Ayudanica — the village of Monte Rosa

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Ayudanica was started as a service project at Holy Ghost Prep by Rob Buscaglia in the late 1990s.  I got involved in year two.  Eventually we established a nonprofit returning to the village of Monte Rosa with its sugar cane refinery.  We established a library and computer center, trained American and Nicaraguan teens in running a variety of programs in the center — reading, photography, crafts, sports, intercultural activities.  We also enjoyed meeting families and exploring the village and countryside.  This is one of several photo essays I have published about the program.  Here are some shots of the center we established and around the village.

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Ayudanica — the Nicaraguan teens

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In the late 90s, the HS service project Ayudanica established a library, computer center — a community center in the village of Monte Rosa in Nicaragua.  For ten years teams of American HS students traveled to Monte Rosa for 10 days, working in the  center.  They were joined by a team of Nicaraguan teens who maintained the center year round.  I’ve been in touch with a few vis FB but often wonder how they are doing — working, married, children?   It would be fantastic to see them again.

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Friendship — the guys

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Rob Buscaglia and I took the kids to Lake Nicaragua in Granada the last night of our service project.  One year a group of Nicaraguan teens stood around their old Chevy (I think) like us, looking at the sunset.  I wanted to photograph them but couldn’t find the intro.  Since I didn’t speak much Spanish, my camera was my means of communication.  But it was silent with these teens until one looked in my direction and waved.  I approached.  We talked, I shot photographs.  I told them how tomorrow I would be leaving Nicaragua and I was sad.  One kid looked at me, extended a high five and said’ “It’s the people, man.”  I told him how right he was about it — the people, friendship.

Most nights as I lay awake I reflect.  Sometimes it’s plans for the future; often its memories from the past.  Friendship.  Focus on the guys.   I went to Nazerth Academy in Northeast Philadelphia for three years — no neighborhood friends.  In fourth grade I transferred to Saint Mark’s in Bristol.  My earliest recollection of local friends were Pete Callahan and Jerry Kline (both lived on Mill Street) and a kid Buddy Dixon who lived in Maple Beach — a stretch of isolated land near the Bristol Burlington Bridge. Jerry and I are currently FB, lunch friends and he recently put me in touch with Henry Leung — another of our Mill Street group.  Henry’s family ran a cleaners on Market Street.   Of course there were cousins, Bill Mignoni and I were very close; Franny Profy and I had some contact (he was older and hung out with the firehouse crew — status).  The Delaware House (King George today) was a frequent destination.  John Mundy’s parents ran the restaurant and they lived on the second floor.  John moved to Bristol when we were in elementary school and we would both go to HGP. We remain friends today.

When I got involved in Boy Scouts, I developed a number of close Bristol friends —   Lew Dopson, Sym Landreth, Billy Matthews, Eddie Nolan, Leo Coffman, John Younglove.  Then there were the Romano boys, Vince, Chris, Andy and Michael.  Andy, a year younger than me became a best friend.  My other best friend in late elementary, early high school was Mark Rolston.  Mark lived out on Bath Road, several miles from home.  But somehow we clicked and spent a lot of time together.  Small town — his younger brother, Scott,  and my siste Vicky had a brief marriage.  Mark got a girlfriend pregnant when we were in college.  Mark disappeared from my life after college and died years ago.

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During my high school years at HGP, I developed several different groups of friends. There was the basketball team– Ed Smith, Bob McIntyre, Charlie Howard, Chuck Spezzano, Dick Faley, George Afflerbach, and Joe Henry are names remembered.  Eddie Smith was the only one at our 50th reunion this June.  I am connected with Chuck and George through FB.  George was inducted into the HGP Hall of Fame and we met for a drink at the Dog and Bull in Croydon earlier this year.   And HS cemented my friendship with John Mundy and another Bristol HGP student, John Paglione.  Paglione had attended St. Ann’s, the Italian Catholic parish and school.  Mundy and I went to St. Marks, the Irish parish.  So I really didn’t know Paglione until HS.  Today he is my closest male friend.  Diane and I shared a New Hope house for four years with Barbara and John Paglione.  During the past few years we visited them in Ann Arbior and took several trips with them.  More planned for the future.

