Auburn Placer High grad survives Haiti quake, now working to save others

Nurse Ashley Hapak at makeshift clinic in Port-au-Prince after experiencing earthquake
By: Gus Thomson, Auburn Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
Auburn’s Ashley Hapak left California for Haiti Dec. 29 not knowing what to expect during the next three months of volunteer work with a Port-au-Prince orphanage. In fact, her mother, Sharon Hapak recalled Friday that the registered nurse and Placer High grad was a little unsure about what she was doing traveling to the economically depressed island to help with Child Hope International’s efforts rescuing abandoned children. “She told me when she left, ‘I don’t know what my real purpose is for going but I know I’m needed down there,’” Sharon Hapak said. Two weeks after her departure, Ashley was at the Child Hope International orphanage when Tuesday’s devastating earthquake struck. The orphanage building survived. Ashley and all but one of the children were uninjured. But with destruction and suffering all around it, the building was soon being used as an emergency clinic, with beds stripped of sheets to be used as makeshift bandages. Back in Auburn on Friday, Sharon Hapak – herself a nurse with Kaiser Permanente in Roseville – and other family members were still awaiting their first conversation with Ashley. Her father, Stan, works for Placer County Health & Human Services, and she also has two brothers. Communication has come second-hand via an offsite phone connection to a Los Angeles-based blog. Ten hours after the first news of the earthquake, the Hapaks learned that their daughter was safe but immersed in her work at the clinic. A graduate of the University of Washington, Ashley had taken a leave of absence from her job with the UCLA pediatric intensive care unit to go to Haiti. She had previously done similar volunteer work in India, Guatemala and Mexico but had never traveled to work in an area she felt was as dangerous as in Haiti. “We were really afraid (before she left),” Sharon said. “We tried to discourage her because the area is unsettled and unsafe. Stan even warned her about hurricanes. But we didn’t warn her about earthquakes.” Sharon said she’s now attempting to find a way to travel to Haiti to be with her daughter. Sharon has also volunteered to do similar work, most notably in the late 1990s to Nicaragua with Auburn’s Ministry of Mercy. One of those visits was the subject of award-winning photo coverage by then-Journal photographer Carl Costas. “Who could have dreamed of this,” Sharon said. Involved with varsity girls soccer and Young Life in her teens in Auburn, Ashley’s story has brought the Haiti earthquake home to residents like Denise Cardona, co-owner of Downtown Auburn’s Kids Closet. Ashley graduated in 2002 from Placer. Cardona’s son, Brandon, 26, is married to Ashley’s former roommate, Alex Forsythe. Ashley was maid of honor at their wedding. Now Cardona is leading a fund-raising drive to help the orphanage. A benefit featuring music by Colossal Dome, with Placer High’s Jordan Roper and Casey Cardona, has been set up for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24 at Tsuda’s in Old Town Auburn. On Feb. 6, the Auburn Masonic Hall at 956½ Lincoln Way will play host to a family spaghetti feed fundraiser for the orphanage. And the Kids Closet, 948 B Lincoln Way is asking for donations of clean cloth diapers, diaper pins and diaper covers to send to the orphanage. “They were in desperate need before this happened,” Cardona said. “Hearing about the earthquake on the news immediately made us think of how we could help. Plus, Ashley’s a local gal who grew up in Auburn.” ---------------------------------- Help Ashley help Haiti: -Diaper drop: Donations may be made at Kids Closet. It’s open 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. -Spaghetti feed: 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 6. Suggested donation is $7 for adults, $5 for children and $20 for a family of four. Spaghetti, salad and garlic bread. Advance ticket locations include Community First Bank, Tango frozen yogurt and Kids Closet. Tickets also at the door. -Haiti benefit: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at Tsuda's. Suggested donation is $5. Root beer float proceeds to also help the orphanage. --------------------- Haiti quake relief: More how to help American Red Cross People can make an unrestricted donation to the International Response Fund at or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767). The public can also help by texting “Haiti” to 90999 to send a $10 donation to the Red Cross. Salvation Army The Salvation Army is accepting monetary donations to assist in the effort via its Web site, by phone at 1-800-SAL-ARMY or by postal mail at: The Salvation Army World Service Office, International Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 630728, Baltimore, MD 21263-0728. Designate donations “Haiti Earthquake.”