Twice a year, retired teacher Mary Jane Baker leaves her home in Williamsport, Pa., and heads for a destination that’s not even seen on some maps.
It is in the small town of Haiti Mahia in the Dominican Republic, where Baker, 76, does some of her most fulfilling work. Just outside of the capital of Santo Domingo, you can find her inside a classroom at the Cabon School where she assists with teaching children in grades 1-12. The emotional bond she develops with the bright and curious students is the most rewarding part.
“The children come up and hug us and thank us over and over again,” Baker said. “I really care about these kids. They have become like a second family to me.”
Baker has made nine trips to the country in the five years she has been a volunteer at A.C.E.S. North America. The organization focuses on improving health, education and quality of life for people in the small but populous island. The Cabon private school was built by A.C.E.S. volunteers. There are 270 students enrolled, and it is completely funded by the organization. Last year, the school celebrated its first graduating class. Baker had financially sponsored five of the seniors.
“We are so proud of the kids and they are proud of themselves. They know that they have accomplished something great, and it makes me feel good to be a part of that.”
Baker views retirement as a fresh start in life, and the chance to use her profession to assist people in new and interesting ways. She recommends that others do the same. “Anyone who is retired and not using these years to help others might want to rethink that,” Baker said. “It’s an amazing experience.”