This past week, I had the pleasure of joining Sean Tonner and Bruce Wilcox on their annual trip to Nicaragua. As first-timers to the Nicaragua “Project El Crucero” service trip, my daughter Olivia and I didn’t know what to expect. Project El Crucero is a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit, volunteer-led organization and has been operating the Susie Syke Medical Clinic in El Crucero, Nicaragua, for over six years. The clinic’s team has treated thousands of patients and provided thousands of meals to the hungry children. It operates four days per week with medical, dental and feeding programs. The total cost to operate the clinic is less than $3,500 per month, with nearly every dollar spent on serving the community.

IMG_9455I can truly say it exceeded our expectations and my fears were quickly put to ease. To see the beautiful children and their families in the small, impoverished community of El Crucero truly took our breath away and brought us to tears. They have so little, yet are so happy and grateful. What an unforgettable lesson in gratitude and the importance of serving others. Seeing the excitement on the children’s faces when we arrived was so powerful. To see the young men so eager to work and the obvious pride they took in their workmanship was inspiring. And on a personal note, seeing the joy on my daughter’s face as she bonded with the children filled my heart with love and a renewed perspective of what really matters.

It was so astonishing and moving to see what a huge impact this group was able to make in five short days. The accomplishments of the group varied during our time there: we moved tons of rock and gravel to repave the property and the driveway; fixed the swing set for the kids; built a wall around the outside door of the clinic for weather protection; reinforced the water tower; and mounted a basketball hoop. Our volunteers conducted the meal program for the children—which is the best meal they will have all week—and delivered 22 food baskets to a few families in need in the surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, we created art out of old window panes; repaired the leaking roof; conducted English, as a second language, classes for the kids; painted the walls; fixed the clinic signs; repaired the septic line; and repaired leaking window seals.

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Even with the above jobs, we endlessly played with the sweet children of El Crucero, which brought delight to them and the teenagers on the trip; and most importantly, we treated several hundred patients who otherwise would have no access to health care. Bruce Wilcox, R&R’s VP of technology, has been on the annual trip four years in a row, and he says, “The reason I keep going is for perspective. Even my worst day is multitudes better than their best days, yet I always come back, gaining more than I’ve given.”

I can’t say enough about the Project El Crucero Foundation, headed by Jamie and Sara Hendren and my R&R Partners colleague Sean Tonner and his wife Laura. What an incredible and inspirational group of people! They truly believe in serving others, and that was so evident in working with them and their children. There were 33 of us in the group. The majority of the group was from Denver and have been on this trip together many times. Olivia and I were two of the few rookies. From the beginning, the families welcomed us to their tight-knit group and made us feel part of the family. I was so appreciative of that kindness.

“Project El Crucero and its clinic are a beacon of light for the community,” shares Sean, who is the president of R&R Partners Denver. “I, and the many R&R employees who have traveled to El Crucero over the years, have witnessed firsthand what a difference it is making every day for some of the most needy people in the Western Hemisphere, as The Beatles famous sang, “the more you give the more your get.” I always come away from El Crucero with the soul bucket a little fuller.”

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Even though my work at R&R brings me close to many nonprofit organizations with cause marketing campaigns, it was very rewarding to work directly within the community. For those of you who have considered taking a trip such as this one, I highly recommend it.  It is an experience that will affect you in ways you never can imagine. And you will have lifetime memories of service, joy, love and gratitude.