Then off to BC.  There wasn’t enough dorm space as the college expanded in the 1960s.  Freshman were given the names of off campus families willing to rent rooms.  I ended up in Newton Center about 10 miles from campus.  We hitchhiked back and forth.  There was also an MTA station that would lead into Boston.  I had seven house mates.  Jerry Alonzo and Ted Fuery shared a room.  They were from the same Prep school in North Jersey.  Jerry came from a conservative background and may have been the steady hand in the group.  I recall he borrowed a paisley tie on a trip home, shocking his father who expected regimental stripes.  Ted was the trend setter, clothes, music,  just style.  Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point) writes about trend setters.  Ted did stand out.  Most Freshman wore jeans — ignoring  BC ‘s doomed dress code.   Somehow the Dean of Discipline singled out Ted for an infraction.  Tom Glynn, a cheerful red head from Pleasantville, NY had a private room.  Mike Honan, from Albany shared a room with John Glantz.  Tom and John became close.   Justin and Jay the last two in the house shared a room and Jay’s big American car christened the “squid mobile.” Squid being girls which I don’t think they ever picked up.  They were the odd couple in the group.  Mike Honan also came off as a quiet, loner, seemed to always tag along after us. I had a small two cup coffee pot and one night Mike wandered in for a cup.  We stayed up for hours drinking coffee, listening to Bob Dylan and sharing bits of our life.  Mike remained a quite loner but we became best friends.  Unfortunately he dropped out Freshman year and joined the Navy.  I am still close with Mike and Jerry (my best man, present at Jenny’s birth, and even visited recently in the Rehab Center).  Through FB and email I am in touch with Ted and Tom.  And I just got an email from Ted Fuery about getting together sometime.

Outside of class I hung out with a group that started experimenting with drugs, heavy into music, exploring the city, some of us were active in the anti-war movement.  Phil Dietz (like Ted, a cultural trendsetter) from NYC, Ed Kelly, Phil Calabrese, Jerry Mascola are a few names I remember.  Jerry got married after his Sophmore year and when I left home that summer over a wedding dispute with my father, he put me up until someone in the group headed to Haight Ashbury and gave me the keys to his rented apartment –freezer filled with steaks that his Mom provided.  Later that summer my father relented and I got married.

Twio years later Diane and I were in Peace Corps training in Bisbee, AZ.  We were in teacher training for Libya.  Although the trainees were a great group, our program was cancelled and I have not  remained in touch with anyone.  In 1976 we did visit with Arthur  and Suzie Ward in London. We traveled cross country with Arthur and Suzie for several months after PC training and he was my closest PC friend.  Several years ago I did have some email contact with John Giordano.  He was an in country volunteer helping with our training.  Now a professor at a New England college, in Bisbee John ran these fantastic improv acting sessions  several times a week.

Many of my current male friends are from my 40 years of teaching at HGP. Ted Grabowski and John Buettler were the old guard.  John had been a student a year ahead of me at HGP.  We retired the same year and still stay in touch.  I liked to say I always needed to make friends with some young teachers.  Bill Gallagher and Tom Corley were the first.  We sponsored HGP Explorer, taking a variety of camping, hiking and canoeing trips.  Together we rented State cabins with our families and socialized quite a bit.  Tom and Bill are still close friends.  Bill Geiger taught at Ghost for several years and then moved to LaSalle HS.  We’ve stayed in touch over the years but haven’t socialized in decades.

The next group of young teachers that remain friends were Mike Gillespie and Rob Buscaglia.  The three of us were involved with Ayudanica, the Nicaraguan service project.  Although still in touch it has been years since we did anything together.

