Summer Camp Volunteers Testimonials

The DREAM Project’s Summer Camp Volunteer Program has been a valuable experience for our DREAM alumni. In addition to improving your Spanish language skills, the program is a great resume builder, whether you plan on a teaching career or not. Read through some of the testimonials below to see how the program has affected past volunteers:

Sofia Barboza, Counselor, 2012 Summer School and Camp

My experience as a counselor in the 2012 Summer Camp was life-changing. From daily class activities to after-school tutoring, I was able to help children grow in their academic abilities. I was literally a witness to their improvement as I watched them progress each week, from being able to complete math problems more quickly to reading more advanced books. I even had the opportunity to develop personal relationships with them by spending quality time on the weekends at the beach or playing at the park. The DREAM Project focuses on giving these children the attention they not only need, but deserve. I am now convinced that as long as I am able to, I will continue to dedicate my time to service projects.

Iliya Yanachkova, Counselor, 2011 & 2012 Summer School and Camp

Through my work with DREAM, I realized that the positive influences we provide as educators and role models can take years to make their effects known. One must have the patience to know that the seeds we sow today may not take hold immediately, but that one day they will indeed bear the fruits of our labor. Yoleini taught me all of this. As one of the most challenging students in my first year as a summer camp volunteer, she grew into one of the most well behaved students the following year. I was truly moved to see this amazing change in Yoleini, and will remember the lessons I learned from her forever.

Ana Ozuna, DREAM Professional Development coach, 2011 & 2012 Summer School and Camp

This academic year, my colleagues and I have implemented a series of on-campus and off-campus activities to enhance the oral proficiency skills of current Spanish students. In addition, students in Service Learning Spanish classes participate in community volunteer projects as part of their course work. As I reflect back to my experience with Dream, I see how Summer Camp does this and so much more. Camp uniquely offers participants the opportunity to work in conjunction with Dominican professionals and local youth counselors to implement a comprehensive curriculum. Local Dominican and Haitian students enthusiastically engage in day-to day fun-filledand student-centered activities, while international volunteers address a real community need as they learn about local culture and customs in a full language immersion environment. So, the DREAM Summer Camp Program not only provides a comprehensive volunteer Abroad experience for all volunteers, which merges academic and civic learning, but it also fosters sustainable outcomes that continue to positively impact local Dominicans throughout the academic year. I think it would be great for more language educators to now about Dream.

Maria Blanco, DREAM Professional Development coach, 2010 & 2011 Summer School & Camp

If you are reading this, you are a person that is seeking a way to make a positive impact on the lives of others. My own search to volunteer brought me to the DREAM website. I didn’t realize at the time that my experience with this wonderful organization allowed me to receive much more than I could ever give.

I am a 44-year-old divorced mother of two incredible grown sons. My career as a public school teacher in Michigan is rewarding and fun. Being an immigrant of Cuba, I felt the pull to fully engage with the Hispanic culture once again. I completely enjoyed my time volunteering as a professional development coach in the summer of 2010; engaging with other teachers and students in a safe learning environment.

The staff at DREAM are all caring and professional. The Dominican residents are loving and warm. The work is fulfilling and energizing. Since my return to the states, I have been counting the days that I may return once again to connect with my friends in the Dominican Republic. In my attempt to help others, the DREAM experience has made a profound positive impact on my own life. If you are able to volunteer, do not hesitate. Your life will be enriched.

Alaina Mallette, 2010 Summer School & Camp

Benjamin Mook, Youth Camp Math Teacher, 2009, 2010 & 2011 Summer Camp & School

Teaching at the DREAM Summer Camp is a life changing experience. You have such an impact on these kids’ lives that you cannot help leaving profoundly changed. It’s hard. And exhausting. But every morning you wake up knowing that what you’re doing and the program you are part of really matters.

The kids brought so much positive energy into the room. They flourished in a small, structured classroom, beginning each lesson with aHagan Ahora (Do Now), working in pairs to complete the Ejemplos (Example Problems), proving they could do it on their own with thePractica (Practice), and always leaving accomplished when they handed in their Tiquete de Salida (Exit Card).

Some students started the summer unable to order numbers from lowest to highest. Others had never seen a subtraction sign (let alone multiplication or division), and only knew how to add. Then there were the students who performed closer to grade level and would tell me, “My mother practices with me every night,” or “My cousin helps me with math.” DREAM offered all of these students a positive experience.

The groups were each named after a profession (Artistas, Exploradores, Inventores, etc.), and each group was divided into two classes based on skill level. This meant that the math classes were small – no more than 15 students – and it ensured a ton of personal attention from my Dominican co-teacher and me. I accomplished more in a day in the DR than I would in a month back in my NYC classroom.

