Bienvenidos a Casa – Welcome home!

“I have no words.” This is the phrase that was delivered several times in front of a large assembly of WestJetters and community members packed into a small street in Nuevo Renacer. The words were spoken, through tears, by people whose lives changed profoundly as they received the keys to homes that would keep them safe, dry and fill them with pride. The speakers were not alone in shedding tears.
House dedication day is an intense experience within the already emotional time here for WestJetters. It seemed that the entire community crowded the streets to see dreams come true for eight families. They were there to share the joy, and for many, to share the hope that maybe one day their own home might come. 
The recipient families put away the clothes in which they had worked alongside us for the week and donned their very best they owned or could borrow for this special day. Gleeful children ran amongst us and hugged us, climbing into our arms and on our shoulders where they could. This day was a celebration of immense proportions for all of us.
One of the homes was built for a family whose father, Gustavo, has worked with LiveDifferent for seven years building homes for other families and dreaming of the day when he might be able to build a home of his own. When his turn came to address the crowd, his words spoke to all our hearts and he called WestJetters his guardian angels. 
Each family was given the opportunity to speak, and some could not get more than a few sentences out before emotion overcame them, and we heard the phrase again, I have no words. No words to express the gratitude, the change that this home represented for their families and the opportunity to have a dream come true.
After the key ceremony, each build team had the opportunity to spend time with the family whose home they had built. The heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories from each team are numerous, including one where three grown men – one WestJetter, one translator and the home owner – were standing quietly in a room together sharing tears of joy and triumph. The entire community shares that sense of triumph. 
WestJet and WestJetters, with the help of LiveDifferent and this community, are making a huge impact here. We all felt the support of WestJetters back home and want to give special acknowledgement to those who applied for this trip but were not selected. We will keep our fingers crossed for you for future trips!
Each of us had our own unique experience here. The impact that this (and every WestJet build) has had on these families and this community is so vast we’ve each felt this impact. Many of us feel that we have received more than we gave. There may in fact be a dollar figure on someone’s desk counting the contribution of WestJet’s community investment in the Dominican Republic, but the sharing of tears, joy and gratitude of the families here is priceless.
The WestJet Hero Holiday 2014 team leads

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 31st, 2014

Get to know our LDA’s!

16 young people from all over Canada have travelled to Mexico to complete a 14 week program where they study a social justice curriculum, learn Spanish, volunteer in the community, build a home for a family, and make some awesome friendships along the way! Our LiveDifferent Academy students also all have personal goals they want to accomplish in their time with us – check out some of the awesome plans they have to make a difference in their own lives, and in the lives of others. 

I hope to get a better sense of how life is in a different part of the world, learn a new language and make a difference in other peoples lives. – Ryan, Rosenort, MB

I hope to learn more about myself and another part of the world. I hope to learn from many different experiences in Mexico and apply it to my life back home. – Carrington, Clarksburg, ON

More than anything else I hope to gain a stronger sense of who I am as a person and to gain better perspective on what I can do with my life. – Nolan, Victoria, BC

This fall in Mexico I cannot wait to start volunteering in the community, especially teaching English at the elementary schools. I am looking forward to learning about the Mexican culture and speaking Spanish with the locals. I look forward to how much this trip will make me grow as a person and all the amazing memories I will make. – Megan, Squamish, BC

I am most looking forward to Week in the Life and being able to truly put myself in the shoes of many people around the world. I am also looking forward to the house build and volunteer work. Lastly, I am looking forward to creating memories that will last a lifetime! – Maryssa, Mount Forest, ON

I am looking forward to having a better sense of understanding of how other people live, and to gaining a sense of what I’m doing/where I might be going with my life. – Liam, Victoria, BC

I hope to change the lives of deserving people as well as my own life. I would like to be more aware of issues in the world, and be able to do my part to spread the word about them and help fix them. I would also like to be closer to knowing what I want to do in university and for a career in the future, and how to apply my passion for helping others in a job. Lastly, I would love to meet some amazing people and get to know the other academy students, and hopefully make some friends that will last lifetime! – Sarah, Mount Pearl, NL

I want to learn Spanish, make friends, see a new part of the world, and experience a different lifestyle. – Hanna, Williams Lake, BC

I am looking forward to really taking in everything the Academy has to offer and absorbing it all to become a better person and leader. – Parker, Burlington, ON

I hope to be able to change someones life for the better. Whether that be someone I am living with, someone I meet down there, or sharing my story once I return home resulting in more people going to volunteer. I also hope to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life. – Cheyenne, Winnipeg, MB

During my time here in Mexico, I am probably most looking forward to being forced out of my comfort zone. Trying new foods, meeting new people, learning new languages. By doing this I believe that it will unlock an entirely new side of myself that I cannot wait to see. I’m excited for it all. Bring on the change! – Madi, Edmonton, AB

