DePaul’s Kayla Caudle is carrying on her late mother’s work and passion in Haiti

Basketball has been a big part of Kayla Caudle’s life since she was in fourth grade. It was her escape after her mother died of breast cancer when she was 10. But she also has a passion for social work.

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Kayla Caudle loves playing basketball with the children at the Spirit of Truth School and Orphanage in Guibert, Haiti.

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About a year ago, DePaul freshman Kayla Caudle landed in Haiti carrying duffel bags filled with clothes and shoes she got from friends and classmates as she has done many times.

She climbed into a car and ventured off to Spirit of Truth School and Orphanage in Guibert, which her late mother helped build.

The distance wasn’t far, but the terrain was rough. On the way, the driver cautiously avoided potholes on the rocky roads as the car zipped around the mountain. At times, it seemed like the car might tumble off the side of the cliff; there were no guardrails to save it.

Once you come around a certain point, there’s a forest of greenery as far as the eye can see. In it, you’ll find the orphanage and its basketball court, which is surrounded by tall trees. The paint on the weathered concrete slabs has faded over the years, and the rusty old hoops don’t always have their nets.

“That’s probably my favorite part of going to Haiti — playing [basketball] with kids,” said Caudle, who’s from Vernon Hills. “Because they’re all over you; they just want to give you hugs.

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Kayla Caudle brings Starbursts and suckers with her on her service trips to Haiti to give the children.

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“And if you bring candy, oh, my goodness. They’re gonna swarm you, so you’ve got to hand it out secretly like, ‘Don’t tell anyone,’ or else they’re gonna jump on you.”

Basketball has been a big part of Caudle’s life since she was in fourth grade. It was her escape after her mother, Ruth, died of breast cancer when Caudle was 10. But she also has a passion for social work, which her mother instilled in her and her siblings at a young age.

Ruth immigrated to the United States from Haiti in 1989 to further her education. She dedicated her life to giving back to her community. Even when Ruth got really sick and weak, Caudle remembers her mother calling people and trying to organize additional funding for her projects in Haiti.

“The fact that she was super sick and caring about people besides herself . . . that really opened my eyes,” said Caudle, who has been consistently visiting Haiti since she was 8 months old. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is her life passion, that was what drove her.’ And so I really learned a lot from my mom in that way, and it taught me not to take what I have for granted.”

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“My mom and I were really, really close,” Kayla Caudle said. “[I’m] definitely a mama’s girl.”

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Caudle has carried on her mother’s legacy on and off the basketball court.

During her four seasons at Vernon Hills, Caudle wore No. 22 in honor of her mother’s birthday, Jan. 22. But when she got to DePaul, senior Chante Stonewall already had that number, so she picked No. 24 because her mother died Feb. 24.

“Maybe next year when Chante graduates, I can steal it,” Caudle playfully said with a smile. “But that’s OK.”

Off the court, Caudle, who’s fluent in Spanish, routinely makes an effort to help Together for Haiti’s four schools and two orphanages by gathering more resources or giving her time. She and her siblings put together their Christmas money last year and helped feed 400 families. And after college, Caudle plans to get involved in social-justice reform or start her own nonprofit.

“She’s a kid after her mom’s own heart,” Kayla’s father, Brian Caudle, said. “She has a genuine caring concern for other people. . . . She’s seen a lot, she’s been through a lot and not a lot gets her down. She has the perspective that if she loses the basketball game, she knows there’s bigger things in life, and she puts small things behind her.”

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Kayla Caudle is averaging 2.2 points in 13 games this season.

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Caudle has had her fair share of struggles this season, her first with No. 16 DePaul. She has had two injuries, including a midseason ankle sprain. In 13 games, she’s averaging 2.2 points on 40.7 percent shooting in 7.5 minutes.

“She’s been really strong and firm and tough in handling it all,” coach Doug Bruno said. “She’s embraced it and really done a good job. And she’s a lot closer to playing than she even realizes.

‘‘There’s still some little things that she has to learn until she’s on the floor. But I love her competitiveness. She works hard; she brings a good approach.”

But basketball is only one aspect of Caudle’s life.

During the eulogy at Ruth’s funeral, the pastor challenged the younger generation to follow in Ruth’s footsteps and proposed the question: “Who now will pick up the torch?”

“I now know who will run with it and never let it touch the ground,” Brian Caudle said. “Kayla.”

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