be when they grow up? Fire fighter, police officer, doctor, singer, fashion designer...the possibilities are endless. I even had a friend whose childhood dream was to be a cupcake. Kids dream. They truly believe they can be anything—even cupcakes. For them, the possibilities of the future are endless.

Dreaming is universal—our students in Haiti dream about their futures just like the kids in any small-town classroom. We love knowing that our students have dreams, and we love dreaming about ways that we can make them a reality. We know that hope through education doesn’t stop after a student graduates from high school, so we’ve been hard at work developing a plan to make sure our kids don’t stop dreaming...and to equip them to reach those dreams.

When we think of education, we think of the doors it opens. Even though the paths our students can take are numerous and varied and beautifully diverse, we see them originating from three doors…

Door One: The Scholars

Education opens doors. That’s part of the reason why we’re so passionate about it. We want our students who’ve got big dreams to get the education to pursue them, and we don’t want cost to be a barrier. That’s why we’re creating a scholarship fund for students whose dreams require a college education: the future doctors. Nurses. Business leaders. Politicians. Lawyers. Teachers.

The best part about the scholarship fund? It’s an investment...and investments have returns. When our students receive the college education they’ll need to keep dreaming, they’ll be equipped and empowered to create change and rewrite stories in the communities and economies around them.

Door Two: The Apprentices

There’s more than one way to make an investment into our students and, in turn, local communities. For students who are passionate about the skilled trades, farming, and artistry, we’re committed to finding local programs to partner with as they pursue further training. We’ll find experts to help our graduates pioneer new farming strategies that will transform local economies and to train small business leaders, electricians, carpenters, and painters as our graduates gain the skills and knowledge they need to support themselves and, eventually, their families.

Door Three: The Activists

“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Not only is Isaiah 1:17 the “why” behind our “what,” it’s a vision that we’re infusing into our curriculum and a philosophy that we dream our students will adopt one day. With that in mind, we’re preparing a third door for our graduates to walk through.

When we think of graduates who will seek justice and encourage the oppressed, we think of nonprofit leaders, social justice entrepreneurs, pastors, and church planters. Once our students hit middle school, we’ll begin developing a two-year, post-high school program to equip them to create programs and organizations that find new ways to seek justice and defend the left behind and vulnerable. Graduates of the program will not only be passionate about pursuing justice, they’ll have the skills and know-how to chase after it as they gain hands-on experience with missions, ministry, and nonprofit work both in Haiti and beyond its borders.

Whatever path our students take after they graduate, we’re honored to have the privilege to stand alongside them as they leave the doors of Institution One17 and walk into whatever door God has for them next.

Today and Eternity: Why Where You Spend Your Resources Matters

By Abby Tice

I read a book once that said that one of the devil’s largest ploys is to get us thinking about the future. Don’t let them think about today. Don’t let them focus on what matters for eternity. Keep them bound up in what might matter tomorrow. There are three questions I ask myself when I’m about to spend my resources: “Does this matter to me today? Will this matter to me tomorrow? Will this make an impact for eternity?”

We all look for causes to support—but how often do we look for that cause with these questions in mind? When I think about spending money and other resources, I want to know that where I’m spending it will matter and what impact it will make. Here are five qualities to look for when investing in an organization, and where I see them in Project 117.

Vision, mission, values

How we empower others reflects how we feel about ourselves, but more importantly, how powerful we see our God to be. What matters for eternity is to support a group of people who are dedicated to empowering others. I’m inspired by the call we have in Isaiah 1:17 to do right, to seek justice, to encourage the oppressed, to defend the cause of the fatherless, and to fight for the rights of widows. I’m honored to support an organization that recognizes individuals as prodigies, storytellers, and change-makers, and seeks to display God’s glory through each challenge and victory.

Faithfulness in leadership

It’s difficult to be faithful. Faithfulness requires loyalty, especially in the hard times. When I had the opportunity to spend a week in Haiti during the summer of 2015, I watched a group of people faithful in their work ethic to make much of Christ. I observed them educate others in school, in the Word of God, and in kindness. I was welcomed into an environment that fosters love and encouragement at every moment. I encountered a group of people dedicated to righteous action through their fight for justice in the education system of Haiti. Faithful leaders raise faith-filled leaders.

