Dominican Republic

What does Outreach360 do?

Staten Island Academy student Mina Rhee and JFK School students work on a review lesson at an Outreach360 program in the Dominican Republic. (Clay Wollney)

By Clay Wollney | For the Staten Island Advance
on June 09, 2015 at 2:00 PM, updated June 09, 2015 at 4:32 PM

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Outreach360 is an organization that engages volunteers in a service-learning experience providing underserved children with alternative educational opportunities such as English classes, art, music and drama camps and sports programs in an effort to give the children opportunities they must have to live a life of choice.

The full mission of Outreach360 is to transform individuals, families, communities, countries and the world by providing education and activities that enable the development of disadvantaged children.

The organization has centers in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

In the Dominican Republic, being able to speak English is necessary to pursue a college education. Unfortunately, English classes are not available to many children.

During the last week of May I accompanied 19 Staten Island Academy seniors on a service-learning trip to the Outreach360 site in Monte Cristi.

The SIA students taught small groups of students at two Outreach360 Learning Centers, one in JFK Elementary School and another after school. The SIA seniors taught English classes, using lessons they prepared themselves.

The interaction between the students was a learning experience for all involved. The JFK students strengthened their English skills and the SIA students got a firsthand sense of the life and needs of underserved children in a developing nation. They also developed a deep sense of love and caring for one another.

Volunteers are what make Outreach360’s programs and successes possible. Each week a new set of volunteers arrives to help at the school, building upon the work accomplished the week before. According to Konrad Bennett, an Outreach360 OLE leader who gave us his full and constant attention, “The JFK students bring incredible energy and enthusiasm to the classroom every day, but don’t often get the individual attention that they crave and need. That’s where are volunteers come in … whereas, in a typical Dominican classroom, the teacher to student ratio is about 1:35, our volunteer teams of fluent English speakers can bring that ratio down to 1:3 or lower!”

Bennett further observed that “The volunteer teams bring the real excitement and creativity. It’s always incredible to see how much our students learn and how much their desire to learn grows each week.”

Does this approach really work?

Said Sarah Edwards, national director of Outreach360 in the Dominican Republic:
“Students who were once illiterate are now reading in English and Spanish. Students who were ‘too cool for school’ became students of the month.”

Of course, the real effectiveness of a program are its outcomes. During our visit we met a few of the program’s graduates who now serve as local volunteers; they have mastered English and are in college.

Daritza is on scholarship with Outreach360 and is studying medicine. She explained, “I started studying English when I was 8 years old and also learned many values — patience, respect, teamwork and punctuality — thanks to Outreach360.”

Aidil, another graduate of the program and a highly dedicated volunteer, just completed her freshman year in university. She observed that “The kids can feel the energy that their Outreach volunteers bring to the class each day. For me, it is incredible to see how the JFK students’ knowledge increases.”

In addition to their work during the day, the SIA students were introduced to various aspects of Dominican history and culture, as well as the country’s  relationship with Haiti, in the late afternoons and evenings. They also took a guided walk of the town, toured a facility that harvests sea salt and learned how to do dance Dominican style. The lunches and dinners were mainly delicious  Dominican dishes.

The impact of the experience on my students was impressive. Their reactions included expressions such as “inspirational”, “a real-life experience” and “energizing.” One student even described it as “the best week of my life.”

As Aidil pointed out, “the volunteers get as much out of the experience as the children they served.”

If your school participates in any service-learning programs or you would like to learn more about Outreach360, please contact me at cwollney@statenislandacademy.org or visit the Outreach360 website at www.Outreach360.org.

Originally published in the Staten Island Advance.

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Reflections from an Outreach360 Adelante Volunteer…

​During my time with this program I have been experiencing the real meaning of sacrifice, service, and what it really takes to release the hero within.
The impact that every single volunteer who comes to Montecristi has in each student is amazing. The kids can feel the energy that their teachers bring to teach each class. For me it’s incredible to see how their knowledge increases which inspires me to keep volunteering here and loving it more every day.
I’m pretty sure that there is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others and that’s what OUTREACH 360 is doing in the lives of the children and the whole community.
The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.  Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.
Gordon B. Hinckley once said: ” The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired. One of the great ironies of life is this: he or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.”
Definitely my experience as an Adelante Volunteer has changed my life.
Aidil Acosta
(Adelante Volunteer)

Note: Aidil graduated from our English program in 2012 and began serving as an Adelante volunteer in 2013. Adelantes are graduates of our English program who volunteer at our Learning Centers after school and during their school breaks. Since 2013, Aidil has served more than 380 hours in our Learning Centers. As an Adelante she has served in many different leadership roles, including as a Spanish literacy teacher, co-English teacher, and co-camp director. Aidil is an incredible role model for our students and volunteers. She is very passionate about service and making a difference in her own community. Aidil is currently a freshman studying pre-medicine in Santo Domingo. During her breaks, she returns to Monte Cristi to volunteer with Outreach360. She aspires to one day use her medical degree to make a difference and serve under-resourced communities.

