It takes a village to raise a child, as the saying goes.
In the case of Entreamigos ("among friends"), it took a community center to raise a village.
The beachfront town of San Pancho (San Francisco) in the Riviera Nayarit region north of Nuevo Vallarta on Mexico's Pacific coast has a population of 2,000 and a rewarding voluntourism opportunity.
When Nicole Swedlow arrived on the scene several years ago, with her two little boys in tow, there was no after-school center, no English classes, no community gathering spot or indoor sports facility.
"I came on vacation, and I've been here ever since," said Swedlow, director of Entreamigos.
In January 2006, she began teaching arts and crafts on her kitchen table in the street in front of a small storefront she had rented and invited local artists to sell their crafts in the store. In return for using the space, they were asked to teach art classes in the community.
Six months later, Entreamigos began summer workshops. By 2007, it launched a town recycling program, a small library opened in the storefront and a scholarship program was launched.
The growing program eventually took over an abandoned 16,000-square-foot milk processing plant on the town's main strip.
Today, the Centro Communitario Educativo sponsors community shows where kids are the stars and offers after-school classes in computer instruction (thanks to 14 donated laptops), toy-making, reading, book writing, art, animation classes, sewing workshops and, during the rainy season, indoor sports. The space also has a thrift store.
Entreamigos employs 35 people, most of them single mothers from the community who are paid from the thrift shop and gift shop proceeds. Scholarships for kids are funded by donations. Several children with scholarships at the center have gone to college.
The center has become a regular stop for tourists and incentive groups, many of whom end up spending several in-service hours, volunteering in the classes and activities.
As news of the center spreads, Swedlow encourages travelers to bring an extra suitcase with them on the next trip and fill it with used clothing, toys or school supplies.
"I want to help build a strong San Pancho, and this is the right thing to do at a pivotal time for this growing community," she said.
Swedlow said news about Entreamigos has been spreading mainly by word of mouth. Travelers interested in volunteering can get information from Riviera Nayarit's tourist board, www.rivieranayarit.com
, or from area hotels. The center is about 20 minutes from the Iberostar and Four Seasons. See http://entreamigos.org.mx
. Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.