Holy Spirit activity

If the Holy Spirit isn’t active in an organization, it’s just another non-profit looking to make small strides of change with a vision that stops with its key leader. Fortunately, we serve a God who is far greater than a human visionary, and “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength…” (Isaiah 40:29). We serve a God who is able to use us to work for His will to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). All He asks of us is to depend on His power. Prayer is the answer; an organization with a base of prayer in the Spirit will succeed through the power of the Spirit.

Honesty in the spending of resources

I love to see lives being changed. I love to see detailed reports of where my money goes, what it funds, and how it benefits lives. I love transparency in an organization’s use of the money I give. I love how I can see what my funds do for the students at Institution One 17. Check the details, check the website, check into the role your money and prayer plays in bringing glory to God and expanding His Kingdom.

Care that goes deeper than the wallet pocket

No one wants to feel like their money is the only piece of them desired by an organization. At the root of each human soul, we want to feel like we matter. I’ve never experienced another organization with such an eternal and caring outlook, one that speaks straight to my heart in the way they see each person’s value as a direct image-bearer of God. When I find a group who looks at the world through the lens of a Savior who sacrificed his very body for my soul, the least I can do is share out of my abundance.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve felt more blessed each month by partnering with this organization than $37 could bless me in my wallet. Maybe it’s that taste of eternity.

Another Narrative

By Sarah Smith

We’re closing out the One 17 Challenge, and this year it’s all focused on injustice. Every participant in the Challenge is not only raising money, but raising awareness for a particular injustice that our students in Haiti face on a regular basis.

It’d be easy to get caught up in this picture of Haiti as simply a country that’s been ravaged by injustice. While it’s true that the need in Haiti looms large and that there’s a lot of work to be done, we would be doing the people of Haiti a massive disservice if we limit ourselves to a single story of injustice. So while we continue to raise awareness of the challenges of life in Haiti, we want to spend some time focusing on the things we love about Haiti and its people.

One of the first things that I noticed about Haiti when I visited for the first time last May was its breathtaking beauty. Looking out at the countryside from our school, God’s handiwork is so evident in so many ways. From the clouds rolling over the mountains to incredible sunsets to the lush greenery of the rainy season, Haiti is home to so much beauty and one breathtaking moment after another.

But more than Haiti’s topography, we’re incredibly motivated by the beauty of the stories we see in our students and staff. In our teachers and principal, we see a group of inspired and inspiring people who believe that our students have the potential to do incredible things to rewrite Haiti’s story. Greg—our Haitian principal—has such a tangible passion for the things that our students can go on to do. It truly is contagious. I’ll never forget sitting in the back of an SUV during a bumpy ride over the mountain into Port-au-Prince, talking to Greg about his take on the problems Haiti’s facing. What struck me in that conversation was how undaunted he was in the face of those challenges. Instead, he was excited and energetic and passionate about being able to equip and empower our students to meet and overcome them. He’s infused his passion into our school culture, and our teachers have undeniably bought into it. We love how they’re pouring into our students and how their passion for education and the opportunities it brings is so tangible as soon as you set foot in their classroom. They know that the students they’re teaching to read and write will someday be the students that create complex solutions that Haiti’s complex problems demand.

And finally, we’re inspired by our students themselves. We love the grit and determination they’re showing as they chase after their education. We love soaking up the excitement of our 1st and 2nd graders as they learn about the world around them, and we’re inspired by the motivation of our adult literacy students to chase new challenges as they learn how to read and write. Whether we’re watching six- and seven-year-olds step into leadership roles among their peers or grown adults write their names for the very first time, we know that there’s something special about the group of students we’re lucky enough to have. We don’t know exactly where they’ll go, but we can’t wait to watch them get there.

Yes, Haiti is a country with great need and it’s vital that we’re aware of it. But it’s just as important to remember that Haiti is an incredibly beautiful country, full of people that have the passion and determination to write a new story for Haiti—a story that rewrites the narratives of injustice. As we take inspiration from our staff and students—young and old—we’re honored to be able to play even a small part in that story.

by Sarah Smith

At Project 117, we’re okay with going against the grain. If we were content with the status quo, we wouldn’t feel a need to fight against injustice and our hearts wouldn’t break for the students who don’t have access to education. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but it really all boils down to our desire to follow Jesus. Jesus took a stand against a culture of injustice. He built into His leaders so that they would be equipped to do the work He sent them out to do. He advocated for “the least of these,” and made sure that those who followed Him were able to do the same.

