As a veteran of nine trips to Haiti, Canal Winchester resident Connie Ray says she is no longer shocked by the country's incredible poverty.

As a veteran of nine trips to Haiti, Canal Winchester resident Connie Ray says she is no longer shocked by the country's incredible poverty.

But even her previous experiences couldn't prepare Ray for her trip to Haiti in May, several months after the Jan. 12 earthquake.

"The extent of the incredible destruction we saw in some areas was just in your face," she said. "You couldn't turn your head and not see something."

The May trip also provided Ray and her husband, Bill, with a chance to reunite with Joel Francois, a Haitian medical student who is fully supported by David's United Church of Christ in Canal Winchester, where the Rays are members.

Francois, who is in his fourth year of studies at the University of Notre Dame in Port-au-Prince, is doing "really well," Ray said.

"That's part of the whole thing from an American viewpoint," she said. "I could not function if I was living among the destruction that they're all living in. The amazing thing about the Haitian people is that they are incredibly resilient."

Immediately following the quake, Francois stepped in to provide assistance in a field hospital. He gained valuable experience as he assisted severely injured people, stabilized broken limbs and sutured wounds.

"He was very proud that he was able to do something to help," she said. When Francois completes his medical degree, he plans to stay in Haiti to "help the poorest of the poor."

Places Ray had visited in past trips to Haiti had "just been leveled," and some still had bodies inside, she said.

Many Haitians are living in temporary shelters and tent cities, Ray said, and the process of demolition is "excruciatingly slow," due to a lack of heavy construction equipment.

"Most of the demolition is with sledgehammers and wheelbarrows," she said.

Nearly all of the building material is recycled, and must be handled multiple times.

"We're not talking years; we're talking decades before they will be ready to start rebuilding," Ray said. "It's very discouraging from an American perspective."

Still, the immense amount of demolition and construction work that must be accomplished has employed many Haitians.

"They are working with organizations that have dollars specifically to be used in the Haitian economy, and are set up to pay people on a daily basis," she said.

The Rays traveled with Angel Missions Haiti. Connie worked with medical teams to provide pharmaceutical care in the Port-au-Prince area, while Bill assisted with a variety of construction and demolition projects.

The two were fortunate enough to stay in a private home owned by a Haitian pastor and his wife.

"It was clean and safe," Ray said. "Sometimes we had electricity and sometimes we had water."

The sporadic utility supply is normal for Haiti, but has worsened since the earthquake, she said.

A lack of suitable housing for outside organizations and teams has hindered their efforts to "work side-by-side with the Haitian people," Ray said. Bill dedicated some of his time to providing repairs and improvements to a home that will eventually become a guesthouse for organizations providing aid in Haiti.

Meanwhile, David's UCC, located at 80 W. Columbus St., will host its annual fundraiser dinner for Francois from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2. Tickets are $10 general admission and $5 for children ages 3 to 8. There is no charge for children ages 2 and younger.

The price includes a pulled pork dinner, with side dishes, desserts and beverages. Members of the church will provide live entertainment, and several tables of Haitian-made crafts and paintings will be for sale. A continuous-loop slide show featuring images of Haiti will play throughout the evening.

All proceeds will benefit the church's scholarship fund for Francois. Ray said the event usually brings in more than half of the money he needs to budget for his yearly expenses.