Sarah Edwards
Outreach360 Country Director
Dominican Republic

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Helping Bring Major League Baseball Advice to Life

If you had the opportunity to casually chat with a bunch of Major League baseball players, what would you want to ask them?  Maybe you’d want to know what it feels like to step up to the plate in front of 46,000 screaming fans during a critical late-inning moment of a World Series game.  Or, maybe you’d just be curious to know how awesome it must feel to sign autographs for adoring fans and effortlessly throw baseballs like laser beams!  Well, in anticipation of Outreach360’s inaugural baseball and softball camps that will be taking place this summer, Bryson Adams (Outreach 360 Marketing Director) and I have been in Arizona for the last nine days visiting with Dominican baseball players from around the Major Leagues, and the question that we have been asking each of these ballplayers is this: “What advice and encouragement do you have for the kids growing up back home in the Dominican Republic?”

From wide-eyed Dominican minor leaguers to decade-long veterans of the Major Leagues, the messages these accomplished ballplayers wish to send back to the youth in the Dominican Republic are pretty consistent:  study, do your schoolwork, be respectful of your family, community, and teachers, work hard, be disciplined, stay off the streets, don’t let negative peer pressure influence you, and, very importantly, have confidence and faith that you can achieve your dreams no matter how humble your origins may be.  Few, if any, of the ballplayers have given specific baseball related advice.  Instead of talking baseball, the players have talked about skills that are going to lead to success whether somebody is on the field, in the classroom, or in the working world.

I know our softball and baseball camps this summer in the Dominican Republic are going to bring countless smiles to the faces of the kids we serve.  I also know these kids are going to develop and further refine their ball skills.  But, what I am most excited about is having the opportunity to join as a team with other volunteers in order to use sport as a vehicle to help deliver life skills and enriching experiences to kids who might not otherwise have these opportunities.

The professional Dominican ballplayers Bryson and I have spoken with may have been the ones to provide the advice/encouragement to kids back home in the Dominican Republic, but Outreach360 volunteers are the ones who are going to have an opportunity to bring that advice/encouragement to life and really light a spark for the kids we serve.  Being able to play and share the sport you love with people from a different culture definitely plants the seeds of friendship and provides powerful opportunities for positive intercultural exchange.

No matter your skill level in pelota, as Dominicans like to call baseball, I know that each and every volunteer who comes down to the Dominican Republic will have the chance to really make a difference, whether it be giving a tip on how to field a ground ball, assisting kids in resolving a conflict, encouraging and modeling teamwork, or just simply sharing a high five celebration after a nice hit.  Not all of us will get the chance to swing for the fences in a Major League game and sign autographs for the fans, but we can all contribute something positive to the life of a child.

 – Conor Arthur, Baseball and Softball Program Director

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Bright Shirts, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

Beth Anderson is a senior majoring in child and adolescent development psychology at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). She is also an alternative break trip coordinator for SNHU’s Center for Community Engaged Learning.  Together with 13 other women from SNHU, Beth recently served with Outreach360 in the Dominican Republic for two weeks.   -Photo by Jaimie Konowitz

It was the first day of camp, and I was shocked at how nervous I was. I had been preparing for this trip longer than the two hours spent lesson planning the night before, so I thought I was ready. But no amount of preparation could get rid of the mariposas in my stomach. What would camp be like? What would the students be like? How is our group going to do? Will they even like us? I had so many lingering questions as I walked the dirt road towards Escuela Básica John F. Kennedy on that first day. We arrived with plenty of time to spare. Station leaders and team leaders split up to get everything ready for the students’ arrival. It was nine o’ clock, the time camp is supposed to start and we had no one at camp; that was also the day we learned what “Dominican time” meant. We kept our hopes high and, sure enough, students started coming at about ten past nine. My nervousness started to fade once the first “repeat-after-me” song began.

After camp songs and opening, everyone went to their spots and my co-team leader, Alli, and I took our group to the recreation station to learn how to play volleyball. We had two girls in our group, and we could tell they were shy. They didn’t know us, and we didn’t know them, and here we all were trying to teach and learn together. And then something happened that changed everything: The girls started laughing and pointing at one of the drawings that the recreation station had made. At first we were all confused, and then I looked at the picture and realized the person in the drawing didn’t have eyes. I began to laugh at the hilarity of it all. It was completely unexpected but completely necessary in that moment. This was not where we thought the lesson was going to go, but it was so funny. Their laughter was contagious. Soon we were all laughing, and the tension all of us had been feeling faded away. In that moment we became the students. Here were these two little girls with five teachers, and they were the ones making us feel comfortable. They felt our nervousness; saw the eagerness in our eyes, and through their laughter they were telling us to relax and have fun with it. They broke down our barriers and allowed us to be just as silly and goofy as they were being. Their laughter was common ground for us; it was something we all understood and could grasp on to.

I realized in that moment that you can plan as much as you want, but the best moments are the unplanned ones. It’s the high fives when a student gets the sentence right. It’s explaining something you don’t even know. It’s singing the same camp song countless times because they love it. It’s them scrunching their nose when they don’t understand but then seeing their big smiles when they do. It’s all of that and more.

Watching the students’ growth in just two weeks was incredible. From mastering everything we gave them to becoming more comfortable with us, I thought the change in them would be subtler, but they proved me wrong. Many days I was even wondering if I was the teacher or the student. They challenged me in more ways than I can count. But what moved me the most about every single one of them was that they wanted to be there. They wanted to learn and interact with us as much as we wanted to learn and interact with them. That eagerness to learn and that desire to grow will last longer than our time in Monte Cristi, and that makes it all worth it.

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