HOW IT ALL BEGAN
In 1985, before there was Escuela Hogar Armando Rosenberg, before there was The Orchid Foundation, Rotarian Harold Wooden visited a local Rotary club in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic, and was shown a wretched assortment of ramshackle structures that served as shelter for about a hundred destitute children living there. They ate meager meals heated over an open wood fire and slept in decrepit, tumbledown buildings on bunk beds without mattresses. The name of this dirty, poverty stricken place was Escuela Hogar San Salvador.
Woody became emotionally involved immediately and, upon his return to his own club in Riverside, NJ, convinced his fellow Rotarians to sponsor the children to increase their daily food allowance. It wasn’t long before he laid ambitious plans to raise money to build a single concrete, two story building for the children to live in. Today, known as Escuela Hogar Armando Rosenberg, that same fifteen acre plot of ground holds several large classroom buildings, cafeterias and kitchens, sporting venues, a clinic and, of course, a Catholic Church – St Roques’ – that feed and educate almost 1,600 young people every day.
The story of how we got from there to here is that of a great adventure, starting with a group of naïve, well- meaning Rotarians, who were sure they could save a small part of the world, and that everyone they met would be a friend and anxious to help.
Click the images below to view the original newspaper article documenting the beginning of the foundation.
THE EARLY STAGES
PHOTOS CIRCA 1985-1988
During the first three years, progress was made on construction of the original dormitory building as Woody Schmoozed, cajoled, persuaded and pleaded to acquire, not only money, but the cooperation of Americans and Dominicans alike. Remarkably, though he spoke essentially no Spanish, with the help of local Rotarians he was able to befriend a number of influential Dominicans whose friendship would save the project at a time when the whole thing almost went down the drain.
In 1988 it was learned that the people who had been running the place were stealing funds and the government shut the school down for several months. It was then that those who were friendly to us and those who were not revealed themselves for what they were.
Over thirty-one years, Woody’s gift for making friends and influencing people allowed him to accumulate many friends, some in very low, humble places and others in rather lofty positions. It was the latter group that came through for us by securing title to the property and giving it to the Church. It was at that point that Escuela Hogar Armando Rosenberg was positioned to move to a higher level of function.
In 1988 a group of nuns from the Religious Order of the Divine Master (Avemarianas) was assigned to administer the school, which they have done ever since with an iron and loving hand.
When the original dormitory was completed in 1988, there was a sense that we might back away from the school, but Woody, along with other Rotarians like John Sweeny and Pete Fraighleigh, whose obituaries appear on this web page, realized that the school needed ongoing support to continue, so The Orchid Foundation was born. The name comes from Organized Rotarians for Children’s Health and Insured Development and has been raising funds and sending a bi-annual shipping container filled with supplies ever since.
Since 1988, the Dominican government in conjunction with the church, has become a driving force in financing and planning the tremendous expansion of this home/school for destitute children. Today, there are elementary classes for the younger students and a Vo-tech school for the older ones, offering a choice of five different majors of study: IT, nursing, tourism, accounting and marketing.
When one considers where we started and where we are it is obvious that the future is almost unlimited in what else may be achieved. The current modern complex is a universe away from the wood fire kitchen and muddy pathways that inspired Woody thirty one years ago. It’s not an exaggeration to say that if not for the energy and imagination of many Rotarians over those years, spearheaded by Harold Wooden, it would not exist. This project is a living testament to his love for humanity.
Our friend, Harold S. Wooden, passed away April 30th, 2016.
- Written by Angelo Aiello, Orchid Board Member