One way that we’re changing the status quo is how we’re developing our leaders. We have a Haitian staff of 20, ranging from teachers to groundskeepers to our principal and administrative assistant. We know that, just as our staff is building into the lives of our students, we have a responsibility to build into their lives, as well. That’s why we’ve developed a Leadership Team of managers at our school. Like most management teams, our leaders oversee coworkers and administrate work for their team. Beyond those basic responsibilities, we’re also commissioning our team leaders to own the development of chemistry, culture, and compassion at Institution One 17.

Through the Leadership Team, we’re creating a conversation and open dialogue on leadership and how it applies to our managers’ everyday responsibilities. We’re educating them through quarterly training sessions that instill Christ-centered leadership principles in their hearts. We’re teaching them how to be effective motivators, coaches, teachers, shepherds, and inspirers as they lead fellow staff members and and impact students. And we’re learning from them, too. We’re learning their stories and struggles. We’re learning what’s culturally relevant and what practices don’t cross-over. We’re learning what it really means to have grit, determination, and unwavering hope. We’re learning what it means to be the light of the world.

We’re giving our Leadership Team—Greg, Nicole, Wisnham, and eventually Worcarline—the resources that they need to not only be equipped, but to become equippers. Greg, our principal, is learning what it means to lead a staff, to delegate responsibilities, and to oversee over 100 students as they discover who they are in Christ. Nicole is developing her leadership skills and is making a difference that goes far beyond the walls of our school’s kitchen: she’s stepping into leadership roles at her local church as well as a sewing co-op. Wisnham is not only growing in his leadership capacity, but in his personal faith as being part of Christian community is holding him to a higher level of accountability and authenticity. Worcarline is honing her skills as a teacher and beginning to get a taste for school leadership as she is being challenged to evaluate and encourage her peers, many of whom are older than she is.

It’s so encouraging to see leaders emerge on our Haitian staff as they continue to pour into the lives of our students and the communities around them. Watching them take more and more ownership of the process of providing hope through education will never stop inspiring us.

Equipping for the Present

By Sarah Smith

Here at Project 117, we talk a lot about equipping and empowering. Whether we’re talking about what the new Prodigy Building will allow us to do or casting vision for the kind of work we see our graduates doing after school, those two words seem to come up often.

There’s no denying we have big dreams. We want to equip and empower our students to change the narratives in Haiti and to find solutions to complicated problems. A lot of times, though, I can get pretty caught up in dreaming about “the future.” To me, a lot of what we do seems to be laying the groundwork for the future. I get swept up in what that future might be instead of focusing on the stories of the present. Stories like Yvrose’s and the amazing initiative she’s taking to care for our students.

In October, a team of volunteers traveled with us to Haiti for a serving trip. The team accomplished a lot of amazing things—health care checks for each student, painting an art mural, helping to run classroom crafts, breaking ground on the Prodigy Building—but one of the most encouraging results of the team’s visit happened after they left. As part of our healthcare initiative, the team brought down medical and first aid supplies to leave with the staff so that they’re equipped to care for our students throughout the year.

Cough syrup, bandaids, and antibiotic ointment may seem like small things, but they empowered Yvrose to take ownership in how she cares for our students. She’s new to the Project 117 team this year; we hired her as an administrative assistant to help out in the school office. She has no healthcare background, and none of her initial responsibilities required that she act as school nurse. But when Phania, one of our K–1 students, developed a severe case of painful blisters, Yvrose launched into action because of a newly developed ongoing wellness system—one that makes her responsible for weekly check-ins with each teacher to make sure that kids with health issues are getting the treatment they need. She made a schedule to make sure Phania was being treated with antibiotic ointment every day and took ownership of her care. Three weeks later, the blisters were gone.

Since then, Yvrose has taken even more action as she steps up to the plate of advocating for our students’ health. Through the work of some awesome volunteers stateside, we’re equipping her to facilitate monthly healthcare workshops in each of our classes. She’ll talk with our students about the importance of hand washing, teeth brushing, and so many other things that they can do to improve their quality of life.

Yvrose’s story reminds me that we’re not just laying the groundwork for our students to be able to re-write stories in the future. We’re helping our staff take ownership and initiative in rewriting them now. That we can talk of “equipping and empowering” with grand vision, but sometimes it comes down to something as simple as bandaids and ointment.

