Conversations with Melanie

Melanie has been living in the Dominican Republic for a while before joining our team. As a Manager of Operations, she oversees all of the work that is happening across the island of Hispaniola.

We had the chance to ask her a few questions, and although she’s fluent in Spanish, she was kind enough to make sure to respond in English for all us non-fluent folks.

What drew you to working with LiveDifferent in your current role?
I was already living and working for another charity in the Dominican Republic before joining LiveDifferent. I had heard about the wonderful projects that this charity was working on and the fact that their head office is in Hamilton (my hometown) was an added bonus. When the role of Manager of Operations became available, I didn’t hesitate to apply and I am soooooo grateful that I did because I love being a part of the LiveDifferent family.

How do relationships and community play a part in your work?
It is the strong and long relationships that we have with our community leaders that allow us to do the wonderful work that we do. They are the true experts and we are simply here to lend a helping hand. Their insight in their respective communities is invaluable, as they guide us to focus our projects based on their needs and to support those who need it the most. We empower them to lead the way and what’s most important is that we listen to what they have to say. It’s a combined effort from beginning to end and we together take pride in our accomplishments.


In LiveDifferent, we have a very common saying that “life is about people”. What does that expression mean to you when it comes to your involvement with the volunteers and community members in the Dominican Republic?
We focus a lot on bridging connections between community members and volunteers. I can confidently say that in every Build, we accomplish this. By the end of each trip, everyone becomes one big family.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 19th, 2021

Conversations with Rose

Rose resides in Mexico with her family and has been staff at LiveDifferent for over 10 years now. At the moment, she oversees everything that happens with our Builds and Academy programs while also staying connected with the communities we work in. She’s an engaging and supportive superstar, and all of us know how lucky we are to have her.

We had the chance to ask her some questions about her work in general, and Mexico specifically. And as always, her positivity shines through.

What do you love about the people you’re surrounded by in Mexico?
The people of Mexico have shown me what it means to be generous with whatever I have, and how to welcome others into my ‘family’. I love how they love a good story and a good laugh.

In your words, what do we hope to accomplish in this area of Mexico?
We hope to give a hand up to families that are struggling to pay for the basics. Rent can take a large chunk of the weekly salary of a field worker. They are not eligible for financing to build a decent house, so many live in a cycle of never-ending rent payments, or put that money towards a piece of land but end up living in houses made of plastic and cardboard. We seek to help provide basic shelter to families that have worked hard to buy land so that their health will improve and so that rent money can be put towards other family needs such as education.

What is your favourite part of your job?
I like that there is a lot of variety, but my favourite part would have to be meeting so many different people. Amazing people that have found their way to the San Quintin valley. People that work hard all day long and then come home with a smile on their face and care for their family. Youth that work hard to raise money to come to Baja California so that they can help someone else. Young adults searching for how they can make a difference in the world. Parents that want to give their children the opportunity to travel and experience what life looks like when we stop focusing on ourselves and our things.

When you think volunteers that you meet, what do you hope they take away from the Build experience?
My hope is that after getting to know a Mexican family, that they would see the intrinsic value of each person that they meet. That they would be encouraged that there are others who also have big hearts and care about our world—that they are not alone. And that there would be a ripple effect [as they] return to their home communities inspired to make a difference.

We have a very common saying that “life is about people”. What does that expression mean to you when it comes to your involvement with the volunteers and community members?
LiveDifferent’s saying of “life is about people” matches Mexican culture. Whether it is building a house, partnering with another organization or talking to one of our cooks, I have learned that I need to develop our relationships first before rushing into the business side of things that motivated our conversation. All of my work responsibilities, from administrative tasks to hosting volunteers, come down to putting people first.

Author: LiveDifferent


Our hearts are heavy…

Update – October 27th 2016

On behalf of LiveDifferent and Cole’s family, we want to thank you for your patience during this tragic time. We want to make sure all updates give a clear picture of where things are at in the Dominican Republic and what the plans are moving forward.

As you can imagine, it has been an extremely tough week for the friends and family of Benjamin Cole Brown and Chuck and Candy Ritzen. At this time, given all collected data and search information, it is believed that the type of plane crash that Cole, Chuck, and Candy were involved in was not a survivable one, and that we will not see the kind of recovery we had all hoped for. This news is not easy to hear, we appreciate that and what it means for family, friends, and yourselves. As we move our focus toward honouring our friend the best way that we know how, please know that Benjamin’s dreams for the Dominican Republic and Haiti have not ended. It is upon us to make sure his tireless efforts were just the beginning of great things to come. Soon, we will have more news about how you can play a role in continuing that work and we thank you, once again, for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. They’ve been overwhelming and truly sustaining.


“We have been so extremely busy this last week walking this very crushing nightmare! It is time now though, to announce that it is with heart breaking sadness that our beloved son Benjamin Cole Brown has very tragically lost his life in a plane crash in the Dominican Republic where he lived & loved so well!❤️ We are continuing to render the services of divers to search & hopefully locate the plane. Grant, myself & our family simply cannot THANK U ALL enough for your love & prayers that have been expressed in a thousand ways!! Everyone who knew Cole loved him.“
— Kathleen Brown, Cole’s Mother

Benjamin Cole Brown dedicated his life to the poor. Join us in carrying on his life’s work.

