'Satisfaction from a smile' — Putnam's experience in the Dominican Republic
Bucket by bucket, Neil Putnam and approximately 20 other volunteers passed mortar to lay the foundation of a new school facility in the Dominican Republic.
And it is the perfect example of how important education is, said Putnam, the vice president of the Mitchell Board of Education and a director for the National School Board Association.
"We all got together in a bucket brigade pouring concrete and laying the foundation for this school," Putnam said. " ... It just hit me that you're not only building a school, you're building a dream. That was just like, 'Wow,' and you don't look at it like brick and mortar. You're affecting these kids' lives."
Putnam was one of 45 school volunteers — who range from school administrators, parent groups to personnel — who were selected from around the nation for the 2018 Lifetouch Memory mission trip. The trip was an intensive volunteer effort to build a new community center and cafeteria within a school facility in Rio Grande, Dominican Republic.
Putnam primarily worked on the community center and put down foundation for a new basketball court. But what he didn't know until arriving in the Dominican in mid-January was that the school also serves as shelter during hurricane season as many of the homes are not suitable to handle the weather.
"Knowing that, that also helped reiterate the importance of why this work is critical for them, and not only from an education perspective," Putnam said. "It was very memorable. The people who were there and the families were so appreciative."
Describing it as an "opportunity of a lifetime," Putnam said he was honored and humbled by being selected for the trip. And he highly recommends it to any educator, administrator, school board member or anybody "who simply cares about kids" to go on the trip if given the opportunity.
"You don't need to speak the same language to get satisfaction from a child's smile," Putnam said. "We didn't speak the same language, but you can feel emotion."