By Mary WILSON
Hundreds of youth and adults from the Crescenta Valley have participated over the past decade in Project Dominicana, a short-term mission trip sponsored by La Crescenta Presbyterian Church (LCPC). In partnership with churches in the Dominican Republic, participants work on construction projects and conduct medical clinics that benefit poor people living in and around the seaside city of La Romana. The mission began as an outreach to Haitian immigrants who work on sugar cane plantations where they receive about $8 per day to cut cane, and where living conditions have improved only modestly since the 19th century when plantations relied on slave labor. A team of 42 from LCPC will return to the island this June.
Over the last 10 years, LCPC teams have been working closely with the dynamic Beraca Church, a congregation of about 500 Haitian-Dominicans located in a La Romana barrio. Leaders from both churches target areas of need and design projects that will capitalize on their varied strengths. The goal always is to lift up and empower the poorest of the poor. Part of the team each year consists of medical professionals who offer remedial health care in villages, barrios and prisons. Another part of the team engages in basic tasks like mixing concrete and painting while skilled workers from the Beraca Church create forms, lay block or install electrical lines.
Beraca and LCPC work with several other American churches from other states. This network of churches has been able to leverage resources around Dominican Republic missions. Leaders point to the Joe Hartman School as evidence of the effectiveness of this approach. The school currently serves 300 children from pre-K through third grade, mostly from families that are living at a subsistence level. Within two or three years the school hopes to have an enrollment of 600 children through sixth grade. Construction is ongoing. This year’s LCPC mission team, including 20 Crescenta Valley High School students, will focus on adding more new classrooms as well as a bakery that eventually will provide income for the church and school.
Haitian-Dominican children are often prevented from attending public schools in the Dominican Republic because they lack legal documentation. This can be an insurmountable challenge for people of Haitian descent even if they were born in the DR. The Joe Hartman School serves many Haitian families that would not otherwise be able to send their children to school. Students learn to read and write in Spanish, skills that are essential in breaking the cycle of extreme poverty. Some of them walk an hour to get to school where they receive a nutritious breakfast as well as daily instruction.
While the construction team is working in the barrio, the medical team conducts mobile health clinics. Doctors and nurses from all over Southern California work with Dominican doctors to bring remedial care to sugar cane workers, slum-dwellers and prisoners. They treat patients for infections, parasites, pain management, and a variety of skin conditions. More serious conditions like AIDS, TB or diabetes are referred to local clinics.
The impact of Project Dominicana for participants has been profound but hard to measure.
“Most people come back saying, ‘I got so much more out of the trip than I was able to give,’” said one of the team coordinators, Andy Wilson. “For many youth, these trips have been life-changing. God has used them to awaken a desire to make a difference for people who are hurting.”
The pastor of La Crescenta Presbyterian Church, Wilson believes the trip can help participants to find new purpose and vision for their lives.
“The passionate faith demonstrated by our friends – their strength and joy in the face of situations that to us seem hopeless – these things cause us to ask questions about our own values and reasons for living.”
When mission work is done well, Wilson observes, the blessings spread out in all directions. He invites anyone from the community, high school age or older, to participate in one of the church’s yearly island outreaches.
La Crescenta Presbyterian Church invites the entire community to help with Project Dominicana. On Saturday, April 25 from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m., the church will sponsor a gala event to raise money to pay for the medicines and building supplies they will be using in June. The All American Variety Show, BBQ and Car Expo will feature classic cars, American music, grilled tri-tip with gourmet sauces, homemade cobbler, and a high-energy show in the church sanctuary featuring top local talent. Advance sales tickets are $40 per person, $15 for children 10 and under. You can also choose to attend just the show. Tickets are $15 and sales at the door will begin at 7 p.m. All events take place at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church, 2902 Montrose Ave, La Crescenta (818-249-6137; lcpc.net).