Driven to Dream Big

Story and photos by Kalis Parra, Dominican Republic Content Specialist

After the lives of two girls in the Dominican Republic were dramatically changed when they enrolled in a Hope Center, they were inspired to give back to the community so that other children’s lives could be transformed as well.

From left, Daritza, tutor Ruth, Nicole, and an unidentified girl embrace each other as the Hope Center has embraced them.

In the town of Las Guaranas in the Dominican Republic, the Rescatando Niños Hope Center has been a light in the community for 11 years. It is a place that brings hope to kids and their families living in poverty.

This Hope Center has impacted many lives. It is well known as a home and refuge by the children and teenagers who are part of it. Even before completing the program, many teens know they want to continue being part of the Hope Center in some way as adults.

The Hope Center doesn’t have a facility separate from the church. Since June 2009 when center activities began, Child Champions have been gathering the children in the church, Iglesia Cristiana Cuerpo de Cristo. Every week pastors and Child Champions gather nearly 200 kids into the church building.

Kids with a lot of needs and teenagers facing problems have the opportunity to hear about the love of God and are driven to dream big and learn.

At the Hope Center, kids and teens can learn vocational skills through such classes as music, hairdressing, manicures, professional makeup, driving lessons, and crafts. Two of these young adults, Daritza and Nicole, attended this Hope Center as children and are now giving back to the community, grateful for all the love, support, and hope they received. This special Hope Center changed their lives in remarkable ways, and now they are the change-makers.

Daritza

Daritza was born in the community of Las Guaranas in San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic. She was raised in a humble family. Her mom is a housewife, and her dad is a janitor for a public school. Daritza and her family didn’t have a lot of options in life as they lived in poverty, and they survived day by day.

Although she was never sponsored, Daritza received the same privileges at her Hope Center as sponsored kids.

Daritza was part of the Hope Center for almost 10 years and graduated in 2017, but sadly was never sponsored. She learned to make the best of her situation and received excellent care and support from her Child Champions.

‘’Even though I wasn’t sponsored, I never felt bad or rejected,” she says. “I had the community my sponsored friends had. I took the same vocational classes they did. I received the same privileges at my Hope Center, like birthday and Christmas presents, and the same amount of love as they received, but I never received or sent letters.”

“I remember that one of the things I enjoyed the most was helping the youngest kids and my friends write their letters. It was always my dream to be sponsored, but helping others made me really happy, and it made me feel like I was writing my own letters to my sponsors.”

“I loved my Hope Center,” Daritza says. “There was always something new every week, games, competition, activities. I am a competitive person and having all these activities helped me continue attending even thought I wasn’t sponsored. I found a refuge in my Hope Center.”

Daritza enjoyed helping younger kids at her Hope Center.

Despite not having a sponsor, Daritza found inspiration from Child Champions at the center.

“Growing up in my community, I didn’t have good influences,” she says. “I didn’t have friends with good values or dreams but being part of the Hope Center gave me a new perspective on life. They were always there reminding me that I could be different, that it could be different, and a light no matter what my community was telling or teaching me. My Child Champions at the Hope Center were always there making me push forward in the right direction.”

In addition to living in a community where drug and alcohol abuse were common, life at home was often challenging.

“My parents used to fight all the time until the day my mom decided to leave my dad, the house and our city,” Daritza says. “It affects me greatly. I was 17. I did not know how to be responsible for a house, for my father and my sister. It was really difficult, but I never stopped going to my Hope Center because my tutor, Ruth, was like a mom to me, and the director was always taking care of me. Even on days when I was sick and feeling lonely, they were there. They marked my life in a positive way.”

The Rescatando Niños Hope Center is known by everyone in the community. All parents want their children to be part of the Hope Center. People recognize the impact that the Hope Center is having on the community through the service to children and teenagers. Kids in the program set good examples at home. They pray if something is going wrong in their houses. They wash their hands before every meal, they behave, and all these little details are making a huge impact in this and the future generations in the community of Las Guaranas.

Daritza is now a college student studying tourism at one of the best universities in her city, thanks to a scholarship she received from her Hope Center and the church. She is also serving as a tutor in the Hope Center where she oversees children ages 6 to 9.

“I have so many reasons that motived me to continue in my Hope Center now as a tutor,” she says. “The connection and love I have with my tutor has greatly impacted me. She was and continues to be like a mom to me. She taught me so many important things in life, and I want all the children in my community to have the same benefits and love that I had there and more!”