Other HGP teacher friends includes Chris Nork, who lives in Yardley, we’ve gotten together recently; John DiGiesi, former HFU student as well as HGP teacher.  John and I are in constant email and phone contact.  In our last few years at HGP, Jim McCullough and I became close, drawn together by age and pipe smoking. There are a number of more recent HGP teachers that I stay in contact with, if only through FB.  Brother Joe Cannon, ( would love to visit him in Ireland), Tom Crosky, Matt Jordan, Tom Eckerle, Tony Chapman, Tony Figiola, Dan Ryan, and Bob Vierlinck.  I won’t try to mention here the Alumni who have moved from former student to friend but there are a few.

Although I’ve lived in Yardley since the late 70s, I’ve made more cquaintances than actual friends.  Closest is Jerry Taylor.  I served on Council with Susan Taylor and we vacationed and sailed with them a lot in the 1980s.  Still socialize quite a bit.  My current neighbor, Kurt Kriven, has become a close friend and I am still in touch with former neighbor, John Dye.  When the Dye’s lived next door our families were quite close.  Back in the 1970s, Diane worked with David Sears. He and his wife Judy rented in Yardley and eventually moved to Erwinna.  We always remained in touch but my friendship with Dave has grown very strong in the past few years.  They  retired and bought a house on a Maine Island.  We’ve been scheduled to visit for the past two years but medical issues with Dave, now me, cancelled both trips.

I read an article several days ago that men don’t make close friends.  I count myself lucky.  Although quite a few of the guys mentioned can not be called close friends, I stay in touch with many and enjoy recalling our times together.  Like the kids in Nicaragua said, ” It’s the people.”  Friends.

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Children of Monte Rosa, Nicaragua

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For about ten years I participated in a service trip to Nicaragua.  Led by Rob Buscaglia, we formed a nonprofit, Ayudanica.  Each year we took about a dozen HS students to a small sugar cane village, Monte Rosa.  Since my Spanish was extremely limited, I communicated with my camera.  Going back year after year we saw the kids grow from young children to early teens.  Here a few of my photographs of the children of Monte Rosa.

See my previous blog: Ayudanica — some of the team

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Ayudanica – some of the team

imageIn the late 90s, Rob Buscaglia was a new Spanish teacher at HGP.  He had served in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua but always felt that “words” couldn’t convey his experience. He would have to take people in country to help them understand.  And so was born Ayudanica.  Rob ( a charismatic teacher) recruited about a dozen students to take to Nicaragua for about 10 days in the summer.  The first year, he invited me to join the program but I was already committed to teaching at Holy Family University.  In year two, I didn’t teach at HFU, and became part of the Ayudanica team.  Rob and I began to “train” kids during the school year modeled on out Peace Corps experience.  Rob led language, culture and history; I did a lot with team building and a bit of teacher training.

For ten  years we took about a dozen students to Nicaragua.  Each year we worked in the same sugar cane village, Monte Rosa, not far from the city of Chinandega where we stayed in a small hotel.  Our project involved establishing a library and computer center in a complex of buildings and courtyard owned by the Sandanista political party.  Over the years, we brought books, computers, set up a library, gave computer classes, engaged the village kids in story hours, craft classes, photography classes, sports.  All the time our American students worked with and passed on their training to a group of Nicaraguan teens.  The concept was that the Nica teens would run the center throughout the year.  We hired a director to run the program.

After about five years Rob left teaching at HGP.  Although the school liked the program, they had never made a financial commitment.  Students paid and were required to fundraise.  And our fundraising efforts were pretty successful.  The school administration wanted us to scale back the program.  Basically we said no.  Rob went on to his new teaching position; we formed the non-profit, Ayudanica, and expanded our recruitment beyond HGP.   We also went co-ed.  I think the first year all the girls were sisters of male participants.  Usually three adults went with the kids; female teachers joined the team.

Despite going to Nicaragra for about 10 years and trying to learn Spanish during the school year; my linguistic abilities were minimal.  So I communicated with my camera. I took literally thousands of slides; similarily thousands of  color prints; and the last few years digital photographs. I’m sorting through the prints and will create a  photo albulm of the Ayudanica experience.  I will also share some pictures online.  Here are some pictures of team members from the latter years.

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