The Social Conscience of a Missionary

It's a long way from LoDo to Haiti, but Dan Jeune wants to bridge the gap. With friendship.

On a trip home to Haiti in February 2005, Dan visited a friend who was raising a number of children he'd found abandoned in the street. Dan committed to sending $300 a month from the Paris ICOF chapter to support seven of the kids, but even that amount was difficult to raise. After seven months, Dan transformed the commitment into a scholarship program at his father's school, with $100 covering a student's tuition for a year, as well as a meal a day, books, school supplies and a uniform.

"A kid who eats well and doesn't go to school isn't helpful to Haiti," Dan says. "But a kid who is malnourished and still goes to school is better for Haiti's future."

Dan's brother, who was living in Atlanta and already hosting charitable events, signed on to continue doing so as an ICOF chapter. And by May 2006, the Paris chapter had raised enough money to purchase fifty professional sewing machines for women in Senegal. The plan called for creating a type of sewing co-op that would make clothes to be sold in Senegal and Mali, but it took a year before all the machines were transported to the desolate areas for which they were intended.

That's what friends are for: Terrance Roberts (left), Traci Grilley, Dan and Stephanie Jeune, Merlie Walters Meis and Lee Ramirez in Denver a few days before departure.
Mark Manger
That's what friends are for: Terrance Roberts (left), Traci Grilley, Dan and Stephanie Jeune, Merlie Walters Meis and Lee Ramirez in Denver a few days before departure.
Like father, like son: Dan and Joel Jeune at the guest house in Haiti.
Like father, like son: Dan and Joel Jeune at the guest house in Haiti.

Dan realized that to take his dream to the next level, he'd have to give up basketball and leave Paris. "It got to a point where even at the meetings, I wasn't saying much anymore," he remembers. "Everything was already in place."

In August 2006, Dan returned to this country. At first he thought about settling in Miami, where his parents had bought a home to use as a base for their operation in this country, Grace International. But with its sizable immigrant population, Miami just didn't feel like the U.S. to Dan. From there he went to Atlanta, but that ICOF branch was doing just fine without him. So he moved on to Kansas and then to Denver, where another friend from Haiti was living.

In October 2006, Dan headed to LoDo. Looking around 5 Degrees one night, he saw a young, social scene that would be perfect for the ICOF message. So he settled here, selling furniture at American Furniture Warehouse during the day and recruiting members at night. None of his co-workers really cared about his dream. "Oh, okay, Oprah," they'd say when he talked about the Senegal project.

That December, Dan quit the forty-hour-a-week gig and took a part-time job with Catholic Charities, working in the youth department. He didn't know how he'd be able to pay his rent, but he knew he needed to surround himself with like-minded people. He soon added a second gig as an after-school coordinator for Beacons, a division of Catholic Charities, and started coaching kids at Rishel Middle School. That's where he met Stephanie.

A product of Denver Public Schools herself, Stephanie earned a master's degree in curriculum and instruction in social sciences from the University of Colorado Denver. She now works full-time as a DPS substitute teacher and teaches dance at the after-school program at Rishel.

"I thought he was an interesting individual," Stephanie says of her first meeting with Dan. "I thought he was very well-spoken, and it was really positive to see a young African-American brother on the west side working with these kids. You don't see many black men in middle-school after-school programs. He seemed very kind and engaged, and dedicated to his work and to his kids."

And her appreciation of Dan didn't end there. "He's an American dude," she adds. "He was born here, but he had a different experience living in Haiti, Paris and several different states. Typically, most men from Denver — minus some who leave to go to college somewhere — live in Denver their whole life, speak one language, and they know Denver and that's it. Dan's just a unique dude."

Like Dan, Stephanie is an athlete: a soccer player and a dancer. She also smiles a lot. It didn't take long for Dan to convince her to attend an ICOF fashion-show benefit. After going to a few more ICOF events, she convinced her parents to host a fundraising barbecue at their Denver home in April. When Dan spoke in front of the two dozen people gathered there, Stephanie's father could tell that Dan had feelings for his daughter.

"Then I just fell madly in love with him," Stephanie remembers. "I began to see that in many ways, our aspirations and our spirits were aligned. There are many things that people look for in a mate, and often they may not know exactly what they are. But in him, I was able to identify those things — and some of them I knew and some of them I didn't know."

In May, they went on a couple of dates. On June 4, they got married.

"We're hoping to change the world," Stephanie says. "Side by side, together, I see us making an impact. We want to use our lives for something. We want to use our lives to help others."

Dan and Stephanie share a room at the compound, the newer of the two that Bishop Joel and his wife now run. Traci is assigned a room in the orphanage, where about sixty girls live. Terrance gets a bed in a dormitory-style room in the guesthouse.

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