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To donate to Journey to Destiny Ministries or for more information go to journeytodestinyministries.org

A woman who came from the defunct Boone-Hysinger public housing development, once deemed one of the roughest neighborhoods in Chattanooga, pulled herself out of poverty and is implementing a plan to bring prosperity to Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic.

"Somebody asked me, 'Are you afraid?' I said, I'm scared every day. But the fear is not enough to stop me from my call," Felicia "Lee Lee" Foster said.

The Chattanooga native's Christmas wish is to provide a home for children of Haitian refugees living in the Dominican Republic. Many have been abused and some pushed into prostitution because they have no place to go.

Foster also wants a vocational school in the Dominican Republic for single mothers so they can learn to provide for their families on their own.

She plans to do it all in the next five years through her Journey to Destiny Ministries while establishing a continuous funding stream and training Haitian refugees how to operate the programs when she is gone.

The 46-year-old grew up in the Boone-Hysinger public housing site during the 1980s and graduated from Howard High School. She lived for a while in the Woodlawn Apartments, also known as a high-crime area, before attending Alabama A&M University in 1989 seeking a better life.

She eventually earned a bachelor's degree in business management and a master's in human services before landing a job as director of student activities at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis.

But this May she quit her job and got rid of everything she owned to become a Church of God in Christ resident missionary serving Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic in July.

The hardest part was selling her 2007 Ford Explorer.

"It wasn't that I loved my truck so much but that was the last thing of my independence," Foster said. "I knew once I went on the mission field I was going to have to depend on people to be liberal in their donations. I would have to depend on people and I've been independent my whole life."

Despite her concerns, she said God put people in her life who understood missions and those people have been very gracious and giving.

Retired 28th Community Development Corp. executive director and retired social worker Forestine Watson Haynes said she's not able to do ministries herself but takes pleasure in supporting Foster.

"It's the whole idea of going out there and sharing your life with folk that the Bible describes as the least of these. Christ says when you have done to the least of these, you have done unto me," said Haynes, who is board chairman of Journey to Destiny Ministries.

Foster founded the nonprofit to outline and support three programs she implements in the Dominican Republic: child placement and family assistance, vocational training for single mothers and the Children's Village, long-term care for orphans.

The World Bank called Haiti the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 70 percent of its people live in poverty. Some who hope for better lives cross the border into the Dominican Republic, but many find themselves stuck in poverty and some are deported, according to news reports.

Kesha Hayes, assistant treasurer of Journey to Destiny, visited Foster in Esperanza in the Dominican Republic in August.

Hayes described the level of poverty as "jaw-dropping."

"It was the most impoverished place I ever saw, and I'm a social worker," she said.

Even people living in the oldest public housing sites in Chattanooga have more than Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, Foster said.

There are no brick duplex houses. The people live in huts and shacks made of tin and wood tacked together and whatever cloth material they can find to cover it. They have no indoor bathrooms. More than 10 families share one water hose and use it to shower and bathe outside.

There is no water clean enough to drink except bottled water purchased in stores. Most Haitians don't have money to buy water so they drink from wells and hope they don't get a parasite. Sickness spreads quickly because of the large number of families sharing one bathroom, said Foster.

Foster's Journey to Destiny Ministries Facebook page includes pictures of a house with wood floors so torn up that someone could fall through one of the holes. Foster notes on the photograph that the house should be condemned — instead, it's home to eight families.

She also talks of meeting a 14-year-old girl who performs sex acts, directed by her mother, to pay their bills. The girl wants to attend school, Foster said in the Facebook post.

Foster's goal is to raise $68,000 a year for operating funds. All the money will go toward programs for the refugees. She also wants to raise an additional $40,000 to buy a building that can house children and contain a vocational school for women. She's raised $10,000 since July.

"If people don't give, I can't pay for teachers to come in and teach the kids. I can't buy medicine for people who are sick. I'd just be over there. I could have stayed in Memphis if I'm just going to be there," said Foster.

The Church of God in Christ gives her a monthly stipend to provide her needs and pay health insurance, so all money she raises goes to the Haitian people.

This latest mission caps 20 years of experience as an overseas missionary. She's been to every continent except Australia, setting up medical clinics and building houses for people in need.

After she and more than 100 other missionaries landed in the Dominican Republic in July, they first started a food program to give hundreds of villagers beans and rice. They did a medical clinic, with doctors and pediatricians to treat illnesses and wounds. Foster also started a tutorial center where the youth come to learn English. Some of the Haitian young people hope to eventually take the SAT and qualify for scholarships to American colleges and universities.

Foster returned to Chattanooga last week to visit her godmother, Sara Moss Chambers, during the Christmas break.

Speaking in Chambers' North Brainerd Home, Foster said she is afraid of motorcycles, the common transportation for people in the Dominican Republic. She doesn't like walking on dirt roads and mud and she's not fond of bugs, but her discomfort doesn't compare to her desire to help Haitian refugees become more self-sufficient.

"I hate geckos [small lizards] and they're everywhere," Foster said. "You wake up and there's a grasshopper sitting in your living room. But the call on my life and the mission is so important to me that it trumps all of the fears that I have."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6431.

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