Find Out More

**Update October 22nd 1:30pm EST

The past few days have taken a lot out of us, and we can’t imagine what Cole’s family is feeling. It has been admittedly difficult to know what to say to everyone. When the plane went down on Monday, the water was stirred up from the storm that day which makes visibility poor (less than 1 metre). It is starting to improve and should continue to over the next few days, which will make it much easier to spot the wreckage and enable recovery efforts. Thank you for your continued support and concern, especially for Cole’s family.

We also want to extend our gratitude to the Dominican Government for their efforts, and the communities that have been volunteering their time to search for their friend. As the recovery efforts continue, our hearts are also wrestling with how to best remember and honour Cole. We want to make sure that the projects and communities that he was so passionate about receive the same level of commitment and support that he gave them.


**Update October 19th 7:00pm EST
We want to express our heartfelt appreciation for all the thoughts and prayers for Cole and his wellbeing. Many of you will be seeing more and more articles and reports being made as the hours pass, and although there are no new developments to relay at this time, please know that search and rescue operations continue to look for Cole, Chuck, and Candy.


**Original Post Oct 18th 2016

Our hearts are heavy this evening as we wait for more news regarding an incident in the Dominican Republic. At this point, we do know that a private plane, carrying Benjamin Cole Brown and two American friends (Chuck and Candy Ritzen), lost radio contact 6km off the coast of Puerto Plata on a return flight from Haiti Monday evening. Debris from the plane has been found and authorities are currently conducting search and rescue operations. We have staff on the ground keeping us as informed as possible. Your thoughts and prayers for all involved, especially the families, are appreciated.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 18th, 2016

What does “Life is About People, not Stuff” mean at Christmas?

LiveDifferent’s motto, ‘Life is About People, not Stuff’, can make us pretty uncomfortable around the holiday season.

It’s uncomfortable because we’re bombarded with messages to buy expensive gifts to prove to people that we care about them. It’s uncomfortable because people literally push, shove and even trample over one another to get the best deals on whatever the hot item is that year. It’s uncomfortable, because most of us have more than enough already, and don’t really need any of the stuff that’s going to be waiting for us under the tree on Christmas morning.

Black Friday Shopping or WWF Wrestlemania?

If we embrace a lifestyle that is about people, not stuff…does that mean that we just don’t do Christmas anymore? That we stand up against the consumerism of it all, and refuse to take part? That we ‘Bah Humbug!’ anyone who tries to give us another pair of socks?

I’ll be honest…I’ve had my moments where I’ve done all of the above, and I certainly dampened everyone’s Christmas Spirit! I even remember one Christmas when I’d just returned home from a LiveDifferent Build, and I was absolutely against getting any presents because I’d just met so many people who had so little. I told everyone in my family that I couldn’t, in good conscience, accept any gifts that year! (Which, as it turns out, wasn’t very helpful to my Mom or Dad, who just wanted to get me something nice to show their appreciation at Christmas!)

It’s hard, because it is true that we really don’t need any more ‘stuff’. It’s true that there are so many people in the world who have very little and could benefit from us spending less on ourselves, and more on causes that can make a real difference. But, it’s also true that if ‘Life is About People, not Stuff’…then at Christmas, and throughout the year, we should be focused on giving to people, instead getting stuff.

There’s an awesome video that’s been making the rounds this year, and I think it shows this perfectly. A group of kids get set up in a social experiment, where they’re given a tough decision to make. Watch it and see what happens!

It’s kinda hard not to tear up when you hear these kids, who have the exact gift they’d asked for sitting right in front of them, choose instead to take a gift for their family over and over again. And when they’re asked why, they say that family is what matters, that they want to give back to their parents who have given them so much, or that they’re excited that they have the opportunity to give something nice to their mom, who hasn’t had a nice gift in a long time.

These kids get it. Life is about people, regardless of stuff. And at Christmas, it’s about making sure the people we love can feel it – that they know that we appreciate them and everything they do for us.

And hey, if you’re really worried about staying away from the consumerism of buying all kinds of unnecessary stuff, there are so many creative gift options you can choose instead! You can hit up Pinterest to find dozens of DIY gift ideas. You can support your local economy and buy something made in your own hometown. You can even make a donation to a charity as your gift, knowing that your gifted support will make a real difference in the life of someone who needs it! Choose a cause you care about, such as your local food bank or shelter, or look up the awesome Christmas gift ideas from your favourite charity, like Charity Water, World Vision, Plan Canada, or even us here at LiveDifferent!

So, go forth and celebrate the Christmas season in full LiveDifferent style, without feeling guilty about it. Instead, be excited that there’s an entire holiday dedicated to showing the people in your life how much you care about them! Yes, that might mean giving a gift that someone does not technically need, but that will show them that they’re loved. In the end, that’s what Christmas is all about!

