An angel makes 'faces shine with happiness' in Dominican Republic

By Darrel Hammon

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Nov. 2 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

ZoBell believes wholeheartedly in the starfish story and suggests that “in doing what we do, we can help change the future of generations,” one young person at a time.

From that small suitcase of a few used clothes and 200 school packets, ZoBell and the Starfish Foundation have become a fixture in the Dominican Republic. During the past couple of years, she has organized fundraisers, met with potential donors, written countless emails and talked to numerous people. Now their so-called annual vacations to the Dominican Republic have “become exhausting.”

In 2012, they raised enough money to build a school in Maggiolo, one of the poorest areas in Puerto Plata. Plus, they have created a “Pay it Forward” program at their center. Now, before people can receive goods and clothing, they have to do a service in their community.

When ZoBell suggested to Amarilis Ureña, their in-country foundation director, that the people participate in a community cleanup, Ureña said, “This would never fly. You don’t know my people.”

But instead of dwelling on whether it could or couldn’t be done, Ureña organized the new process.

Now, instead of people coming and fighting to get their hands on a piece of clothing, they come to the center and get clothing for their families because they have committed to doing service or already have completed it. People have begun cleaning their streets, working and volunteering in hospitals and senior citizen centers and helping their neighbors — even if they are not receiving anything.

ZoBell said she is always thinking about the Dominican Republic and what more she can do there. Often, though, she does get tired, but she has never wanted to quit and go home. Not long ago, she wrote about this exhaustion:

“Sometimes when I am exhausted from working 16-hour days in foundation work, I ask myself: ‘What pushes me to do this’? The only thing that I come up with is that I feel an overwhelming love for the people. I have often heard that you love who you serve and I have certainly felt that.”

Ureña recently wrote in an email, "I never imagined that Sister Louise could love us so much that she would unite so many marvelous people to help the Dominican people."

ZoBell’s life has changed. She has learned much from her experiences. Her dream to “focus on helping people help themselves” thrives in Puerta Plata and in its people. Her cry to her friends and others is simple: “Look for ways to help that will make a lasting difference.”

Perhaps the plaque that ZoBell received at the grand opening of the Maggiolo School on Jan. 23, 2012, shows what difference she has already made:

“Maggiolo Community, Puerto Plata D.R., grant this certificate of appreciation to Louise Webster ZoBell for the rebuilding of our children’s school. Thank you so much for taking care of our children. You have made our faces shine with happiness for this wonderful event. God bless you and everyone who made this dream possible. We will never forget this great favor. Thank you for your love.”

An Idahoan, Darrel Hammon likes being outdoors, growing things and seeing things the way they could be. You can read more of his musings at www.darrelhammon.blogspot.com. He and his wife recently served a mission in the Caribbean Area Welfare Office.

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