Seth V blog cover.jpg

by Seth Vautaw

"I will never complain about potholes and 'poor' roads back home again...that's what this place has given me: a frame of reference, " said my teammate Chris as we sat knee to knee in the middle seat of a 14 passenger Toyota van. We were at max capacity going about 60 mph and had to come to a complete stop to avoid what looked like a few meteor craters in the middle of the road. Only 5 miles from the Haitian capital, we were by no means in the middle of nowhere.

The phrase he used—"frame of reference"—struck me as we were making our way to our destination for the week.

As we drove past homes that resembled campsites and dodged cattle in the middle of the road, it dawned on me: we were a long way from my comfort zone. I began to become aware of things that I didn’t want to know existed, things that my first-world American mind didn’t want to acknowledge. “People actually live in these conditions” I said to myself as we passed trenches of homes that looked more like outhouses than homes. Americans can’t fully understand the daily luxuries they live in until they experience a place like Haiti first hand.

There were 10 of us from Oakbrook Church partnering with Project 117 in Haiti, an organization that was started because of the need to build and operate schools for the country’s left behind. Our mission for the week was to assist Institution One 17 in painting an art mural, do art activities with the kids, provide healthcare checks, and implement leadership training to some local leaders in the community.

Having the opportunity to serve alongside the Haitian people and to see first-hand how they live was soul-jarring and humbling. These people have nothing by American standards. But their overall energy and zest for life would lead you to believe otherwise.

God is present in that small village in rural Haiti and His presence is evident. The local people are filled with a hope that only comes from God. They way they act in faith and continue to push forward to further God’s kingdom is inspiring. They could very easily do what is expected of them and live a life that is status-quo. However, they understand that God has something more meaningful in store for them.

Life isn’t meant to be lived in mediocrity. God gave each of us unique gifts so that we could be great for him. This Haitian community understands this. They are breaking the mold and pursuing greatness by pouring into the next generation. They are stepping out of their comfort zones to grow, lead a Christ-like life, and help their children do the same. They’re improving the situation now and for generations to come.

This is a trip that I will always reflect on when I’m feeling complacent or comfortable. I will think back to this time and understand how truly blessed I truly am. I’ve been blessed with a house with indoor plumbing and A/C... a car that can get me to and from places...the roads are crater-free (for the most part). In short, I have a lot to be thankful for.

By stepping outside of my American comfort zone, I realized that we cannot grow unless we take some steps out every now and then. We must not let our own comfort get in the way of what God has in store for us. This is the “frame of reference” that the Haitian people gave me.

By Sarah Smith

From the very beginning, we’ve been undeniably for the left behind at Project 117. In a place like Haiti, the concept of the left behind isn’t clearly defined. It’s layered and nuanced and complicated. It would be easy for us to focus on one statistic and pour all of our energy into changing the narrative around that one statistic. 23% of children in Haiti don’t attend school. There’s no question in our minds that this is wrong. Every single child should have the opportunity to attend school, to learn about the world around them, and to walk through doors that can only be opened through education.

But at Project 117, we’re also passionate about changing the narrative of injustice as a whole. The 23% statistic is just one part of that. When we look at Haiti, one of the things that breaks our heart the most is the injustice we see surrounding the gender roles there. Women and girls have significantly less opportunity to change their personal narratives and live into the amazing things that God’s got in store for them. They’re constantly being told what they’re capable—and not capable—of. They’re the victims of violence and attitudes that they have no control over.

But we know that they are prodigies, waiting to discover their true purpose. When we see the world telling them differently, our heart breaks and we know we must do something to change that. We want our girls to walk through the gate to our school and walk into a place where they’re believed in. We want them to see their classrooms as departure points, where they learn about the work that needs to be done and they’re equipped with the skills and self-confidence to do that. When the world tells them that they’re not prodigies, we want them to know that they are—being daughters of the King is the only qualifier they need.

Re-writing the story of gender injustice in Haiti isn’t just about educating and empowering our female students. It’s about educating our boys, as well. They’re living in a culture that normalizes sexual violence and tells them that their power over women is a mark of success. It’s our goal to make sure that they know that every single person—male or female—is a child of God. We’re teaching them to read and write, to develop creative solutions to the problems facing their community, and—maybe most importantly—to see Jesus in everyone they meet. When our boys begin to see Jesus in their female classmates, they will be at the center of the changing attitude surrounding women in Haiti.

This year, we have 102 primary students enrolled, each of them created by a God who loves them deeply. 56 of them are girls. All of them are prodigies.