Ten years ago, Molly Roach spent most every Saturday shooting hoops in basketball courts around the Crescenta Valley. If someone had told her back then that she would be living on a tropical island, hundreds of miles away from her family and all that is comfortable and familiar, she probably would have choked on her Gatorade.
In 2006, during her junior year at Crescenta Valley High School, she began an extraordinary adventure that would change her life. She signed up to go on a mission trip with her church. Hundreds of students from the Crescenta Valley have gone on Project Dominicana, a mission trip of the La Crescenta Presbyterian Church that serves Haitian-Dominicans living in poverty in the Dominican Republic. Working in partnership with churches in the Dominican Republic on simple construction projects, much of CV youth have had their eyes opened to the way many survive on the planet.
Year after year during high school and college, she went on Project Dominicana. After graduation from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2011, she decided to move to the Dominican Republic and teach English in the school that she had helped build with her church group during her high school and college vacations. Though she returned to the Crescenta Valley this past summer, she plans to travel to her Dominican home in June with her church for Project Dominicana 2014. A team of 44 people including 20 youth and a medical team are going to continue construction on the Joe Hartman School and conduct medical clinics in the sugar cane plantation villages surrounding La Romana.
To raise money for this year’s trip, La Crescenta Presbyterian Church is hosting a glitzy fundraiser, “Hollywood Glamour: Movie Music with a Mission.” The show features some of the best music of the century performed by exceptional community talent. It takes place on May 4 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church
“The people I met were so poor, yet their strength and love for God seemed so much stronger than I had ever witnessed,” Roach said. “I felt so welcome. I was just a 16-year old girl from La Crescenta; why would they be so excited to see me? That is when I realized how much love this culture has for one another.”
When Roach first arrived, there were only four classrooms in the Joe Hartman School ready for students. The plan that first year was to enroll about 50 students in grades pre-K through first grade. But no one could turn away the 100 students who wanted to attend the new school.
Roach taught children in every grade level for 30 minutes a day, using her own lesson plans and teaching basic vocabulary through conversation, games and songs. The next year, Roach expanded her instruction to children in pre-K through second grade because more classrooms were finished. Currently, more than 200 students in grades pre-K through third grade attend. When completed, the school hopes to teach children in grades pre-K through sixth grades.
“I can’t begin to explain how much I’m in love with every single one of the students,” said Roach. “They were all so excited to learn English. They filled up my life with so much joy and love. The hugs I received each day and the smiles they showed me were what made being away from home and out of my comfort zone so much worth it.”
Public schools in the Dominican Republic face the difficulties of unqualified teachers, high student-to-teacher ratios, and severe shortages. By law, Haitian-Dominican children can be prevented from attending public schools if they don’t have legal documentation, which can be an insurmountable problem for many of the migrant Haitian families. The Joe Hartman School is a mission of the Beraca Church in KM 6, a poor barrio outside of La Romana. It is a private, Christian school run by the local church in partnership with several churches in the United States including LCPC. A staff of 10 Dominican teachers instruct the children in reading, math, social studies and science. The school serves as a beacon of hope to this impoverished mostly Haitian neighborhood challenged by unemployment, orphaned children, broken families and youth gangs.
“People always say you must have been so scared. But I don’t remember a time when I have been scared in the DR,” Roach recalled. “I knew that God sent me on this journey and it was all up to Him now.”
Roach has come to know many school families who face serious hardships. She describes a family of five boys who live in a small house with no running water or electricity and one bed for seven people. The parents must spend most of their day finding odd jobs so they can feed the children. When the parents are gone, the children must take care of themselves. The oldest is 10 and the youngest is just a baby. The eldest two boys go to school during the week. They walk an hour to school and hour back, often without breakfast. School has become a kind of sanctuary for them providing them with hope that comes from getting an education.
“No matter if I’m in California or the DR, I feel like I’m home,” she said. “Not many people can say that they feel like home in two different places. I am so grateful that I have people in two countries who love me in ways I never thought possible.”
Tickets for “Hollywood Glamour: Movie Music with a Mission” are $15 at the door, $10 for advance tickets that are available by calling (818) 249-6137. All proceeds are dedicated to purchasing building supplies for the school and medicines used in mobile medical clinics for Haitian cane cutters and their families.
La Crescenta Presbyterian Church is located at 2902 Montrose Ave.
Submitted by Mary WILSON