Summit County nonprofit works to bring health care, sports to Haiti, the Dominican Republic
It didn’t take much for Philip Wolf to convince his friends to join him. Less than 24 hours after speaking with Wolf, Sam Sutera booked tickets to the Dominican Republic for himself and his girlfriend, Soraya Desouza. It wasn’t a vacation Wolf had convinced them to go on, but an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children from a few poor villages.
Through love of sports
Two years ago, Wolf, Sutera, Desouza and another volunteer, Morgan Lynn, traveled to the villages of La Hoya and Bombita in the Dominican Republic, where they started basketball and volleyball camps for local children.
Before they left, they did some fundraising in Summit County. Wolf has lived in Frisco for five years, and both Desouza and Sutera work at Copper Mountain Resort. They set up donation bins at the rec centers, and local businesses donating money for a raffle, held at Ollie’s during a barbecue event.
“It was a huge success,” said Desouza of the fundraising efforts, which resulted in 90 pairs of shoes, 60 basketballs and other equipment, including jerseys, whistles and air pumps.
After buying all the equipment, the campaign had some leftover money, which was contributed to a food program for the villagers.
Last November, the volunteers returned for the second round of camp, greeting many familiar faces from the previous year.
“Just seeing how grateful they are when we go down there, it just makes you so appreciative,” said Sutera. “People up here (they’re) praying for snow, and they’re (in the Dominican Republic) just looking for their next meal, drink of water, shoes for their feet. But they’re the happiest people ever.”
Sutera, who played basketball for Quincey University in Illinois, leads the kids in drills and scrimmages. He’s seen improvement over the two camps and claims that several of his protégés are already better than him.
Sports are a way of teaching other skills and values, said Wolf. “It’s more about teaching them teamwork and sportsmanship and all those fundamentals that sports bring to bettering people’s lives,” he said.
Children are allowed to attend the basketball and volleyball camps based on school attendance, he added. “It’s a reward, too, if they participate in class and show up and everything, then they are eligible to go to the camps.”
Sutera and Desouza had never traveled to the Dominican Republic before volunteering for the camp.
“I had no idea. I thought we’d be on a beach somewhere. We were in the middle of a valley with no breeze,” said Sutera, on his assumptions of the geography. “It’s basically all sugar cane farmers, very poor, but obviously it was a great time. We went back without even thinking about it.”
Though there were surprises, said Desouza, they were of the pleasant variety.
“People that have nothing will give you anything they can. They’re really nice people,” she said. “It’s the best experience of my life.”
Hispañola Health Partners started with the sports camps, but it has goals beyond them as well. Wolf founded HHP with his friend Patrick Howell, who had already been working in the area with an organization called the Community Partners Association. Howell clued Wolf in on the need for sports camps. Once those were established, Howell and Wolf decided to find more ways to help the people of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Through connections with other volunteers, they were led to the small, poor village of Marre-Joffrey, Haiti. Although a building had been erected for a medical center, it had never been furnished or staffed. With the help of Haitian organizations AMBUF and Project Bodarie, Howell and Wolf have decided to make the health center a reality.
Howell and Wolf both visited Marre-Joffrey, inspecting the center, speaking with representatives of various organizations as well as the people living there, asking them what was needed most.
“These people, they’re suffering. They had to go so far to get any medical attention,” Wolf said. “It was the simplest things — medicine, headache medicine, stomach medicine.”
1 in 1,000 campaign
Hispañola Health Partners is currently waiting for its 501(c)3 nonprofit status. Although the application is in, the process is lengthy and takes time. Wolf isn’t going to just sit around, however. He wants to get going as soon as possible on the health center.
“We want doors open by the end of the summer, in some capacity,” he said.
He is already working on the campaign to make this possible, called the “1 in 1,000 campaign.” He and others have estimated that they will need $12,000 to get the center up and running, “which is nothing to finish this,” Wolf said. “It’s crazy to me that it’s all that it is.”
The idea behind the campaign is that they can reach their goal by getting 1,000 people to donate just $12 each. Wolf hopes to raise the money by May, when he will be traveling back to Haiti to start work on the project.
Those interested in donating can find more information at the HHP website: http://www.HispanolaHealthPartners.org.
In the meantime, the sports camps will continue this fall, and Wolf and his volunteers are also considering trying to build playgrounds in La Hoya and Bombita. If they do, they want the locals to be involved in both planning and construction.
“We want it to be theirs,” Wolf said.
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