NC trend: Braswell family creates hope for Haiti
Repeat business success and deep faith propel the Braswell family’s devotion to the embattled Caribbean nation.
It’s been almost a decade since Charlotte entrepreneur Roger Braswell made his first mission trip to Haiti, the Caribbean nation 830 miles southeast of Florida. When asked to attend by his daughter, Angela Quinn, his initial thoughts were that it would be great to spend time with her and check “mission trip” off his bucket list. He agreed to co-lead a team of medical professionals who were traveling to serve children in a local orphanage. During that trip, a 12-year-old girl took Braswell’s hand, pressed it into her belly and said, “Roger, I’m hungry.”
“Ernise knew my name, and she was starving,” he says. “So, I couldn’t go back and just check the trip off my bucket list. I had to do something about it.”
Braswell, now 68, knew exactly what he needed to do, while possessing confidence in using his business skills to create a nonprofit enterprise to aid residents of one of the world’s poorest nations. In 2012, he joined Quinn in starting Give Hope Global.
At 15, Braswell started his first business, a landscaping service, while attending high school in Charlotte. Following graduation, he decided to skip college and get to work. Over the years, he’s started or bought nine companies. One of his businesses was among seven similar organizations that combined in 1998 to become the publicly traded LandCare USA, which was acquired a year later by ServiceMaster, the owner of TruGreen lawn care. He sold another business, an equipment importer, to lawnmower manufacturer Toro.
His biggest hit came in 2017 with Home Depot’s purchase of Compact Power Equipment, an equipment rental company formed in 2003 with private-equity backing. His current businesses are Southern Shade Tree, which provides landscape maintenance services in the Charlotte area, and Bentwood Farms, a Union County turfgrass company.
Braswell says he defines success by his ability to aid others. “What I’m proud of is the impact the businesses have had on the employees who worked alongside me,” he says. “I can point to a handful who are now millionaires who worked alongside me. It’s not just them. It’s the thousands who made mortgage payments, sent kids to school and held their head up while supporting their families.”
That’s also the philosophy behind the work that Braswell and Quinn feel called to do in Haiti. She was inspired to help Haiti after a stint as a journalist covering the work of a medical team. She expected a one-time event that would enable her to use her journalism degree.
“God used it to take me to Haiti,” says Quinn, 50. “I owed it to the greater good to use the training I had to serve others, but what I didn’t know was that the trip was going to radically change my life and become my life’s work.”
Over the years, Give Hope Global’s work has focused on sharing the Braswell family’s Christian faith while offering youths in the Cambry/Les Cayes area of Haiti access to good health, education and jobs. It’s a family affair with many members of his immediate and extended family being actively involved including his wife of 51 years, Teresa. In 2016, the group expanded its work to Ghana, an African nation of 37 million.
With financial support from partners in Haiti and the U.S., Give Hope Global has created many opportunities that align with its mission, including a residential student village, a farm, transition homes, high school classes, scholarships for college classes, postsecondary support, pastor training and community health programs.
More than 100 volunteers have supported the group, which has a part-time administrative staff and an advisory board that aids Braswell and Quinn. Before the pandemic, Give Hope Global was hosting about three to four annual trips.
With per capita income of less than $1,800 in 2020, Haiti has little to show for decades of philanthropic and economic-development support, totaling billions of dollars, from the U.S. and other nations. In July, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was killed in the middle of the night by a group of foreign mercenaries, sparking global outrage.
For two years leading up to the assassination, the political unrest including calls for Moïse’s resignation impacted Give Hope Global’s work. Schools were forced to close periodically, and the U.S. government deemed Haiti to be in the same travel advisory category as Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran. Additionally, the periodic closure of the embassy made it hard for students to obtain visas, while raging inflation made it more expensive to do business.
Still, Braswell and Quinn remain committed to continuing their work.
“We’ve been to Haiti during the cholera epidemic, the chikungunya [virus], COVID-19, Hurricane Matthew,” he says. “Our friends in Haiti marvel that we come when we do, but this is not something we dabble in. We’re serious about it.”
While Braswell had no idea what his “yes” meant so many years ago, he says the experience has been a continual blessing.
“It’s this thing called the infinite game by [leadership expert] Simon Sinek,” he says “The companies and people that are most successful recognize they are playing an infinite game. It’s not just about my time, it’s about the time beyond my time. We call it a 100-year strategy to change Haiti. It’s OK if we don’t see the impact of it in our lifetime.” ■
SHOP HOPE GLOBAL
Angela Quinn found another way to assist Haitians by launching Shop Hope Global in 2019. The online retail site stems from her desire to create opportunities for children she had witnessed grow into young adults over the past decade. Quinn wants to create a pathway to success for high school graduates who lack the desire or ability to enter postsecondary education.
Shop Hope Global provides work opportunities for Haitian artisans through an ethical line of fashion products. The target market is U.S. customers who share Quinn’s vision of aiding Haitians, the vast majority of whom earn less than $5 a day. Shop Hope is starting small-scale manufacturing with students there.
Many products are made with recycled items including tires, Haitian mud that’s used to make pottery, seeds made into jewelry, and shoes and bags made from recycled plastic bottles. Women pick through the trash in the capital city of Port-au-Prince to find plastic bottles, which are used for thread that is used for various products.
Proceeds from each Shop Hope purchase support the family’s Give Hope Global nonprofit.
“I always tell people it’s a win-win,” Quinn says. “You’re creating jobs on the front end and you’re educating university students with the profits. People love to give gifts that have meaning and to give back.”
The Braswell family hosts an annual fundraiser to support their Haitian outreach.
The Give Hope Gala is scheduled for Nov. 6 at Westin Charlotte with tickets on sale in September. ■