St. Joseph the Worker parishioners from Thornhill, Ont., raised money and lent their labour to fund the building of homes for the poor in San Felipe de Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Photo courtesy of St. Joseph the Worker parish

Mission-vacation concept takes hold at Thornhill parish

By 
  • January 25, 2015

THORNHILL, ONT. - In 1987 Elio Madonia, then in his 50s, sold his business, retired and with his wife went on vacation to the Dominican Republic with plans to continue enjoying retirement in Florida.

Taking a stroll, the couple took a wrong turn, which in retrospect turned out to be the right one. They had stumbled into a very poor neighbourhood.

“Every home was a shack, every shack was a pitiful substitute for a house,” said Madonia, where even the local pastor lived in a home “not good enough for chickens.”

But Madonia realized he was blessed in retirement with the resources to affect change in the lives of others. With money in the bank from the sale of his business, Madonia set out to build two homes.

But one thing led to another and he founded an organization called The Samaritan Foundation. To date the foundation has built 12 villages, more than 1,500 homes, six schools and six medical centres for Haitians and Dominicans, while employing construction workers and teachers.

About four years ago The Samaritan Foundation partnered with St. Joseph the Worker parish, and the Thornhill, Ont., parish sold the idea to parishioners of taking a vacation while simultaneously helping the poor.

Since then, the parish has witnessed a drastic upswing in members participating on trips that support The Samaritan Foundation’s mission of building homes for the very poor in the Dominican Republic.

The idea blends vacation with mission by having missionaries stay at a resort in Puerto Plata while constructing homes during the day.

“The way we decided to market it is you’re already going on vacation, why not add a mission element to your vacation?” said Vladimir Mamaradlo, lay youth pastor at the parish. “This is something you could expose your children to, especially in Thornhill where it’s a fairly comfortable community. Expose them to the reality of the Third World and they (will) have a sense of responsibility to the poor (which) is a very powerful experience.”  

The number of participants grew from about 16 in the first year to 100 parishioners who will take part this July.

To go on the trip, parishioners raise money to sponsor the building of homes. These homes are about the size of a two-car garage, said Mamaradlo, and include two bedrooms, a living-dining room and a bathroom, each costing about $5,000. St. Joseph the Worker has built 30 homes in the past four years.

While on the trip, they sleep at a resort, assist construction workers on-site and then are bussed back to the resort around lunchtime to enjoy their vacation and tour areas and services that assist the poor.

The parishioners pay for the vacation, which Mamaradlo says is more cost effective than if The Samaritan Foundation had to house the visitors.

The St. Joseph the Worker community has done more than just build houses, said Mamaradlo.

“Also, through our fundraising initiatives, we were able to sponsor a septic tank for a village and provide a month’s worth of groceries per family in an entire village,” he said. “Since WestJet has allowed each missionary to bring one extra (bag) for humanitarian aid, we were able to bring in the past four years 200 (suitcases) worth of medical supplies, school supplies, feminine products and diapers for babies and elderly.”

When parishioners return home, Madonia says the parish is revived with “social excitement.”

“There’s a sense of community, there’s a sense of comradeship and so I think those are the things that make it a very positive experience, and therefore gains a lot of feedback and generous response from the community,” said Mamaradlo.

Madonia, now age 85, plans on retiring — again — and stepping down as president of his foundation. But he intends on enjoying his time in the way he knows how: “enjoying it will be to see the (foundation) grow.”

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