By Louise ZoBell and Sandra Nelson
Little did we know that vacations in the beautiful Dominican Republic beginning in 2006 would lead to the establishment of a humanitarian foundation, the Dominican Starfish Foundation.
The Foundation is based on the story of the boy walking the beach throwing the starfish back into the ocean as the tide was receding and being approached by a man who said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!” After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then smiling at the man he said…”I made a difference for that one!”
This mirrors the vision of the Dominican Starfish Foundation. One by one, it is touching lives and making a difference.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living in Stirling, Alberta, we caught the vision of the difference we could make and spear-headed our dream into a charitable foundation. Individual charitable involvement in the Dominican Republic began in 2006 and progressed to the Dominican Starfish Foundation being established in 2012 under the Province of Alberta Societies Act and receiving charitable status from the Government of Canada in 2014.
The Foundation’s mission is to assist in providing food, clothing, shelter and basic needs for those suffering poverty in the Dominican Republic. The nine-member, totally volunteer board, operates on the generosity of like-minded individuals from Canada and the United States who, in 2016, donated $270,000 for designated projects, including 10,000 pounds of clothing, shoes, school supplies, hygiene kits, and household supplies.
The Foundation has hosted groups of doctors, nurses, dentists, and pre-med students who provided week-long free check-ups and treatments. It also supports several schools with teaching aids and student supplies, and has built a library in a neighboring community.
Additionally, the Foundation has been active in home building projects, where it hires Dominicans as construction workers and thus provides a way on a consistent basis for about 10 men to care for and feed their families in a developing country where unemployment is very high. Home Number 46 is now under construction. The Foundation also provides educational assistance to aspiring Dominicans, five of whom are receiving post-secondary education. Of these five students, Kathrine, recently received her teaching certificate, and Andrelis, a very bright young lady, is studying to be a medical doctor with a desire to be accepted by a university in the United States or Canada.
The Foundation also became aware of Maria, who lost both of her legs from being hit by an out-of-control car, and helped her receive prosthetic legs through LDS Charities, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those in need throughout the world.
The hearts of these dedicated volunteers have been given an increased meaning to the purpose of life as they associate with so many impoverished people in the Dominican Republic, who generously give of themselves to help one another. The Foundation’s Director in the Dominican Republic is Amarilis Urena Peralta, a dynamic member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, who truly is the heart of the Foundation and understands the needs of her people, especially those in her barrio community of Javillar. Amarilis manages the building projects, purchases the supplies, pays and feeds the construction workers, and, with the assistance of many other members of her faith, distributes the donated clothing and shoes, and leads visiting groups to share the Dominican way of life – all on a volunteer basis.
So, how does all this happen? One by one in Canada and the United States. One by one in the Dominican Republic. Whether it is two young girls in Edmonton, Alberta collecting pop bottles and donations, or one young girl in Stirling collecting pennies, or a young Scouter completing his Eagle Scout project by providing hygiene kits, or ladies sewing Days for Girls hygiene kits and baby blankets, lives are being changed and hearts are being lifted.
In Matthew 25:40, the Saviour speaks, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”