I can’t wait to volunteer with the kids in the community and get to know them. – Julia, Winnipeg, MB

I hope to learn more about the world I live in and the kinds of issues people face every day that I don’t get to see. I also hope to learn more about myself as a person. I feel that I’ve done a lot of growing over the past few years and I would like to continue that trend. – David, Toronto, ON

I hope to accomplish a lot of things this year. I hope to help as many people as possible, learn as much spanish as I can, appreciate my life and school more, and experience as many new things as possible. – Lexie, Princeton, ON

I want to know that I have helped and made a difference in peoples lives. I want to say I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I also just want to steer myself in the right direction of where I want my life to go. – Oceann, Lloydminster, AB

I am looking forward to spending the next two months alongside the fifteen other students attending academy and growing together as a team and family while creating ever lasting friendships. I am eager to overcome the challenges that we encounter, and experience how every day life is lived in Mexico. I am looking to take away anything and everything I can from Academy. – Alanna, Mackenzie, BC



Author: LiveDifferent


Watching something great

We have now been here for a week; what a week it has been. When we arrived we had 50 WestJetters, many of who have never met before, and now after just seven short days, new friends and life long memories have been made.
When our team first arrived on the worksite I think we were eager to get started but apprehensive at the same time. Many of us have never been a part of something like this or built a house before. Within a few short hours, the team could have been mistaken for a professional crew. 
The local contractors have loved the experience just as much as we have. There has been impromptu dance offs, laughs and jokes being thrown around and real genuine connections made. The main contractor on our site is Gustavo and it is for him and his family that the team I am with are building a home for. Seeing him work on his own home and having his other family members on the site help out has been amazing to see. 
They have also welcomed us into their home as if we were family. Every day after lunch, they have a freshly brewed pot of coffee waiting for our arrival – the perfect treat. Our team has the privilege to meet and work alongside Gustavo’s wife, son, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, nephew and father. This has been an incredible experience for our team. Our team has developed a real relationship with Gustavo’s family and their fellow WestJetters
This past week I have seen our team go from complete strangers to a team that of family members. In a world where you may not talk to your neighbours for six months at a time, it is incredibly refreshing to see such genuine human connections being formed. We often lose that human touch in the fast-paced world we live in and every now and then, a reminder of the power of connections is needed. I know that in our seven short days, our team has received that beautiful reminder. 
Justin Jones, Chief Duty Dispatch

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 29th, 2014

Through the difficulties, love, hope, and faith conquer

Today we met Gabriela (aka Gladys), gramma of four grandchildren: Rameidy, Isidro, Keiri, and Polanco. Gladys is 55 years old and has been living in Puerto Plata for 51 years. She has two children, a boy and a girl who are both in their 30s. Gladys has lived in her present home for 19 years and has seen a fair share of flooding and rain coming through the roof into her house. Her children both work and live nearby, but they are unable to have their children live with them and so Gladys is the children’s guardian. 
Gladys’s home consists of a small living space with kitchen in the back, separated by a wall to the left where behind you find the two beds to sleep all four of them. There is no electricity, the toilet is cinder blocks about four high with a layer of cement on top with a hole in the centre; to flush there’s a bucket of water with a small bowl that you pour down the hole. Right next to this you find a rack for drying dishes along with the basin to wash clothes. They only get water three times a week to fill their barrel. 
The roof of the house consists of remnants of other houses in the neighbourhood that were torn down to be rebuilt. Gladys told us that since WestJet / LiveDifferent started to build houses she has been giving enough material to fix her roof, and that her roof barely leaks now. 
Gladys showed to us to be vibrant, happy and full of love despite the condition of her home. Her life is dedicated to her grandchildren and to ensuring that she can give them the best upbringing she can, in every aspect. She takes so much pride in her home, with pictures, painted bottles and decorated bottles. Getting ready for Christmas she had little Christmas balls. She’s happy to have a home where she can have her grandchildren with her and she feels very blessed to know that many people care and want to help and for that she’s thankful. She’s so glad to have people visit. 
Gladys wanted us to be in her home and was so excited to invite us in. No matter what her home was like, she wanted us to be there with her, to visit, to spend time in her home, to show us her pride and joy (kids’ picture and school achievements). It didn’t matter that we were going to her home to help her clean, cook, do laundry etc. She wanted to visit! Wanted to tell us stories about things she considers amazing in her life, like her kids and grandchildren.
Our “day in the life” was very rewarding and an eye opener, not for what is the obvious (living in poverty) but rather as a reminder of how, if you take the time to engage and give all of you, whatever is around you will have no matter because it’s only stuff and people is what matters.
– Chantal, Flight Attendant, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday Volunteer, 2014

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 28th, 2014

What did you say we are building?

