Aug 8, 2021

Teen Leader Reflections

 This summer we were lucky to have Zach and Alex, two Massachusetts teenagers accompany us on this grand adventure to get the community center up and running. I big part of Las Margaritas since 2015 has been the collaboration between teen leaders from the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. We didn't really think we could pull it off this year because of, well, COVID. But, at the last minute Zach and Alex stepped up and were able to come. And I can't say enough about how much help they were, painting, putting furniture together, cleaning, just so willing and excited to do everything we asked of them. And then when the Center opened they jumped right in and worked with the children.

I have to say that I'm not sure we could've pulled this off without their help. But, you've heard enough from me. Here are some of their reflections:

On the opening of the camp:

Hoy es el primer dia de otras personas entre al centro por los actividades. En la mañana muchos chicos expresaron sus habilidades con los dibjujos y las rompecabezas. En la tarde el Centro está aborratado. Los niños dibujaron picturas bonitas, construyeron con Legos, y incluso jugaron beisbol. Los niños se divirtieron much y también los consejeros.

                                                                                Alex Cohen

On their last day:

Today was the perfect sendoff from our experience of being in the Dominican Republic for one week. It was one of culture, relaxation, gratitude, and most importantly, work. Waking up around 8am, Alex, Yasi and I went and got our Covid test and luckily we were all negative. Once that was taken care of we had a little beach excursion for a couple of hours and to say that was relaxing would be an understatement. Returning at around 2:30 we had a big lunch. We headed over to el Centro to work with the kids from 3 - 5. We played checkers, picked out books, and overall had a very productive time. Once the shift ended we found ourselves relaxing again until yet another large feast was given to us via a surprise form Carmen y la abuela. Now we are ready for bed and I can sleep easy knowing I put my best effort into someone else's dream who was generous enough to give me the opportunity to dos. so. 

                                                                                  Zach Snyder

Aug 3, 2021

Grand Opening Tomorrow

 This feels good! That was what I was thinking as the rain began falling here in Madre Vieja a few minutes ago, washing away the debilitating heat of the day. But, I was also thinking about the work we've done over the past few days. Part of it is that it feels good to create this center for the community and for the children. As the place has taken shape over the past few days, looking more and more like a place for children, lots of parents and children have been stopping by, curious about what we're doing. And when we explain that we are building a space for children to come and read, take books home, play board games, do their homework, do art activities, etc. they invariably ask, "¿Cuánto cuesta?", wanting to know how much we charge. And then when we respond, "Nada. Es completemente gratis" we get lots of nods, in my mind anyways signifying, "Alright then. Now we're talking."  Obviously we're not doing this to feel good about ourselves, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that that's how I feel.

And it feels good physically, and thus mentally, as well. In my day to day work existence I spend most of my time working to resolve complex situations. I really don't want to get into the details too much because I'm really trying to keep that part of my life out of the frontal cortex of my brain for the time being. Suffice it to say that the work that I do is mentally exhausting. So, it feels rejuvinative to spend four or five days painting walls, putting together furniture, putting labels in books, organizing spaces, etc.  Yesterday for example I spent an hour laminating and then cutting out Membership cards. It was so relaxing, the rhythm of it all feeling almost meditative. I should pause here to say that I know the vast majority of the workers of the world spend their lives doing jobs like this all day every day and that they are most likely not feeling meditative about it at all as they are doing the work to survive. And if I spent 60 hours a week laminating name tags I don't think I would feel so 'meditative". That said, for a few hours for a few days it all feels good.

In any event ... The place is just about ready. Tomorrow will be spent organizing and cleaning and then the grand opening is at 6:00. We've invited a lot of people, mostly from the neighborhood and then some politicos and media folk as well. I'm really curious to see who shows. I'll keep you posted. (Ha! Ha! get it? I'm writing blog posts so "I'll keep you posted." I do make myself - if no one else - laugh sometimes.)

Here's some pictures of our adventures over the last couple of days:

Jul 31, 2021

T - 4: Days until Opening

 Lots of progress on the community center today. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. A special bonus prize for anyone who can tell me the total value (in words) of all the pictures below. I do love math. And I know I said that I needed to tell you about our adventure coming home from the airport but it's 8:00 pm and we've been working hard all day. A Presidente with my name on it awaits!

Community Center: At Long Last

 Here we go amigos. For years and years it has been a dream of ours to open a community center for teens and youngsters in Madre Vieja.  Our first plan, during Campamento #3 in 2015 was to renovate an old space that had been used as a de facto community center (for meetings, karate classes, chess club, things like that) many years ago. But, that plan fizzled due to the ever changing political situation of the country. You see, the space was created and sponsored by the central government so when the PRD (Partido Revolucionario Demócratico) was in control six years ago we had access to the space because the PRD is the party of Doña Yolanda and most of the Montás family (we won't mention those family members who have moved on to other political parties as that's a sore subject. Not really, but it would be interesting if it were) and La Doña is a bigwig in the party. So, we began planning. But then the elections came up and the PRD lost and all of its initiatives, including the support our community center went by the wayside.

