One of the silver linings of crises past and present has been the boost they give to the travel industry’s social give-back programs.
And while such efforts have become largely mainstream across luxury and upscale travel companies, it’s always eye-opening to see what a huge impact even the smallest of donations can make for local charities in impoverished and developing countries.
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I was reminded of that last week in Punta Cana, where during ALG Vacations’ first advisor reward trip since the start of the pandemic, executives Jacqueline Marks and Scott Wiseman delivered a hefty load of school supplies and other necessities from the advisors to 2nd Mile Missions.
The mission was started 16 years ago by an Indiana couple, Rod and Nancy Wildman, who wanted to do something to help the poor communities in Punta Cana after a trip to Punta Cana with Apple Vacations. It has since grown from a classroom in the back of a church to a full-fledged campus, orphanage and work training center, and one that is supported as part of the resort’s social responsibility effort.
ALG executives Jacqueline Marks, Scott Wiseman and senior marketing director Erin McCarthy with travel advisor donations set for delivery to 2nd Mile Missions in Punta Cana. Photo Credit: Jeri Clausing
Supporting such programs has become a part of ALG Vacations rewards trips, and the mission was chosen as the partner charity for last week’s 500 Club Silver event, which was held at AM Resorts Dream and Secrets Royal Club Beach resorts.
I was invited to accompany Marks, Wiseman and a few agents and employees to drop off the donations and see just what an impact the charity is having. Although the school was operating only virtually during the pandemic, we met a group of girls who live in one of the on-site houses, as well as several young women who were making jewelry that is sold at the resort and elsewhere to support the group’s work training program for women.
The stories relayed by Josh Porter, the Wildman’s former neighbor in Indiana and now director of the mission, were sobering.
Situated between two of Punta Cana’s poorest barrios, and in the shadow of the city’s luxury and upscale beach resorts, was expanded to include the home for displaced, abused and trafficked children after a return visit by the Wildmans. While at the school, Porter said, a young girl pleaded with the couple for a place to stay, saying if she went home something bad would happen.
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“They called everybody,” said Porter, who moved his wife and family to Punta Cana to run the organization six years ago. “They said they didn’t know what to do because they were leaving the next morning. They came back three months later and found out she had been raped and beaten by her father. That was the dynamite for the House of Hope. … They said never again. Not on my watch.”
Porter said the organization's relationship with ALG in recent years “has been developed through our friends at Amstar, specifically Donna Notely, who has gone out of her way time and time again to advocate for and support our organization. Donna also connected our artisan workshop (Vida Plena) with AMResorts to sell the jewelry we make here.”
Monetary donations and sponsorship opportunities are accepted on the mission’s website. And Porter’s reaction to the pile of supplies delivered by ALG Vacations showed just how far even the smallest of contributions can go.
“Wow, I saw a lot of donations under that bus,” Porter said. “And we’re really, really grateful for that. It makes a real big difference. Because these kids, they’ll sharpen a pencil all the way down. They’ll use it. We’ll use everything."