Have you ever had that feeling that you’ve known someone for years after you only a few short hours of chatting? What if you could multiply that feeling by 50? What if you also shared with those same 50 people a strong feeling of pride and belonging, thousands of kilometres from home, because you work in the same company? How crazy is that?! Yet that is what we are experiencing on the LiveDifferent build, but it doesn’t end there.
Floating in the Caribbean Sea at the end of the day trying to loosen up muscles that are exhausted and stiff from heavy work, I drift among 20 or 30 other WestJetters and listen to snippets of conversation that range in subject from the day’s intense heat to how each of us fits into the large company that is WestJet. It is fascinating and gratifying to hear, over the dinner table, questions like the one I heard tonight: “If I were Gregg Saretsky and I told you I could change one thing that you see as a problem at work, what would you tell me to change?” Of course even more fascinating are the answers.
We are thrown together in a very emotionally and physically intense situation far removed from our everyday experience of life, and we witness amazing connections and passage of understanding between WestJetters from many departments. Suddenly you see an understanding and empathy for each others’ work as people share issues, insights, knowledge and suggestions as if this were a dedicated team of people put together to breakdown operational roadblocks for WestJet – but we are here to build houses!
Apparently houses aren’t the only things we are building here. Everyone knows that we are building knowledge, understanding and insight into the lives of some extremely humble Dominican families, but we will all leave here with knowledge, understanding and insight into WestJet as well. Talk about a win-win scenario! Go WestJet!
Chris, First Officer – LiveDifferent Hero Holiday, 2014

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 27th, 2014

What a change

I have the privilege to be here with WestJetters from all over the WestJet world and what an amazing experience it has been after just three short days! Today was the first of our build days, which meant we finally got to get into the community and get to work. This is my second WestJet Hero Holiday and as a team lead, I have been super stoked for this day for many months. 
On the drive into the community this morning, I took in all the familiar sights and sounds. I can’t believe the time had finally come to get to work. As we rode into the community there was a massive sense of nostalgia; moto taxis buzzing by, street vendors selling just about anything, ongoing construction projects and dozens of children waiving and screaming gringos! We were finally here. 
Once we arrived at the worksite it was both awesome and sobering. As I walked around to see what has been done in the last couple years, I was completely blown away. Such amazing and meaningful change has taken place since my initial trip in 2012. So many new homes and many of the roads that were nothing more than rock and gravel have now started to be paved. What once was one pole with dozens of wires feeding off of it for illegal electricity has now been replaced by a legitimate source of power, and community members that I once saw in some of the worst conditions were now sitting in front of a brightly-coloured concrete brick home laughing and chatting with others in the community. Simply amazing.
The people of Nuevo Renacer are a strong and resilient group. LiveDifferent has made a long-lasting commitment to this community and with the continued support of WestJet and LiveDifferent’s vision of meaningful and lifelong change; I am convinced that one day this will be a community that people will boast to be a part of. 
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – this is a quote that has stuck with me for many years and after seeing the meaningful change that has happened over the last couple years, it is a quote I can say that absolutely holds true.
Justin, Chief Duty Dispatch, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday 2014

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 25th, 2014

I am here

Today was full. Full of new vistas, new friends and new bug bites. The sun was hot and the roads were bumpy. Our group had the opportunity to visit two LiveDifferent communities. We met inspirational visionaries, colorful characters and the families who will be forever changed by a safe home.
Why am I here? Why are you here? This was asked by an excited, joyful, smiling from ear-to-ear single mother of three. I don’t recall the exact words that came from my mouth but I know what was in my heart.
I am here because I can.
I am here because my heart is full of love, an opportunity was presented and it whispered to my heart and I listened. I am here because someone before me had a vision which whispered to his heart and he had the courage to do something about the whisper. I am here because others believed in me, supported me and my desire to serve others. I am here because I believe in the human spirit, the strength of we and the power of love.
Today, a beautiful courageous woman filed with joy and hope asked me ‘Why are you here?’ And my heart leapt and said “I am blessed beyond measure and it is my privilege to share my blessings and joy with you”.
That is why I am here. Thanks to everyone who helped me and all the WestJetters participate in this amazing opportunity.
Tracey, Quality Mentor, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday, 2014