So, five minutes has now passed since I wrote that last sentence because as I was writing it I wondered where the expression "gone by the wayside" came from and because I am writing on a computer and connected to the interweb I have easy access to lots of information. So, I looked it up. Here's what I found on Wixtionary:  

From the Parable of the Sower told by Jesus and recorded in the New Testament of the Bible, the term appearing in Matthew 13:4, Mark 4:4, and Luke 8:5. The parable is the story of a farmer who sows seed, and “some fell by the wayside, and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it” (Luke 8:5).[1]

Hmm. That's interesting right? This last statement was then interpreted by the author of the New Testament to have some sort of critical religious meaning but this is not the space for such ...  digressions.

So, where was I? Oh yeah ... on to Plan B, which was to build our own community center, but we never really had the funds for that and so we have moved on to Plan C, which is to find a space to rent out, staff, and furnish.  And due to some serious fundraising efforts and a big old grant we got from the Burkehaven Family Foundation (BFF - in the texting definition as well) we now have the funds to make this dream a reality. Oy, that sounds so corny. How about this: 'to put Plan C into action'. Mejor?

And we're just about there.  Here's a picture of the space we found:

Everybody here in the DR and back home in the US has been working hard to get the space built out and ready to go.  Tanya and I arrived yesterday and we're going to put the final touches on the space and have a grand opening on Wednesday. Speaking of which ... we still have a lot to do and I just got a Whats App message that Tanya is waiting for me to help so I'm off.  

p.s.  Remind to tell you what happened on our way back from the airport picking up Zak and Alex.

Jul 19, 2021

Lots Going On

 Hey Friends,

Well, it's been quite awhile since my last post. The world has gone through a crisis of, dare I say, biblical proportions (yes, I dare) in the last year and Las Margaritas has responded in equal measure. Perhaps that's a bit of hyperbole but we have done what we can to help out in the DR. As the pandemic hit the DR we diverted funds from El Campamento, which we couldn't run, of course, to support front line workers. Mainly, we provided meals to the Red Cross folk and hospital staff that were caring for those affected by COVID.

This Spring, as many Dominicans got vaccinated, we turned back to the programs we have run for many years and then started two new initiatiaves.  Here's a summary of what we've been up to (and, yes, I do know that you shouldn't end a sentence in a preposition, which is why I added this paranthetical comment): 

Long Time Programming

•  Send a Girl to College: We ramped up this program, which has been going on for four years now. This year we were able to provide financial support (tuition, transportation, books, supplies) to 14 girls, including our first graduate!!!

                            Top left corner: Karen Medina Martinez, our first graduate who just completed a program in                                                               Clinical Psychology from UTE (Las Universidad de Tercera Edad) in Santo Domingo.                                                                        And, yes, we are missing a couple of photos. Working on that.

• El Campamento: We're back! After skipping last year we are running the camp again this summer. The camp is going to run at La Escuela Doña Chucha, a local school in Madre Vieja Norte, a small community in San Cristobal. The camp will be led by the principal and teachers of that school and is going to use a hybrid model with some programming done in person and some virtually. For my devoted and historical readers Doña Chucha is the school where we built the garden a few years back.

Here's a video montage as a gentle reminder

Super Fun & Exciting New Stuff (SFENS)

• Cradle to College: We started this program to support teen mothers. A number of former female participants in El Campamento became pregnant at a young age. In this initiative, we are donating care packages for these new mothers: formula, diapers, children's books, clothing, etc. to help them manage their newfound responsibility.

Basket of Supplies

•  El Centro Comunitario: In our most ambitious project to date we are opening ... get ready for it ... a community center for the youth in San Cristobal. After many years of running El Campamento in the Summer we came to the realization that it was not enough. We were able to help los jovenes in our summer camp develop literacy and leadership skills, but some of that progress was lost during the school year. We needed to find a way for our campers to build on the progress that was made in the summer. We began the literacy clubs to address this concern but it was not enough. Hence, the community center. We have rented a space in the heart of Madre Vieja (near where El Campamento has traditionally run) and will begin programming in a few weeks. At first we will relocate the reading club to the new community center, create a lending library (which doesn't exist in San Cristobal) and develop a homework center. Once we get up and running we will add programming such as music, art, sports, and coding classes. 

                            An artistic rendering of the lending library/homework center in our new community center

All of this is made possible, of course, by the generous contributions of our supporters. Of special note is the partnership that we have been able to create with the Burkhaven Family Foundation. We applied for and were awarded with a a $10,000 grant from this foundation for this year to get the community center up and running and they have committed $60,000 over the next three years. Wowza! 

So, we've been busy right? 

