ADDISON – Susan Barrons' recent mission to the Dominican Republic was all about helping increase access to education there. Now that she's back home, she's using what she learned to keep that going.
Barrons, senior center director for the Addison KinderCare, traveled to the Caribbean nation from Jan. 26 to Feb. 3 for a Lifetouch Memory Mission, during which she helped complete a trade school that was started in 2014 in a small farming community.
In this farming community, people who work in the fields often make $2 per day, Barrons said. The trade school will allow kids who have completed eighth grade to learn cooking, woodworking, sewing, cashier work, computer skills and more.
“I love helping people,” Barrons said.
She heard about the opportunity that Lifetouch, a leading national provider of school and family photography, was offering, so she applied to go on the trip.
While in the Dominican Republic, Barrons said the volunteers worked together to put up walls on the second floor of the vocational school. They put mortar between the bricks and helped to stucco the walls.
“We also got to play with the children, interact with them and form relationships with them,” Barrons said.
The volunteers were able to visit the children in their classrooms and visit some of their homes, she said.
Barrons said KinderCare will do fundraisers throughout the school year in order to assist them with the trade school and also purchase materials for both the trade school and elementary school. Children at the KinderCare learning center in Addison also will be sending notes to kids in the Dominican Republic through a new pen pal program.
“Personally, the trip reminded me that we live in a society of 'stuff.' We want, need more 'stuff' and think that that will make us happy,” shared Barrons. “All the while, when I was in Constanza, even though most people were living in what we would consider squalor, they were happy.”
During the weeklong service trip, the volunteers held two-way conversations with their home schools through Google Hangouts. The participants were able to share their experiences, and the viewers at the home schools were able to check out the construction site.
“It was a phenomenal group of volunteers,” said Jan Haeg, who manages the Memory Missions through Lifetouch.
She said they had about 3,000 applicants, and the 47 volunteers who went on the trip were chosen through a drawing.
Lifetouch Memory Missions sent volunteers to the Dominican Republic in 2011 and 2012 to build an elementary school that is providing an education to students that would not have received one otherwise. In 2014, participants started working on the trade school, and this year, 47 volunteers worked hard to finish the job.
“They had such a sense of community, because they weren’t rushing around, like we do every day,” Barrons said about the people she met on her unique trip. “They all knew each other and were just so happy to share what they did have.”