During the four-week Summer Camp, Artistas A mastered subtraction and the learned how to use pictures to represent multiplication problems. Artistas B (the higher level class) learned how to carry and borrow; they even made and practiced their multiplication tables. For many of them this was a struggle – great accomplishments never come easy. But the students really bought in. They were there for a reason. With the help of their counselors, their teachers, and each other, they more than exceeded my wildest expectations.

It was a life changing summer. Thank you Cabarete. Thank you DREAM.  But more importantly, thank you Artistas, Exploradores, Inventores, Detectives, Soñadores, and Científicos.

Catherine Cuello, Youth Camp Head Counselor, 2009 Summer School & Camp

To all the future volunteers at DREAM:

While growing up in Santo Domingo, it was inevitable not to notice the cleavage between the different social classes. But nobody seemed to be doing anything about it. We all took notice of it but took no action. So as a Dominican, I am ashamed to say that I only became socially conscious once I turned 18 and left the country to study Politics and Journalism in England. That’s where reality hit me. It hit me even harder when I taught some middle-low class public school children in England. These elementary school kids had everything they could possibly want or need in their well government kept public school.

Unfortunately when it came down to the question of: “What do you want to be when you’re big?” Their answers came down to: either a plumber, a bricklayer or a technician. Where was the ambition? The desire to be better? The dream? I couldn’t help but question (but secretly know the answer) what Dominicans (disregarding their social class) would answer me if I asked them, and somehow knew it would never be less than a business administrator or a lawyer or a doctor. Although we do need people to do these jobs, I just couldn’t understand how and why their ambition was so short when the government was providing them with everything they needed. Where was the line drawn between good and bad? In the DR, the government provides them with nothing and yet they aimed for the implausible. That’s when I decided to apply to DREAM.

I was placed as a head counselor for children aged 10-12 (but looking like 8-9ish), fell in love with them by day 2 and cried by day 3 once I saw them on the streets at night selling shells. I knew I had to make their 4 weeks the best ever in the world. It was the most exhilarating, touching, moving, exhausting but loving experience ever. To see them excited about math, to learn, to ask questions, to know the answers, to try to read, to make an effort to write, to paint, to smile was just so full-filling.

The moment I saw what I was dealing with I knew they would change my perspective on life. And they did. It didn’t really matter how many pesos they had, they would always be smiley, enthusiastic, active and even bring me heart shaped lollypops every single day.

Their eagerness to learn was amazing. Their openness to meet new people was unbelievable. But their willingness to just be better and live their own dream was simply astounding. They are forced to learn at a young age that their only way out of the Callejón is by working themselves out through school. Whether if that’s what they end up doing or not is another case. As many of us know, any child’s dream can be shattered at the age of 13 and up once reality strikes in and the dream might not be so plausible after all. But it is. And it is our job as educators, as committed citizens, as accountable human beings to keep that dream alive for them.

Our volunteer work in Cabarete undoubtedly planted a seed of hope in each of them. After all, we can never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. It is really the only thing that ever has. (2005: Jeffrey Sachs)

I encourage every other person out there to take that leap of faith and just let life happen and take its course. You will undoubtedly change someone else’s life, but you never just quite know how yours will also change. I know mine did.

I would like to thank all the courageous, good-hearted people based out in El Callejón. Your work is beautiful and will have an immense impact on the Dominican society. You have no idea how valuable your help is to us.

Thank you,
Catherine Cuello.

Oh, and just as I thought – when I asked them what they wanted to be when big, the options went from lawyers to doctors to architects to big-shot baseball players to business administrators, well, to wherever their imagination took them.

Justin Robinson, Adolescent Camp English Teacher/Youth Camp Music Teacher, 2008, 2009 & 2010 Summer School & Camp

For two summers (English teacher at Adolescent camp/Music teacher at Youth camp), I have had the pleasure and eye-opening experience of being an honorary member of the Cabarete community. Why do I call myself an honorary member? Well for me, at some point I passed the “I’m just volunteering” stage. When I began to get to know the kids, their families, and friends, I began to feel a part of the community. They say I look Dominican, I just have to start talking like one! I’m still working on that! 