Author: LiveDifferent


I’m collecting hugs

Wow; what an absolutely amazing day. The excitement was high and eyes did not stay dry! Yes, the trip has officially begun. Today, 50 WestJetters made the trip to Nuevo Renancer to meet our eight families who we have the privilege to build five homes for. One of these homes is a duplex and the other a triplex. 
We arrived to the site with the warmest welcome I have ever received in my life. As our trucks pulled up, there were around 60 people from the community awaiting our arrival. They started cheering and clapping. As we got off the bus, the women in the community hugged every one of us. And I mean a real true genuine hug – and the tears began. 
First, we then divided into five groups with ten participants in each. My group (group three) went to the area where we will be building our house. The new owner, Dorka was in tears the whole time talking to us. She is a 62 year old woman who has been living in extreme poverty. Every time it rains her house leaks. There is no lock on the front door, planks of wood just randomly nailed onto the house for protection and holes everywhere. I could go on with the details but I am proud to say this is now the past and in one week, Dorka will be unlocking the door to her newly built home. I just can’t wait. Her son and daughter who live with her were also so excited.
We then took a tour of the rest of the community. There are still many homes that need to be replaced. But in time, all these houses will be replaced. I was on the first WestJet Holiday Hero in April 2012 and I knew without a doubt, this whole community would have a complete facelift within the next few years because of WestJet and Live Different. I could not believe the transformation in just two and a half years. Seeing the work we have done in this community today gave me nothing but hope for these incredible families who deserve more in life that what they have.
I was so fortunate to have reunited with the family I built for back in spring 2012. Without any exaggeration, I walked around a corner and the mom of the family looked at me, jumped up off the step she was sitting on and ran to me to hug me. She invited me into her home right away so she could show off how her family had decorated it. I could not believe she remembered me after two and a half years as there were so many of us at the time. I realized in that moment that I could guarantee that these families would remember every solitary WestJetter that helped them build their dream homes. The families are just so grateful for everything we have done. 
I know the families in the community look at us as the ones who helped them changed their lives and give them so much. However, I feel it is totally opposite. This whole experience will change all of our lives forever as these families and the community give US so much in return. This is the perfect example of how two different worlds come together to make change!
Jenanne, CSA, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday 2014

Author: LiveDifferent


Drinking humanitarian flavoured Kool-Aid

Another LiveDifferent Hero Holiday is about to begin.
The five team leads and Jenifer (from Community Investment) met this evening for dinner to discuss some logistics of the trip and introduce ourselves. For the ones who didn’t know each other, we were instant friends. Partly because we all drink the WestJet Kool-aid and partly because we all share a burning desire to make a small difference in our world.
Preparing for the trip as a team leader was a different experience, just as I anticipate the trip will be. I made sure to pack a lot of work clothes and shoes that I could easily envision being covered in cement, because in a few short days, they would be exactly that.
The minute I found out I was selected as team lead, I couldn’t wait to get started with my fundraising. My friends, family and coworkers made it easy to be excited about it. I held a pub night, where anyone could come and pay $20 to drink draft beer for two hours. With my age group and circles of friends, it is easy to twist rubber arms into coming out to enjoy a few cold ones. The sense of community during this fundraising evening was incredible and I am eternally grateful for all the support I received.
The mental preparation for the trip brought with it a multitude of feelings – excitement, nervousness, gratitude and anticipation. I believe that the fear of the unknown is a common feeling that most participants experience.
The buzz at the airport as we all arrived at the gate was just like a colony of bees eager to get to the same hive. Everyone was so full of anticipation and nerves. I could almost see the questions humming through everyone’s minds at a mile a minute.
It was interesting to see 45 people in the shoes I was in a year earlier. No one knew what to expect heading into the trip. Especially for those people who didn’t know anyone else, it’s easy to feel like the new kid in school. Will people like me? What have I gotten myself into? Little do they know, after these 10 days, they will develop lasting relationships and have some life-changing experiences that they will never forget and surely not regret!
Being on a Boeing with 50 other WestJet heroes is an amazing feeling – although I’m not sure the flight attendants would agree with that; a large group of WestJetters has been known to be on the louder side! The energy is electrifying; I love how so many other guests on this flight are asking what all 50 of these people in matching shirts are up to. Well, WestJet isn’t just about the commercials – we really do care. And we care about communities, local and abroad, each other and the better good of mankind.
When I left Puerto Plata last year at this time, I was saddened to think that I may not see some of the wonderful people that I met from Nuevo Renacer again. Knowing that I will get to reconnect with them brings me so much joy. It amazes me, because I often wonder how I developed such strong bonds with so many people that I don’t even speak the same language as.
As we buckle our seatbelts and begin our descent into Puerto Plata, it is my hope that everyone on this trip, whether it is their first time or fourth, has an unforgettable experience and gains the perspective, appreciation and gratitude for what we are about to embark on. It truly is a magical experience and I am so thankful to WestJet for giving so many people this opportunity.
” Be the change we wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi
Lisa, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday Team Lead, 2014

Author: LiveDifferent


Making More Change 2 – Dedication Day Song!

The Making More Change 2 team had a unique gift for their family on their dedication – a song! 

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 17th, 2014