“My dream is that God provides a physical space where we can receive more kids from my community because the generation that is rising now needs a place like the Hope Center, maybe more than my generation did. They need the truth, they need Jesus, they need to hear that there is more than just settling for a conventional job from Monday to Saturday with minority pay and parties in the park. I want to be a Ruth in their lives. I want to be that person encouraging them to dream big. I want to be the one that motivates them not to give up and settle for what the community is offering.”

Daritza is grateful for all the love, tutoring and encouragement she received at the center.

“In my personal life I don’t know what would have become of me,” she says. “I don’t know where I would today without my Hope Center.

“Even though I was never sponsored, I want to honor all those sponsors who indirectly made my time at the center possible. Thank you very much because without you, today I would not be what I am, and many thanks to those who continue sponsoring and donating. Your generosity is what keeps this place running. Your support is what makes this place of hope possible and love possible for the children of my community.”

Nicole

In 2009 when she was 9, Nicole was enrolled at the Hope Center. She was part of the first generation of sponsored children there.

Nicole was one of the first kids registered at her Hope Center when it first opened.

“The Hope Center was like a home to me, a place where I was able to be a kid, have fun and play with my friends,” she says. “I always felt important, loved and heard by my tutors. They were always there to support me.”

The impoverished community of Las Guaranas has a lot of prostitution, drug abuse, and teen pregnancies. Many children do not receive an education.

“My community is a vulnerable community,” says Nicole. “Since we don’t have too many options here, it is easy for young people to prefer to be on the streets than in schools or the church. That is why having the Hope Center here adds three important pillars to my community, which are Jesus, education, and values.”

When Nicole was 13, her mother passed away unexpectedly from an illness. She says this was one of the most difficult situations that she has had to face in life but having the help of the Hope Center and the love of her tutor, Ruth, made her grieving process a little less difficult.

“Ruth has impacted me in so many ways. I was one of the first children registered when the Hope Center started, and she was there since day one. After losing my mom, I was rebellious. I lost interest in everything, and she never abandoned me. That is why I call her my second mom because through the ups and downs she has always been there as a comforter, friend, mentor, and mother to me, and not only for me but for all of my friends.”

During the years Nicole was sponsored at the Hope Center, she was able to participate in many vocational classes such as hairdressing, makeup, crafts, executive secretary skills, English, and driving lessons.

“All these classes prepared me for the future,” she says. “I don’t know what life has in store for me, but I know that I am confident and prepared for everything, and none of this would have been possible without the help of my Hope Center.’’

Nicole decided to return to her Hope Center as an adult to be a Child Champion and help other kids as she was helped.

Nicole graduated from the Hope Center in 2017. She is now 20 years old and is a student of modern languages. After graduating from the Hope Center, she decided to stay and serve. She is now the secretary of the Hope Center that was her second home for 10 years, and she continues to have a strong and beautiful relationship with her friends and her tutor, Ruth.

“Even before completing the program, I always knew that I wanted to stay and continue serving,” Nicole says. “What motives me to continue was the love I always received from my tutors, the pastors, and the community I found there.

“I want all the kids from my community to have what my sponsors and the Hope Center made possible for me during my time being a sponsored child. I want them to learn that they have hope and possibilities no matter what their environment looks like.

Teen girls learn how to apply makeup in a skills class at their Hope Center.

“I want them to feel like the Hope Center is their second home, a place where they can trust, find love, support, and the love of God so they can be better humans in the future. While serving here I have the opportunity to give back a little bit of all that I received through the years I was able to be there and contribute with my service to the good development of the program.

“Serving there makes me feel like I continue to be a sponsored child. Some days I leave the office and sit in a little chair to listen to the lessons and have fun with the kids! And that is priceless.

“I am beyond grateful for my Hope Center. I don’t know where I would be today if it weren’t for my Hope Center and my tutors. When I lost my mom, my life took a different direction. I let myself be influenced, and I made a lot of mistakes, but my tutor, Ruth, and the Child Champions at my Hope Center never abandoned me. They redirected my steps to the right path. My Hope Center even helped me find a scholarship, and today I am in the university thanks to God and my Hope Center.

“I may not be a sponsored girl anymore, but my plans are to remain part of my Hope Center forever and serve where they need me.”

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