LARCHMONT, N.Y. -- Sixteen members of the Larchmont Avenue Church are going on a nine-day mission trip to the Domincan Republic in February. The group will be working in a small rural town called Caimonal alongside the local community in the hands-on construction of a room in a school building.
The church has partnered with the organization Bridges to Community, a non-governmental organization that works on social impact, changes in infrastructure, and empowerment in the developing world, to organize the trip.
After twelve years of mission trips, this is the first time that a group is going to the Dominican Republic. Previous efforts have focused on remote regions of Nicaragua. One year they built a home, and another a portion of a shower installation at a community health clinic where there was absolutely no other health care in the area.
“All of our work has included a very demanding physical construction component," said Meg Kauffer, co-leader of the Larchmont Avenue Church Youth Group. "This is the first year we’re building a school room at a pre-existing schoolhouse that has severe overcrowding. The older elementary students have to walk over 5 kilometers to a different town to attend school."
The room they build will also serve as a multi-use space in the evening for literacy classes for adults and other community gatherings.
Caimonal is in the mountains on the border of Haiti. "There are no jobs, a heavily damaged ecosystem, poor or no infrastructure, and all of this means extreme poverty," Kauffer explained.
One of the young members making the trip, Mamaroneck High School senior Carina Allen, said she is excited for what is her third mission trip through the church. "It's always a lot of digging, a lot of dust and sweat, but such a great experience," she said.
Allen described how the work impacts not only the communities they visit, but also the church members. “Westchester can be kind of like a bubble. It’s a great place to grow up, but I do think that a lot of us are very sheltered if this is all we know. And I think that a lot of people take that for granted. So going on these trips has really given me new perspective that reminds me to be so incredibly thankful for all that we're able to do and also appreciate things like running water and heat."
Kauffer also said that besides lack of decent housing and limited access to basic resources, there are deeper issues that the church is educating the group on. There have been movie nights and a brunch learning session about the situation in the Dominican Republic relating to racial identity and the brutal and exploitative sugar cane industry.
In addition to Allen, these are the members of this year's intergenerational group of travelers: Andrew & Patty Towle, Caroline Sarkozi, Clare Camoiera, Clemence Wassen, Kelly and Tom Poleman, the Rev. Julie Emery, Karen McGill, Karin Laager, Kimberly Flores, Liam Hanley, Chris and Scott Godwin, and Ryan Flynn.
To make a donation to support the project or learn more, visit the First Giving Website at www.firstgiving.com.