Steamboat Springs A dozen people from local and area churches will leave Monday for the Dominican Republic with a dozen suitcases filled with donated toiletries, school supplies and clothing in addition to their own luggage.
They will return 12 days later with much less in their hands but with hearts full of love and appreciation for the people they leave behind.
The Steamboat Springs United Methodist Church organized a trip to the Latin American country two years ago.
One of its members, Penny Diehl, lived in the Dominican Republic for four years before moving to Steamboat Springs.
Now Diehl, accompanied by parishioners of all ages, will travel to the impoverished nation to minister to the people who live in the spread-out community of Samana.
The group will add a roof to the concrete walls that will serve as a Christian school to children in the area.
The Methodist Church contributed money two years ago to lay the building's foundation, said the Rev. Larry Oman of the Methodist Church.
Oman said he looked forward to the trip for the chance to foster relationships with people in a different culture and economic climate.
"There is mutual learning that takes place in that circumstance," he said. "It does help to make those bonds of our Christian faith very tangible."
People in the group will not only build relationships and buildings, but also use their own experiences to help improve the health and well-being of the people who live in Samana.
One woman who works at the Doak Walker Care Center will share with caregivers in Samana how to make the lives of the elderly more comfortable.
Another woman from Healing Touch Salon will offer people in Samana advice on how to improve health and hygiene.
Group members will lead Bible schools for the children, who will benefit from donations of school supplies and clothing.
Supplies such as toothbrushes and building tools were donated by local businesses.
Each member of the group will take two suitcases with the intent of leaving one filled with donated items behind for the people in Samana.
The group will return April 18.
Costs remained at a minimum thanks to the generosity of local businesses and parishioners, Diehl said.
The Methodist Church held a silent auction and chili luncheon to raise funds for the trip.
Airfare and traveling expenses cost each person about $850.
A family of four, as well older parishioners, will take part in the ministry.
The youngest participants are teen-agers and the oldest participant is in his 70s, Diehl said.
Many of the people are either fluent in Spanish or know some Spanish, so the language barrier shouldn't be a problem, she said.
During their time in the Dominican Republic, the group will stay in modest apartments or hotel rooms in the area.
Diehl, who heads the Methodist Church's Missions Committee, said the trip gives people an appreciation for what they have in their home country.
"People in the United States don't realize how rich they are until they go somewhere and see people who are very poor," she said.