She’ll admit it. Kristen Hertzog used to pronounce Lancaster the “wrong” way.
“I grew up in a suburb of New York City in a multicultural neighborhood,” she said. “And so, yes, I said things like ‘cawfee’ instead of ‘coffee’ and ‘Land-Ceah-Stah’ instead of ‘Lancaster’ when referring to vacation times my family spent in Central Pennsylvania.”
Hertzog, who has lived in Lancaster County for the past 20 years and is co-founder of the Lancaster-based Haitian Connection Network (HCN), loved growing up in a multicultural area, she said, and had friends of all ethnicities.
Her family is middle-class, second-generation Italian-American, so “getting a job in Lancaster County and moving to Amish Country was quite a stretch,” she said. “Then I went one step further and married a Mennonite—talk about culture shock!”
To complete her well-rounded family, in April 2009, she and her husband and 2-year-old biological son welcomed their adopted Haitian daughter into their home after four years of waiting.
Hertzog’s background is in theater, modeling, and acting, all “very me-focused jobs,” she said. She likes to believe that her work with the HCN “counteracts the insanity placed on looks and talent in those fields.”
According to their website, The Haitian Connection Network (HCN) is an organization providing a safe student computer center location in Montrouis, Haiti, that is “offering a different and proven education-to-employment model that empowers students and donor/sponsors to begin breaking the cycles of hopelessness in Haiti.”
They “provide a full-circle, education-to-gainful employment solution for their students, offering a real-world curriculum through USA-based academic partners online, including job placement assistance in collaboration with organizations, ministries, and businesses in Haiti.”
Prior to co-founding HCN, Hertzog worked as a senior high school representative for 44 colleges throughout North America with Education Management Corporation.
“I was a spokesmodel and motivational speaker to high school students … and earned the Summit Award of Excellence and Quintessential Goals Award five years in a row,” she said. “I am also a businesswoman: a co-owner of the Hertzog Homestead Bed and Breakfast in Ephrata.”
So what was the draw that made her want to leave an already successful and varied career to start a nonprofit organization like HCN, and what would cause her and her husband to choose to adopt from that country? Why Haiti?
“It all started when I was 16 years old and took my first-ever mission trip to Haiti with a medical group,” she said. “I had no idea what to expect and really had barely any idea where Haiti was on a map. The sights, sounds, and smells of a developing country and the abject poverty made a striking impact on me.”
But Hertzog can clearly recall the defining moment on that trip—the moment she looks back on as the time when she just knew that “one day I was going to adopt a little Haitian girl and be invested in this country where people had so little opportunity.
“It was while walking through a busy slum area of Port-au-Prince,” she said. “A woman singled me out from the crowd. She laid in my arms a dirty, crumpled-up towel, looked at me, and ran away. I looked down—the towel started moving! I hesitantly peered inside to discover that I was holding a little baby girl. I started screaming ‘somebody help me’ … Several men on our team sprinted in the direction of the fleeing woman.”
Hertzog will never forget the look on the child’s face.