A few weeks ago, the students at St. Brendan School in Hancock Park invited Jay & me to come to their assembly where they honored our son, Nick, (SBS class of 2008) who passed away on July 27th. The assembly was the kick off for their Crazy Day fundraising effort to assist the children of orphanages and poor schools in the Dominican Republic that we would be visiting in November in Nick’s honor .
Crazy Day was wildly successful. The students each had to pay $1 to get creative with their uniforms and they held a bake sale. All the funds for the Crazy Day entry fee and the bake sale were donated and we were overwhelmed by the students’generosity. Over $2,000 was raised!
Last night Jay & I arrived in the Dominican Republic and one of the first things our group did was go to Jumbo, the store that is most like a Target in the U.S.
We picked out lots of sporting goods equipment for the kids.
This morning Jay & I woke up in bunk beds in a house run by an organization called Vision Trust in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo is the site of the first university, cathedral, castle, monastery, and fortress in the New World–that was back in the 1500s.
But today, only about 52% of Dominican Republic kids get an 8th grade education and, in rural schools, education stops at the 5th grade. So here we are in this community far from Los Angeles, to spend time with kids that don’t have anywhere near what most U.S. kids are used to. Our goal is to bring them love, have some fun and encourage them to stay in school.
Today started with breakfast and really good coffee served by the women who take care of the volunteers who stay at the Vision Trust house. There are 10 of us on this trip from all over the U.S. Each of us, prior to the trip, had been shipped three donated laptop computers. One of our jobs was to hand carry the computers on the plane to insure they made it safely here. Tomorrow, we’ll be setting up these computers at a school in Herrera, which is considered one of the poorest sections of Santo Domingo. We’re told that squatters have built makeshift houses so randomly in Herrera that they’ve taken over streets even preventing cars from driving through some areas.
Our time today was spent at an orphanage called Remar which consists of 3 houses–one for girls and younger boys, one for the older boys and one for children that are HIV positive. The orphanage is run by a man they call “Gallito,”and the older kids who live there have responsibility for the younger ones. It’s remarkable how it works. We pretty much spent the day playing with the children. Jay went out to what they designated as the soccer field–a large patch filled with rocks, vines and stumps–and he got a baseball game going.
I did some craft bracelets with the kids until they took turns as my official photographer and used my iPhone to take pictures of the day’s activities. My new friend, Stefana, even mastered the selfie!
We had a big barbecue, which we were told is a rarity. The kids get two meals a day where rice and beans are the staple and if there’s chicken, that’s a big deal. Today we all got rice, beans, chicken, pork chops, AND sausage. We were told this feast was equivalent to a Thanksgiving dinner.
Remar is just on the other side of the road from the ocean about ten miles past the Santo Domingo airport. We heard a story today of a fashion designer who happened to be passing the building on her way from the airport and she asked her driver to pull over so she could see what was there. In discovering the orphanage and seeing that it was in need of quite a few things, she decided to ask the girls from the orphanage if they’d like to be models in her next fashion show which is taking place in a hotel in Santo Domingo next Sunday. She’ll be donating proceeds from the fashion show to the orphanage. The girls are very excited about this and they each practiced their best struts down the catwalk for us.
It was an amazing day to see how content these kids are living in bare minimum accommodations including only 1 bathroom for about 15 boys as the second one isn’t working and no one has time to find someone to fix it. And the kitchen for the boys’ house is moving outside because they say it’s less dangerous there. Some of this is hard to comprehend.
Thanks to the generosity of the St. Brendan Students, and also to members of Notre Dame Knights baseball team who donated mitts, the children at the Remar orphanage had an especially good day today. If Stefana hadn’t taken so many pictures and drained my phone battery, I’d be able to show the basketball hoop that got set up, all the soccer and volley balls, a new volley ball net, jump ropes, tumbling mats, game tables and baseball bats that we were able to deliver to these kids today. And I’d be able to show you a picture of the beautiful rainbow that appeared in the sky just as we were getting ready to leave while some warm sprinkles came down from the clouds. The rainbow that I know means that Nick was with us today.
Jay and I are a bit out of our comfort zone and I think the next few days may push us even further. Jay couldn’t wait to lie down on his bunk after a full day of baseball in the hot Dominican sun! I’m finding my limited Spanish doesn’t get me very far–but I know we’re both looking forward to what tomorrow will bring –maybe even a real professional Dominican baseball game, Rumor has it one of Nick’s former Dodgers favorites, Manny Ramirez, is playing on a Dominican team that’s in town tomorrow night.