ARC student spent the summer volunteering in the Dominican Republic


Berenis Leonard, second left, poses for a photo with her students. Leonard developed the dance and music program for Outreach360, a group that has a goal of educating the children of the Dominican Republic.

Ashlynn Johnson

For the majority of students, summer vacation is spent working, taking classes or having fun with friends or family, but for American River College student Berenis Leonard, summer was spent teaching dance, music and English in the Dominican Republic.

Leonard volunteered with a program called Outreach360 that started as an orphanage in 1994 and later became a program that teaches children how to speak, read and write in English.

This was the first year that dance, music, arts and drama programs were offered. Leonard spent her entire duration of her stay in the Dominican Republic developing the dance and music portions of the program.

“It’s so progressive and always evolving and adapting. It’s still in its developing stages but I have seen the results of the program and I must say it’s inspiring,” Leonard said.

She taught the children different dance genres and combinations and also played a part in creating English lesson plans for the people who were only volunteering for a week.

Leonard had to fundraise in order to make her trip possible.

“The fact that so many people believed in me and helped me get here just makes me realize how much love and support I have around me in fulfilling anything I put my mind to,” Leonard said.

Leonard first learned about Outreach360 through an email her ARC Spanish professor Ines Garcia sent to the class. She was the only student who took the opportunity.

Garcia taught Leonard in two different classes and said she always seemed interested in learning about other cultures.

“She was a great student, very positive, worked very well with others, very proactive, very interested in the culture, (she) always wanted to learn more,” said Garcia.

Leonards’ mother, Olga Leonard, said that she has noticed changes in her daughter since her return from the Dominican Republic.

“She’s more focused on herself now and her goals with music and dance,” said Olga.

Berenis said that she feels honored by being a part of the Outreach360 program.

“Seeing kids from this rural community who don’t have access to constant running water or electricity, being exposed to English is simply changing their lives and giving them an opportunity to live a life of choice rather than being limited to their environment,” said Leonard. “It’s a beautiful impact to witnesses and I feel so honored to be part of the program.”

The number one thing that Leonard said she learned while staying in the Dominican Republic was to “live in the moment.”

“It’s different from the U.S. and it’s teaching me a lot about taking each day for what it is and not planning every step of my life out, because when you do that too much you miss out on the simple and beautiful things about life,” said Leonard.