Every year, Hoboken resident Michael D’Imperio takes a vacation from his corporate job with almost 20 of his friends and flies down to Jamaica. While that may not seem to be too out of the ordinary, D’Imperio and other members of St. Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken aren’t travelling to catch some rays or hit the beach. Instead, they roll up their sleeves, dig in, and help out at an orphanage in Kingston for a week.
Since his first trip to Jamaica in 2005, D’Imperio has been selected as a member of the Board of Directors for Mustard Seed Communities, a non-profit organization that operates orphanages across the world.
From Hoboken alone, D’Imperio said there have been over 100 people participating since 2005. The next trip for D’Imperio and his group of 12 volunteers from Hoboken is scheduled for Oct. 29, and the group will work for eight days.
The group updates a blog on HobokenCares.Blogspot.com.
Bridget Stoner has co-hosted the trips with D’Imperio for the past seven years.
“One of my friends from Atlanta had done trips like this, and I did trips like this during high school and college,” Stoner said.
As far as the work to be done, Stoner said the Hoboken group has received a reputation of its own.
“We do whatever is needed,” she said. “But we’re kind of known as the group that gets done whatever needs to be done.”
Like a family
Many of the visitors choose to go back to Jamaica every year for various reasons, but for Stoner, she said that the group and the children in the orphanages “have become family.”
“I sponsor one of the little boys,” Stoner said. “I talk to him every week…he’s my son now basically. It’s really those types of connections…it’s really nice to get away and not focus on yourself for a little while.”
Jordan Decker moved to Hoboken in 2007, and decided to “jump right in” to the trip in 2009. The decision has changed her life.
“I went from Michael being a random person to me attending his wedding a year later,” Decker said.
In addition to the manual labor, Decker said there is a lot more important work done during the trip.
“I always say, it’s 60 percent manual labor and 40 percent of the time is spent with the kids,” she said.
Decker said it’s the children from the orphanage that makes her want to return.
“They’re such loving kids,” she said. “A lot of them are sick and can’t even speak, but somehow they’re able to communicate with us. They physically pull you back to Jamaica.”
Many of the children at the orphanage have gone through traumatic experiences, D’Imperio said.
“To meet these kids who have gone through so many experiences; some were born with HIV or AIDS, or they have severe mental or physical disabilities, and somehow they just smile,” D’Imperio said. “It just changes your perspective on life. After the first year I was just sucked in.”
D’Imperio added that many of the people who take part in the trip return the next year. But in 2005, the year of the first trip, it wasn’t easy convincing corporate workers to travel to Jamaica and pick up a shovel.
“The first year was a real challenge,” D’Imperio said. “A lot of people hadn’t had the opportunity to do a trip like this before. But once we came back with stories and pictures, the second year we actually had to turn people away.”
The trip has had a lasting impact on those involved. One year, the group had to knock down, manually, a partially-destroyed building from a hurricane.
“On the one wall, we wrote down all sorts of things we want to destroy in the world, like greed, entitlement, hunger, and then we took the sledgehammer to it, which was awesome,” Stoner said.
But it’s the other work that also makes an impact on a yearly basis for Stoner.
“Sometimes we just hang out with the kids,” she said. “There are a lot of kids who are bedridden…we’ll sometimes just sing songs with them.”
Stoner continued: “The most important thing about the trip is as much as I give away, I get more than I give. I think the trip has made me who I am.”
Community involvement is key
The money for the trip is raised through local fund-raising efforts. The fundraisers this year included wine tasting at Sammy’s Road House in the Sky Club and the Amazing Race scavenger hunt hosted by The Shannon. The group also staffed the beer garden at Oktoberfest, a celebration at St. Peter and Paul Church held last week.
This year, the group will be spending time at Jacob’s Ladder, a self-sustainable farm that provides foods for all of the orphanages in the area.
“We’ll be doing a lot of greenhouse work,” D’Imperio said. “And we’ll also be doing the finishing touches on a chapel.”
During the trip, the group updates a blog on HobokenCares.Blogspot.com.
“It’s the day-to-day story of what we’ve been doing,” he said.
The group has become closer than just a group of friends from church, Stoner said.
“The team members that go down, and the kids down there, we’re family,” she said. “That’s what families do; they help each other.”
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com