Editor's note: Benjamin McAvoy lives in Dunstable with his parents and an older brother and sister. He played baseball for Groton-Dunstable High School, graduating this past May, and will attend UMass Lowell to study business.
On July 18th, I arrived at Logan Airport in Boston to meet with 12 other American teenagers and a staff consisting of Boston Red Sox employees. Lindos Sueños, an annual program sending teens to the Dominican Republic to meet with a group of Dominican teens, is focused on creating, as Lindos Sueños translates to -- Beautiful Dreams.
I applied for this Red Sox Foundation program back in 2015 and did not get accepted. I applied again in 2016. After a long process of interviews, I received the call that I had been waiting for: I was chosen for the trip. I was given the news though that we would not be going in the summer of 2016, we had to wait another year due to an outbreak of the Zika virus.
But it didn't matter how long I had to wait, I was chosen to go on a trip of a lifetime and I could not have been happier.
A daily routine
Arriving at the hotel in the Boca Chica region of the Dominican Republic at about 11 p.m. on the 18th, I did not know what to expect. My roommate Matt and I walked into our room to meet our Dominican roommate, Jefry. With 13 years of Spanish classes on my resume, I had done all I could to prepare for this trip. Luckily, I was able to have full conversations with all of the native people that I met. This made the trip a whole lot better.
We woke up the next morning to start our daily routine for the next nine days.
In the morning, we would go to a small village called El Mamón, easily one of the most impoverished villages in the world. Pulling into the dirt road of the village, I thought I had an idea of what to expect. But I could not have expected anything like I actually saw -- houses falling apart, made of miscellaneous items from rotten wood, to dirt and mud.
The people of El Mamón welcomed us with open arms. As I walked around, I found myself becoming emotional a few times knowing how many things I take for granted back in the states.
There was a small group of local children that I met on the first day and that ended up becoming one of the highlights of my trip. Nino, Carlito and Ronald were a few that stood out. We were introduced to two families, who were to be the recipients of the houses that we would be building for them.
What they were living in before is far from what many would consider a house in the U.S. Dirt floors, holes in the walls, tarantulas and rats invading their living space every day, but to them, it was all they knew.
We had to get to work. Soon, the two old houses were torn down and the framing was erected. Throughout the next few days we all went to work to complete the two houses. It literally took a village, not just the people of Lindos Sueños, but anyone and everyone who was around that lived in El Mamón came to help their neighbors.
Carlito helped me out each day holding "clavos" or nails for me so I could put the siding up as efficiently as possible. Then Ronald came in and brought Nino in to meet me. It was actually Nino's new home that we were constructing at the time. Nino is about 6 years old and just a cute kid. He became a little brother.
I was one of the bigger kids on the trip, when it came to height. Nino and Ronald specifically paid attention to my shoes, which is how they came up with my nickname. For the duration of the trip whenever one of them was looking for me, they would call my nickname, "Quince." which means 15, my shoe size.
We finished both houses in what the Red Sox staff said was record time. The houses are beautiful, everything from the cement floors to paint that the families picked out. It's a mansion compared to what they were living in.
Time for baseball
In the afternoons, we traveled to the Boston Red Sox Dominican Academy where baseball players as young as 16 years old, who have signed with the Red Sox, eat, sleep, and live baseball every day of their life with hopes of one day making it to the big leagues.
We met up with Jesus "Jay" Alou, who is in charge of the academy, and Faña, who is an independent scout in the Dominican Republic. Faña was our coach for the baseball part of the trip. We played three games throughout our trip with practices on the other days.
I was fortunate enough to get to see how the Dominicans played baseball. There were 14-year-olds that were hitting bombs into right-center on a major league field. These kids were 3-4 years younger than any kids I have played with in the U.S. and the talent and baseball IQ that they had was phenomenal. We played games against local Dominican teams in a wooden-bat league. It was an honor to know that I was sharing the field with a few future all-stars.
While the baseball aspect was half of the trip, I was mainly focused on the community service part of it. Knowing that I am literally changing the lives of these families provides me with an experience that I will carry for the rest of my life.
I have made many lifelong friends, both Dominican and American. The experience that the Red Sox and Lindos Sueños provided me has influenced me to want to pursue more community service activities that provide life-changing moments for others.
Most of us brought donations to be given out on the last day of the trip to the local people of El Mamón. Seeing how many people were lined up just to have the opportunity to possibly get a new shirt or a pairs of shoes for themselves or their children really touched my heart. It makes you appreciate all you have back home in Massachusetts. It really opened my eyes to how fortunate we are in America and how much we take for granted each day we wake up.
This past Saturday, August 18th, the Red Sox invited us to Fenway Park to be a part of a pregame ceremony to honor us for our work that we did. Not only did we get to meet many of the current stars on the Red Sox, but we were fortunate enough to be able to walk out onto the field with Pedro Martinez, a huge fan of what Lindos Sueños does in his home country. We got to be a part of a pregame ceremony on the field that also honored the work the Red Sox Foundation does.
I walked out onto the field with all of my childhood heroes. From Pedro Martinez to Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, Dustin Pedroia, Brock Holt and Dennis Eckersley. I got to share this experience with not only some of my best friends, but also with many of my idols.
Each day that I wake up I think back and remember a new memory from the trip. I don't recall a time on the trip where I wasn't smiling. Great thanks to the Red Sox and, most importantly, the people of El Mamón. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for this opportunity.