New Berlin woman left old life behind to help people of Kenya
Her mission in African nation offers hope through charitable operation
New Berlin — When Carrie Reichartz graduated from Eisenhower High School, went on to law school, graduated and opened a thriving law practice, she thought her course was pretty much set in the comfortable career and suburban lifestyle.
Then something bigger than herself took hold of her life.
Even though she described herself as not particularly "churchy," Reichartz couldn't stop crying when the church she attends showed a video of Kenyan children and what little they had. She soon came to realize that every day was a struggle for the Kenyans. Reichartz said her heart was wrenched.
As a practicing attorney, she was pretty happy with her life, but the pull to do something about the images she had seen was strong. She tried to resist but, in the end, she simply couldn't.
"I knew God was calling me to change my life," she said.
When her church, Fox River Christian Church near Waukesha, which supports two schools in Kenya, sent a team there, Reichartz and her son, who was 12 at the time, went with them. It was a turning point in both their lives.
"He didn't believe people live like that," she said, recalling her son's reaction.
Her own reaction was equally as strong. So strong that she decided to close up her practice and went on a mission, in a literal and cultural sense.
Reichartz began regular visits to Kenya, two or three times a year, to help orphans and unmarried pregnant women.
"It was a God thing," she said. "I would never have chosen this for myself."
For Reichartz, the experience was like Dorothy opening her farmhouse door looking into the Land of Oz — except Reichartz wasn't greeted by a splash of color and positive wonderment. But she did feel she was opening the door to something that was right, if somewhat unpleasant on its surface.
Yes. she was astonished by what she saw.
She soon realized that because of civil unrest, it's dangerous just moving around the east-central African country.
"A grenade went off where we drove by," she recalled about one of her early visits.
Realizing her mission
In the process of visiting feeding centers and schools and working with attorneys on opening up opportunities for adoptions for the Kenyan orphans, Reichartz has seen grinding poverty first-hand.
She saw starving children eating dirt in front of their helpless parents. She watched as parents — just like any she knew back in New Berlin — put their starving children to bed, not knowing if they would die during the night.
Compared to that, the normal inconveniences of Kenyan life were pale — bathrooms that don't have toilets, the fact that every mosquito bite carries the risk of malaria and or other deadly fevers, and traffic jams lasting three or four hours at a time.
In Kenya, she works closely with schools and feeding stations run by Operation Give Hope, started 35 years ago by missionaries. The schools are for all faiths — Kenya is about equally divided between Christians and Muslims, Reichartz said.
In the U.S., she arranged for Operation Give Hope to get charity status with the IRS. Reichartz organizes an annual walk/run to raise money for efforts in Kenya, including one planned for this Saturday in Milwaukee.
A supportive home
Her family as a whole has been involved to varying extents with her mission. In addition to her son, her husband, Chris, an industrial sales representative, and one of their two daughters, Brookly who is a sophomore at Eisenhower, have been to Kenya, also.
When Chris isn't accompanying her, after a couple of weeks in the rigors of Kenya, Reichartz's return home into the arms of her husband is like finding an overflowing oasis, in more ways than one.
It might be a small thing, like how Chris always welcomes her at the airport with all the cold Diet Coke she can drink. (Carrie simply loves Diet Coke and Kenya is like dry desert in that regard.)
"He's amazingly supportive," said Reichartz. "I thank God that he has brought him along with me."
Chris said he's glad God has provided the finances for his wife being able to do what she does.
"It isn't cheap," he said.
But through donations for the craft fairs she does, Carrie is able to raise money for her airfare and for her work there, Chris said.
Chris said he understands his wife's passion to help the little ones there.
"When they see us they see hope," he said. "They're happy you're making a difference for them."
Does she ever regret not staying on her comfortable life trajectory?
"I do miss law and going to court, sometimes," she says.
But her new life enables her to see beauty that she would be hard to glimpse any other way.
"Out of their nothing, they give," she said of the Kenyan people.
WALK/RUN AT A GLANCE
Operation Give Hope, organized in the United States by New Berlin resident Carrie Reichartz, will hold a run/walk Saturdayto provide food and care for Kenyan children and to help found a pregnancy crisis center in Kenya.
The 5K run starts at 9:30 a.m. and the 3K walk at 9:35 a.m. at the South Shore Park pavilion, 2900 S. Shore Drive, Milwaukee.
The cost is $30 in advance and $40 on the day of the event. Online registrations are being accepted at OperationGiveHopeRun.intuitwebsites.com and at Active.com.
Operation Give Hope runs feeding stations and schools where $5 can feed a child for a month, Reichartz said.
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