Anytime that I think of the Dream Project and Cabarete, I have a flood of memories. I remember the heat and mosquitoes, as well as the days where the kids make you so mad you want to scream, to the moments where those same kids make you fall over laughing and you can’t help but smile at them. I remember the warm smiles from the Dominican and foreign staff members. I think about the walk to the school on the Callejón de la Loma and the dust that arises as you wave to now familiar faces along the way. My favorite daily dose of rice, beans, chicken, and fruit from the blue and yellow fruit stand are fresh on my mind. I can remember getting sick for a couple of days and everyone who was there to help. Thanks y’all!  I talk about the hilarious moments I had with countless other volunteers and the bonds that were created. In spite of any headache or pain that happened, an overall smile passes over me when and if you ask me about my experiences in Cabarete with the Dream Project.

As an African American who learned how to speak Spanish in school and abroad. I love the opportunity to come back home and give hope to someone who says, “well I can’t or will never travel outside the country or speak another language.” For those who only see their past and their current surroundings, I can say look at me. I am doing something different and I love it. I tell them about my love for Spanish and the opportunities that they have in store for them if they just try new things. That’s why I like the DREAM Project, because the same issues that I face with my students here, is what the DREAM Project is injecting into the young minds in the DR If you DREAM big enough, you work smart enough, you can do anything you put your mind to.

So if you ask me about the Dream Project and the Dominican Republic. I will tell you…GO! GO! GO! It’s an experience not to be missed that will leave you with the ability to touch someone else’s life for the better, when you are there and thereafter when you have moved on.

I’ll continue to be a part of the DREAM Project as I continue on with this journey called life. If that means me volunteering or suggesting it to a friend who suggests it to another friend, I will be involved with this special organization. Plans for right now include teaching my third year as the Foreign Language Exploratory teacher at Greenbrier Middle School in Chesapeake, VA. Thereafter, I am thinking about going to school again to get a doctorate in something related to education and minority success. I may even be in Cabarete for a year:) You never know. Enjoy your experience. I certainly did as you can see by the length of this testimonial. Adios!

Justin Robinson
Foreign Language Exploratory Teacher
Step Team Coach
Greenbrier Middle School
Chesapeake, VA

– Update –

Justin also participated in DREAM’s 2010 Guzmán Ariza Summer School & Camp, and recently earned the Teacher of the Year Award at his school, which he credits in part to his experience with the DREAM Project.

Felicity Mills, Youth Camp Sports Counselor, 2008Summer School & Camp

A letter to her anonymous sponsor on 9/21/08:

Dear Sponsor,

I’d like to thank you for helping me be a part of the summer camp program in Cabarete this summer. I can’t tell you what an amazing time I had. I spent ten weeks in the Dominican Republic and just got back home last week.

The program was awesome and the kids fantastic; so friendly and enthusiastic. Teaching Sports was challenging, but a lot of fun. Although the program is only five weeks long, I think they get a lot out of it, as there was a good mix of academic and other activities. I was working in the youth camp and quite a lot of the kids were unable to read and didn’t attend school very regularly. The camp does a really good job of getting them interested in school by mixing regular classes with sports and art- keeping them interested for the whole day. They also go on field trips to tourist spots in the Puerto Plata region, learning more about where they live and getting to see the side that tourists see.

I really enjoyed being in Cabarete and getting to know the people that lived there, going to their houses (everyone was so friendly they invite you home almost as soon as you meet them) and seeing what life is like. From what I have seen I think that the DREAM organization is incredibly important to Cabarete. Being a tourist town, there is an incredibly wide gulf between the lifestyles of tourists and the people that live there and you can see how tourism has both a positive and a negative impact on some people, and I think that DREAM does a huge amount to help this, providing support to kids that might otherwise not have any.

Everyone that ran the program was really enthusiastic and committed to what they were doing and the other volunteers were no different. The program was quite large, with over 60 volunteers from America with a large contingent from Brigham Young University in Utah and a few Dominican Counselors. It was really interesting to meet so many different people from America, and I had a great time with them. We had plenty of free time to explore the DR more and we went to a lot of different places.

I had heard about how beautiful the countryside was, but I was still amazed when I saw it for myself. I was lucky enough to go on several trips to different places in the DR, including Santo Domingo and Esperanza, visiting a batey where one of the counselors lived.

The Dominican Republic struck me as an incredibly diverse country in many ways, from the different lifestyles of the camp to the following weeks that I spent studying Spanish in Santo Domingo. Because I was in the Dominican Republic for such a long time, I was there for both the height of summer and the first part of hurricane season, which was a bit too interesting. I feel privileged to have seen so much of the country, particularly to have met so many fantastic people, and am keen to see more. The DREAM organization does excellent work in improving the lives of kids in Cabarete, and visiting the DR has made a difference to my life. I only hope I have enough time to visit next year.

Thanks so much again,