Oct 2, 2019

From our teen leader Sarah Capute

I travelled to Las Galeras in the Dominican Republic with Las Margaritas foundation. My aunt, who grew up in the DR, started this foundation with my uncle and the help of her family, who live in the Dominican. The foundation has been holding a summer camp for children in the DR for years now. They take teen leaders with them each year to help with the camp. My aunt and I came up with the idea of me leading a softball clinic as a part of the camp this year and tie it into a theme of gender equity. I collected equipment with the help of the Cheshire softball community to use in the clinic and donate to some local teams in the DR. On the day of the equipment drive, I had no idea what to expect or if anyone would even show up. But I was amazed at how much equipment we gathered and how interested and excited people were about the project. We collected enough equipment to hold a clinic at the camp and donate to three different places in the DR. There were about 50 kids at the clinic and I taught some basic skills (throwing, fielding, hitting). I had to improvise at times in order to communicate because my spanish isn’t too great. When the clinic was finished, I got to meet a few of the players on one of the teams we donated to (The Bandits) while they were receiving the rest of the equipment. Although baseball is a huge part of Dominican culture, softball is rare and girls don’t get nearly enough opportunities to participate in sports in general. This was an incredible experience for me to see the impact a small project like this could have. 

Aug 3, 2019

Las Galeras Camp: InThe Books

So, we came down to Las Galeras with few expectations. We had a couple of contacts that we had only conversed with online. And figured that we would be able to work something out once we got here but we’re never really sure if we were going to have any campers until they actually arrived. Given all of that in my view this camp was a huge success. Some thoughts.

* Literacy level of the campers in general is quite low. Lower than in Madre Vieja. Not sure why. We noticed that on Day 1 of the camp and backed off on some of the literacy activities we had planned. We've already talked about doing some intense reading work with some of the students at next year's camp.

* We took all campers who came every day. We even had one new camper on the last day. We figured we needed to allow word to spread to capture as many campers as possible. This inconsistency made it more challenging to connect with the campers on a daily basis. I think next year we need to limit it to those who show up on the first day.

* We played softball once. We need to figure out the logistics to make that part of the daily routine because the campers loved that activity. We just can’t let them traipse clay all over the classrooms after playing. (I’ll keep to myself the drama that resulted. No use burning bridges.)

You know I always wonder if we’re making a difference with these camps. I mean, can a week of literacy, STEM, art, and community development really improve these students’ lives. Then I think about it this way. Seeing all of us come from so far away in our free time (Is there such a thing?) to spend even just a week here I think would make at least some of the campers feel special. And that feeling goes a long way. So, Campamento #7 is now complete. Camp #8 starts Monday in San Cristobal.

Las Galeras Camp: Día 5

We arrived at camp a little before nine and 25 campers were waiting for us!  It took all week but Hora Americana has finally sunk in. Big doings today with a lot of moving parts. Her goes:

* We brought a number of books with us to use at the camp. We wanted to give each camper a book and then the rest we would donate to the school. So, that’s what we did. Tanya had the idea to give each kid three books out of which they could choose one to keep. I was skeptical. I figured this plan
would lead to mayhem, with the campers fighting over books. But that didn’t happen. The campers
were wicked focused (Just threw that Framingham descriptor in for Jen!) on their books and took on the challenge of deciding which book to choose very seriously. Have I mentioned that I probably shouldn’t ever question my wife’s ideas?

* In the midst of the book exchange T, C, C, and S headed into town to deal with the softball equipment donation. We had tried to take care of this on Thursday but ... well, you know how things work here. So Tanya set up a meeting with Ana Reyes and the coach of the local girl’s softball team at the Mayor’s office in town. All worked out great. One of the campers actually plays on this team so she left camp early to be part of the ceremony. She came back beaming with her new softball and sports socks!  So, thanks to Sarah for leading this equipment drive and to all the families in Cheshire who contributed. Your generosity made a difference in these girls’ lives.
* We thought we’d finish off the camp with an ice cream treat for all the campers. While we were waiting for it to arrive I sent the kids off to the basketball court to play. Next thing I knew they had organized a baseball game on the court. We had been very hesitant all week to use the court because there was very little shade. Didn’t seem to bother the campers a bit. The baseball, by the way, was a ball of scotch tape wrapped around a sock. I took some great photos of these events. And when I uploaded them to this blog they all turned out upside down. I don't understand the interweb.

Preparing the Books!

Softball Equipment Donation
Luli handing over the extra books to Dani

Aug 1, 2019

Las Galeras Camp: Día 4

Smooth sailing today. I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

We read “Where the Wild Things Are” and then had the campers write a reflection. They were captivated by the book(who isn’t after all). But also because I just don’t think they get to read that many books. Many of them had a real hard time getting their  thoughts down on paper... or really forming their thoughts in the first place. Literacy skills are quite low I think.

In art today we brought a bunch of leaves and flowers from La Casa and the
 students created still lives with thin Markers and water colors

Today’s STEM challenge was to make the longest continuous  “road” with one piece of paper