Valley home builder takes skills to Haiti; but the story starts years back

FRESNO, Calif. - "Dear Mr. Wathen, my name is Cadence, and I am 5 years old."

The words of a child. 

13-year-old Cadence Whitley was just 5 years old when she took a leap of faith, after watching coverage of the devastating Haiti earthquakes on the news with her mom. 

"One day after school I asked her if God would give the little kids in Haiti a house like mine," Whitley said.

So, Cadence put those words into action, writing a letter to Richard Wathen, valley home-builder behind Wathen Castanos Homes.

"In my 33 years, typically, I don't get letters from 5 year olds," Wathen said.

"My husband called me from work and he said, 'Are you sitting down,'" Gina Wathen said. "And he goes, 'I just got a letter in the mail, and I have to read it to you.'"

The Wathens had been watching the news, too. They had also wanted to help, when the letter arrived. 

"Maybe that's just what I needed to see, maybe that's just the type of communication that would cause me to pause," Wathen said.

Months later, the couple heard of an effort, a need for an orphanage, for 15 orphans in San Rafael, Haiti. 

"We introduced ourself, told them that we felt like we were called to help with this."

Wathen mobilized solo, first, spending four days driving the country, absorbing the disaster. 

"We went to the church property, where the orphans were living," Wathen said. "They were living in a very small, about 10-by-10 mud shack."

The Wathens gathering carpenters and working with local Haitian builders to complete the project from the ground, up.  

"It's really walls, and a little electricity, and maybe a little bit of plumbing," Wathen said. "And if you have that, you're wealthy in the country of Haiti."

Four walls, now a home for children with nowhere else to go. 

Something the Wathens say, is life-changing. 

"I think our company has built 5,000 homes, and I don't know if there is a building that has brought more joy," Wathen said.

"My heart, my heart is in Haiti."

But the work is not done.

The Wathens  now on the board of the organization which took them to Haiti in the first place, constantly searching for financial sponsors.

"There's money coming in monthly, to support them, with their education, food, clothing, medical needs," Wathen said. "And, employ the house parents and cooks."

Their first building still standing tall. Named after a once smaller girl, who took pen to paper, because her heart was also in Haiti. 

"I want the people in Haiti to have a safe house like mine.

"Love, Cadence Whitley."

Reporting in Fresno, Megan Rupe. 

For more on "HaitiGO," visit:

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