A Portland man is marshaling support for a Catholic-run Dominican Republic mission that serves elders largely forgotten by society.
Steve Amdahl, a former Peace Corps volunteer to the Dominican Republic, is now a consultant for small business startups.
When serving in the Peace Corps in 1969, Amdahl met Father James Meureé, a Belgian missionary who established a home for ill, disabled and isolated seniors.
The site, called Hogar Alegría, is located in the country's hot, dry and poor southwest. The project includes agricultural pursuits to further self-sufficiency. The name translates, "Happy Place," or "Home of Joy." Father Meureé, an amiable priest who lived simply with the people, treated residents like family.
Many of the region's poor residents pick sugar cane. A high percentage are Haitians, and so are thought of as second class citizens.
"It was powerful stuff for me," says Amdahl, who lives in Southwest Portland. "I thought I knew what was going on in the world. I met him and then knew I didn't know much."
Amdahl supported Father Meureé's work over the years with donations. On a visit in the 1980s, he helped the priest pick people up and bring them to the home where, perhaps for the first time, they felt clean bedsheets and ate regular meals.
Father Meureé, a member of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, retired in the mid-1990s. Now days, Hogar Alegría is being managed by Sister Lucina of the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow. She and the other Sisters are trained nurses.
In 2012, while on a business trip to the Dominican Republic, Amdahl visited the home. He noticed that the 35-year-old building was in need of repair. Roofs leaked, plumbing was failing and wires were outdated. More staff was needed and the food program needed help to reach more people in need.
Amdahl established Hogar Alegría-PDX as a non-profit entity to support the center.
"The need is great and the resources have been limited," Amdahl says.
Hogar Alegría, the only institution of its kind in the region, has room for 32 and is almost always full. Plans call for expansion to 48 beds as money becomes available.
Bishop Rafael Leónidas Felipe y Núñez of the Diocese of Barahona lacks resources, but supports the center. He knows what kind of things happen there.
One of the residents was carried in more dead than alive. Angelito was abandoned by family after breaking his back. But after a blood transfusion, care for his injury, food and food and company, he became a happy resident who somehow mows the lawn from his wheelchair.
Other residents include a 60-something cane cutter who drank away his earnings. He has been given care of the school playground maintenance and feels more dignity. A failed farmer arrived after saying a local shaman had cursed him by putting an invisible dead man on his head. One woman spends most of the day, when not working, with hands raised praising the Virgin Mary.
Amdahl says Hogar Alegría is not so much a nursing home as "a functioning society formed for those rejected by the world." Those who can walk push wheelchairs of those who can't. The sighted lead the blind.
Residents receive clothing, transportation to medical care, simple but healthy meals and communal activities. They pitch in with chores. Afternoons are for games, discussions and singing. Every other Sunday brings a fiesta, with local groups providing entertainment and meringue dancing.
After the restoration, the chief need is an on-site medical clinic for examinations and basic care. Because of costs, Hogar Alegría has not been able to have a doctor for years.
Amdahl figures getting the clinic started and providing the first year's budget would cost about $28,000. That includes a salary for a doctor, two nurses and a housecleaner. He is seeking donations of medical gear and supplies.