Oakville Beaver, October 2005
By: Krissie Rutherford
Udy and Momma. That's what Dominicans call Judy Warrington. She may live in Oakville, but she's a familiar face in the Dominican Republic - and it's not because she vacations there a lot.
Warrington is best-known along the back roads, in the small villages, or 'barrios', where tiny tin shacks and broken-down wooden houses with little to no sanitation are crowded along dirt roads. That's where she works - building and repairing houses, churches, schools and medical clinics, teaching children and feeding the hungry, to name some of her initiatives. Over the last five years, she's led groups of volunteers to the Dominican Republic more than 15 times. In fact, she's there right now. "Why am I doing what Iím doing?" she said, two days before her departure earlier this week. "There's so many reasons. The needs are huge. What you see on TV with World Vision documentaries in Africa is the same thing you see on the back roads of the Dominican Republic." It's high unemployment, political struggles and poverty, among other problems. "Using our scale, we would call them impoverished, needy and run-down," she said. But that's just part of the country. The Dominican Republic, Warrington says, is "two worlds."
There's the scenery and beaches the country is known for. Then there's what lies beyond. "The pockets of poverty when you get behind the hotels are just extraordinary. I could go on forever about the need," she said. "They don't have access to enough schools, there aren't enough teachers, children go to school for half a day, the classrooms are crowded and there aren't enough resources."
Healthcare is a whole other problem. "Children die from diarrhea because they don't have access to medical clinics. It's sad to know that that's a fact of life, and yet it's easy to treat if you have medicine. But the medical clinics are few, the shelves are empty, and access to health care is limited for so many," she said. "There are so many reasons to lend a hand where you can." The overwhelming need on top of knowing sheís making a difference is what drives Warrington, a former teacher, to return time and again, and to fill her garage and house with supplies she collects from the community to ship down there. "My garage is full of boxes, much to the chagrin of my husband," she said, smiling.
Warrington has been married for 40 years, and has three kids and three grandkids, "so far." To say she's busy would be an understatement ñ she's also an active member of Knox Presbyterian Church and a local Rotary Club. Her work has earned her nominations for Halton's Woman of the Year and the ATHENA Award, and she also recently won the Rotarian Paul Harris Award for her service and contribution.
Finding motivation to continue her work in the Dominican Republic is easy for Warrington, especially after a brush with cancer a few years ago and three recent deaths in the family. "The more you think about life and the meaning life, the more I'm pushed, I think, to pack it full and do what I can do today," she said. "Who knows what the future's going to bring."
She began taking students on volunteer trips to developing countries while she was teaching English as a second language and French as a second language at Appleby College, Oakville. Then, after more than 30 years of teaching in the classroom, Warrington retired in 1999 to develop international programs at Toronto's Bayview Glen High School, which she did until last year. After 15 years of leading high school groups on volunteer trips to developing countries like Kenya, Hungary, South Africa, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, Warrington wasn't about to stop there. So last year, she started her own volunteer work adventure company - Power Trips.
She has recruited students, adults, members of churches and youth groups to accompany her to the Dominican Republic, where they do everything from teaching basic English and creating safe play areas for kids to improving the structure of communities and contributing to medical clinics. "One of the highlights for me is after the trip, hearing everyone talk about things they'd taken for granted about their lives back in Canada," she said. "Everyone that participates in this program realizes we're very lucky." Last year, Power Trips ran volunteer programs over the March break, at the end of August and in mid-October, and Warrington is hoping to add a reading week trip in February for students in college and university. "A lot of people have said, 'I'd really like to do that,'" she said. "We had two 70-year-old men come on our last trip, and they were right in there with everyone else."
Struggling rural villages and neighbourhoods along the north coast of the Dominican Republic are the main focus, where it's safe and where there's access to cultural activities. "We're also there to see what makes the country so special," she said. "The children are gorgeous, the people are friendly. There's a spirit amongst the people. The sad part is that in many areas, they have to focus on survival." That, she says, makes it sometimes for us volunteers "heavy duty emotional work" A lot of these things, you've seen on TV. But this is in front of your eyes," she said. "It can be overwhelming. There are so many moments when I just have to take deep breaths." But she doesn't let that discourage her. "What I'm trying to encourage in the people who participate in these projects is to adapt a new attitude that 'I can make a difference. I can move into this little community or this one village, and together, especially as a group, we can make a contribution. And we can make a significant one.'"
There's evidence of that already, like the church/community centre Warrington's group recently built. "I get an adrenaline rush when I see it," she said. "The effort and all the pennies that have been gathered by so many people is amazing. It makes me see myself as the funnel that brings help from a place like Oakville to a little village in the Dominican Republic."
That, she says, keeps her going. "I think I'm smitten for sure by the joy - you get a feeling when you've worked with these children and you've worked with these gorgeous people," she said. "Every time we leave and look back, it's good to know that we've either planted a seed, or something good has happened that will lead them to continue without us." Power Trips often works with various Christian organizations, Rotary clubs, and is partnered with International Child Care, an organization devoted to promoting and providing healthcare for children in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti. Warrington is an ICC board member, and one of five of Oavkille's incoming Rotary club presidents for next year.
To have any extra time on her hands, she says, "just wouldnít be like me." Two days before her departure, she had to organize packing 1,500 pounds of supplies she'd gathered from the community to be shipped down to the Dominican Republic, she was working out fundraising initiatives and had just spoken to a local high school about Power Trips.
"I'll never be retired," she said, smiling. "I'll keep running with this passion as long as I can!"
For more on Power Trips, call 905-338-2304 or email email@example.com