In June 2017, we kicked off our first Live and Give (Away) Adventure Campaign in collaboration with Live A Great Story and The Greatness Foundation. For one month, we encouraged our fans to enter the campaign in hopes of being selected to join us on our Live and Give Adventure. At the end of the campaign, one person and their best friend would be selected to join us for an all expense paid trip to San Diego. Upon arriving in San Diego, we would pile into a van and road trip through Baja California, Mexico where we would complete a variety of giving initiatives and cross paths with remarkable people.
In early August, we announced the winners – Tommy Huynh and his best bud, Henry Nguyen, of Austin, Texas. On Thursday, September 7th, Tommy and Henry boarded their flight and landed in San Diego and by 2:30pm we were packed and ready to go.
For the most part, the seven of us were strangers: Zach and Annabelle from Live a Great Story, Tommy and Henry, Amar, a friend of a friend who was an angel and agreed to help us on the trip, and me and my husband, Chris. Over the next four days, we would be venturing to places we had never been, serving people in need, together. We were incredibly grateful to be riding in comfort, thanks to Sprinter Rentals. As you can imagine, seven people on a four day road trip, we had a fair amount of gear and a ton of snacks. Our Sprinter van was epic. None of us had ridden in one before and I think we all want one now. Shout out to Sprinter Rentals for helping make this trip a reality!
Our first stop was Tijuana aka TJ, located near the San Diego border. Amar had arranged for us to tour an orphanage in TJ. Amar serves on the board of directors for an organization called Corazon de Vida which supports a network of 10 orphanages in Baja California, Mexico. Amar had recently developed a program where the kids could learn how to code. With no background in coding, Amar saw an opportunity to teach the children a valuable skillset that is useful globally. With sheer grit and determination, he connected the right people and launched the program. This orphanage was in the midst of the pilot test and the kids were enjoying it. They clearly loved Amar and the van! We enjoyed learning about the operations of the orphanage, the family who ran it, the staff, volunteers and children. Before we knew it, it was time to make our way across town to One Bunk.
One Bunk is a super cool spot in TJ. As soon as you enter the door, you know you’ve found a gem. You are instantly surrounded with quirky items… the artwork on the walls, the tennis racquet light fixture that hangs in the entry and the sign that reads “Tu eres un big deal.” The manager greeted us, served us a round of cold cervezas and gave us the keys to our rooms. We felt right at home! After hanging out for a bit, we ventured out to see the local area. We had dinner at Caesar’s Restaurant, the place where the Caesar salad was created… who knew the Caesar salad originated in Tijuana!
The next morning we were on the road at 7am headed to Valle de Guadalupe to visit Rancho de los Ninos, an orphanage that is home to 70 children. We arrived and one of my favorite moments from the trip occurred when we walked up to one of the homes on the property. Amar knocked on the gate. The children inside spotted him and immediately started yelling, “Amigo! Amigo!” We could not see them but we could hear their little voices yelling “Amigo!” It was a sweet moment. They soon ran out of the front door greeting everyone with hugs. Before we knew it, we were playing soccer, running around the playground and jumping on tires. We had a blast spending time together!
After spending a few hours at the orphanage playing with the kids and learning about the orphanage’s sustainability initiatives, we were back on the road. We were headed to Maneadero to meet with Mike Sherbakov, the founder of The Greatness Foundation. He and a team of 40 incredible people were building a home in Maneadero for a deserving family. We arrived around noon and immediately dove in. Some of us were painting walls while others were framing and preparing the walls. The family for whom we were building the home was working alongside us. The mother and her children were working just as hard as everyone else. In just one day, a lone, slab of concrete morphed into a home. Four, teal walls were erected and with those four walls came a new beginning for the family. By the end of the day, we were incredibly proud of the progress and contribution we made to the house build. We ventured back to the Greatness Foundation’s house and spent time with the 40 volunteers. We met Carla, who traveled to meet with us and share her story. She had grown up in Maneadero and her family received a home much like the family we had met earlier in the day. Prior to that, she was sleeping on a dirt floor. Carla was bright. Because someone recognized her potential, she received the opportunity to further her education in the United States. She would wake up at 3am every morning to venture into San Diego and attend classes at Grossmont College. She is now a doctor who serves her community.
By 9:00pm we were back on the road to head to San Quintin to prepare for the eye care clinic in the morning. We arrived at midnight to find the hotel had given our rooms away... Fortunately, this was the only hiccup the entire trip! Thankfully, we had camping gear and everything worked out. At this point, we could have slept standing up. By 7:30am we were grabbing breakfast and meeting with the Flying Samaritans volunteers. We pulled up to the clinic and found nearly 100 people waiting for the clinic to open.
The Flying Samaritans host this clinic the second Saturday of every month. Because they’ve been serving the community for years now, they’ve become widely respected and trusted locally.
We did not skip a beat upon arriving. The Flying Samaritans had a system for processing patients and examining each. We set up the vision chart outside to start preliminary vision exams. Patients who were unable to see clearly from a distance or up close were directed to come inside to have further vision tests to identify their prescriptions and receive a pair of eyeglasses to see clearly and sunglasses to protect their eyes.
Approximately 40 patients received prescription eyeglasses that day. We live for the moment when a person puts the right pair of glasses on, looks around and their face lights up. It is the moment they regain their ability to see the world as it is. No matter where we are in the world, everyone reacts the same with a moment of silence followed by a glowing smile. Men, women and children walked away that day with the ability to see clearly, to read again, to cook and sew.
By 5pm we were back on the road headed north to Valle de Guadalupe to conclude our last night in Mexico with an evening at Trevista. Corazon de Vida was hosting a fundraiser that evening at Trevista, a well known vineyard in Valle. We enjoyed the evening listening to live music, drinking the local wine and making new friends. We ended up camping in the vineyard and the next morning the owners invited us in their home and cooked us breakfast. It was the perfect conclusion to a great experience. By 10am, we were headed back to San Diego to complete our Live and Give Trip.
In just four days, we went from being strangers to feeling like family. I think hands down we would all jump at the chance to relive this trip. It was an incredible experience that we will all cherish.
I would like to give a special shout out to Sprinter Rentals and One Bunk who supported our trip and sponsored us, Live a Great Story, the Greatness Foundation and Flying Samaritans for being great partners and Corazon de Vida and Trevista for welcoming us. We had an amazing experience serving others and it would not have been possible without the collective support of these organizations and individuals.