By: Amber Hayes, CCI Greenheart Cultural Outreach Coordinator

Haldis Toppen, the Employer Relations and Outreach Director, and I had the opportunity to spend Valentine’s Day in the Dominican Republic to meet new participants, chat with old friends, and volunteer!

After a very successful job fair in which over 150 participants were interviewed, Greenheart staff, OFIT (Oficina De Turismo e Intercambio Cultural Aplicado al Desarrollo Estudiantil) staff, our wonderful host organizations, as well as some former and future participants visited a local nursing home in Santo Domingo. The nursing home is free to the public and supported by the Catholic Church.  Over 300 men and women are able to live in this facility thanks to the donations and generosity of others.

Greenheart participants decided that the best way they could help was by putting a smile on the residents’ faces! One participant brought a guitar, and we all strolled throughout the halls singing popular songs in Spanish. Although the extent of my Spanish is “Me llamo Amber”, I was able to clap along and sing to some lyrics (even I could say “sí señor” to a rhythm).

This was my first ever visit to the Dominican Republic. I feel that I have learned so much from our volunteer work at the senior citizen home. I learned how friendly and welcoming Dominicans are, I learned how brave our participants are, and I was able to see first-hand some of the struggles that Dominicans have in Santo Domingo.

A former J-1 participant, Amaryi Tejada, actually created a volunteer project in 2016 to help stray animals in the Dominican Republic. She wrote a blog about her efforts that you can read here. Feel inspired yet? If you want to make an impact in your community, apply for a Greenheart Service Grant!

I loved my experience in the Dominican Republic! It is a beautiful country and the people are so polite and welcoming. I know that I’ll return one day soon!

CCI Greenheart offers participants the opportunity to volunteer and work in the United States for their academic break. Learn more here.