IT WAS 1985, in the Dominican Republic. Another baseball game was
over, and professional baseball player Dave Valle, who had been playing
catcher in a winter league game as he rehabbed an injured knee, was
surrounded by eight boys as he left the stadium.
“I just figured they wanted my autograph,” says Valle. He was wrong.
They were begging for food. Distraught, Valle bought the boys, most of
them shirtless and shoeless, grilled chicken from a woman selling food on
the street corner. It’s a moment that changed Valle’s life. And as a result,
it’s changed the lives of thousands of women and children in the poverty-torn Dominican Republic.
“My wife and I made a commitment that night,” Valle says. “If we
ever had the ability to do something, we’d come back and help.”
After researching methods that would provide the most impact,
in 1994 Valle and his wife, Vicky, established Esperanza International
( http://esperanza.org), a micro-finance program that gives small loans
to the poorest of the poor in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Esperanza, which is Spanish for “hope,” has given $42 million in loans,
often breaking the cycle of poverty. The money, which is raised from dona-
tions, now also goes to medical clinics, water purification and education.
“The work Esperanza does is absolutely transformational in the lives of the
people it is serving,” says Kayla Villnow, a fundraiser for Esperanza.
The loans average $220 and are given to people, mostly women,
living in poverty. The money is used to start a small business, such as
tailoring, or selling food or crafts on a street corner. Esperanza currently
has 16,462 people working and paying off loans and has helped create
73,000 small businesses, 78 schools and 29 water purification systems.
“All of the things I accomplished in baseball don’t even stand up to the
things that are being accomplished by Esperanza,” says Valle, who retired
from the sport in 1996. “It’s gone beyond my wildest dreams.”—Gail Wood
Back row, left to right:
Dave Valle and Esperanza COO Alex Nunez, with some
Dominican Republic fans of Esperanza International. E S P
Lions and tigers
and bears, and more!
IN RURAL COLORADO, on some 720 acres
near Keenesburg, some 300 unlikely animals
thrive—namely, lions, tigers, bears, wolves,
mountain lions and leopards.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary (www.wild
animalsanctuary.org), open daily to the public
year-round, is the oldest and largest nonprofit
sanctuary in the Western Hemisphere, dedi-
cated to rescuing and rehabilitating captive
exotic and endangered large carnivores. It
has 21 large-acreage, species-specific habi-
tats, observed by visitors from the Mile into
the Wild elevated walkway.
Founder and executive director Pat
Craig, who when he first started had no
background in zoology or wildlife—“other
than studying anything and everything I
could about nutrition and medical needs of
large carnivores”—has devoted his life to
saving abused wild animals from all over
the world. This state- and federally licensed
zoological facility and 501(c)( 3) nonprofit was
originally started in 1980 on Craig’s family
farm when he was just 20. The sanctuary
provides animals with expert care and
rehabilitation, high-quality diets and
enrichment such as vitamins,
minerals and medicines, with
Sophie, one of the 300 lucky residents of the Wild Animal Sanctuary.
some 130 volunteers helping regular staff.
“Over 1,000 animals have come to the
sanctuary, after law enforcement or animal
welfare agencies discovered them being kept
in private situations outside of the public zoo
system, with many of them being confiscated
from apartments, garages, basements, barns,
circuses and other terrible places,” says Craig.
According to Craig, “The United States
Humane Society estimates there are up to
20,000 large exotic animals such as lions,
tigers and bears being kept in private hands.
In Texas alone, there are over 4,000 tigers liv-
ing as ‘pets’ in private homes—more tigers
than exist in the wild throughout the world,
increasing due to hunting ranches.” Untold
numbers of animals suffer and die each year
due to neglect or abuse, or because they are
abandoned and left to die, starving and alone.
Local, state and national law enforce-
ment agencies also depend on the sanctuary
to help ensure public safety. “Every year,
people get hurt or killed by captive wild ani-
mals that have not been properly housed, or
because the people were allowed to be in
unsafe situations by the animals’ owners
or keepers,” adds Craig.—IMT