– Cindy & LiveDifferent

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: December 23rd, 2015

The House that Love Built

Down a dusty street in an outback town in Baja California Mexico, a man named Salvador bought a piece of dry, sandy property. He worked hard to pay for it, and he worked even harder to make that piece of property into something that would be a place of welcome and shade from the hot desert sun. Over the 30 plus years that he has owned that property Salvador has loved his garden and the people in his life. 

Salvador’s first wife died many years after he bought the property. The two of them never had any children together, but always there was the garden. Salvador poured his love and resources into that garden and made an oasis around the little rickety tin and cardboard house he had on that property. 

After his wife died, life began to move on, and he focused on work and his property. 

Until he met Maria. 

Maria had been widowed years earlier as well, and she was in a predicament. Her children lived far away and she didn’t actually have a home to call her own. The two of them met at a seniors event in the town hosted by a local woman named Gina. Gina works and lives to serve the people of her community and her heart holds a special place for the senior citizens within it, ensuring that they have their rights maintained, that their voices are heard, and that they have access to as much as she can help them get from the government. Gina is a light of leadership and hope in a place that sometimes lacks both, and her fingerprint can be found on so many of the families we work with in the area. Maria had been staying with Gina at the time, and as fate would have it, the houses were across the street from each other. 

Soon Salvador and Maria could be seen out together, grinning from ear to ear, clearly enamoured and in love. Theirs was a love born out of wisdom and kindness, and was like a gift earned after many hard years of struggle and loneliness. They were married at the age of 70 and 74, and when we met them last week, they had just recently celebrated their fourth anniversary. 

On the first morning we were on their property and working on what would become they beautiful new home, I stood in the doorway of Maria’s old “kitchen”. In reality, you wouldn’t have even recognized it as such: it had an open clay baking hole, a wooden tortilla press and a cardboard and chipboard countertop that was broken and rickety. Her walls were made of cardboard and a had a rusty tin roof over it to keep the elements out. I had been walking by with a paint brush in my hand and I could smell her tortillas baking. I tucked my head in to say how good it smelled and I was met with her beautiful smile and kind eyes as she held out a fresh, hot tortilla to me to sample. It was delicious. Maria loves to serve others and make them feel at home and she succeeded in every way possible with each of us in a special and unique way.

During our time with them, Salvador was torn between two things: making sure we made the house to his liking (he told us he fully approved!) and to keeping an eye on Maria, answering her every beck and call. He loves her with his words, his actions, and his service. She gives him the same and we were all witnesses to it during our time with them. Every night we would sit and talk about how beautiful it was to watch them together, encouraged by their love and commitment to each other.

As we handed the keys to them on our final day, each of our team had the chance to tell them of our wishes and blessings for their new home. Their previous homes may have only looked like a dry stack of wood, tin and cardboard, but it was the only one they had and it was filled with love, warmth, memories, and kindness. This new home we built them doesn’t hold those memories, but it holds hope and that hope is built on the same substance that their lives have been built on for all this time. It was built with love in mind, and I am confident it will see much love over the years ahead. 

I have heard it said that when you find love the second time around it can be even sweeter. Perhaps it is true.

There is something very beautiful, freeing, and hopeful in that statement. Who knows? Perhaps we are born for one true love, perhaps we are born for more. Whatever the eternal truth is, I know that we are born for what love provides for us. Without it we lack depth, meaning and connection. With it, we soar to limitless heights and depths of our humanity, and it is always worth it. 

Perhaps tonight Salvador will sit in his rocking chair on his new front porch, looking out at his garden and thanking the heavens above that inside that warm, cozy house is a woman who loves him. And I hope that together they will sleep knowing that they are not forgotten.

Christal – LiveDifferent Co-Founder

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: January 20th, 2014

Road Team Assistant Position Available Immediately (January 8th – June 7th, 2013)


LiveDifferent is looking for a mature and motivated individual to assist one of our Road Team Managers to lead a team of 10 people all across Canada, facilitating Motivational Productions in High Schools.


  • Ability to lead and direct in a team environment and work well with others.
  • Ability to think strategically and see the bigger picture.
  • Public speaking (an asset but not required).
  • General computer skills (Experience with SalesForce and Excel/Numbers are especially beneficial).
  • Highly self-starting. Always looking for and initiating opportunities for positive change.
  • First Aid Certificate.
  • Any previous traveling experience is an asset.
  • Excellent interpersonal and managerial skills.
  • Education and/or successful experience working with different cultures.
  • Commitment to the vision and values of LiveDifferent. 

Main Responsibilities:

  • Represent LiveDifferent in a positive, respectful, and professional manner at all times.
  • Team Administration
    • Organizing meals and accommodations for team while on tour.
    • Liaison between High Schools and LiveDifferent team.
    • Logging reports, communications, and logistics so information is always available for entire LiveDifferent team.
  • Team Leading
    • In partnership with Road Team Manager, effectively lead and oversee all team dynamics and logistics for tour.
    • Encourage, mentor, and promote healthy lifestyle on the team, and positive decision-making skills in all situations.


  • In addition to a small bi-weekly stipend, LiveDifferent provides free housing while local in Hamilton (you provide your own food),  and LiveDifferent covers food and lodging costs while touring.

If interested, please forward cover letter and resume to Charles Roberts ( before 3pm, Friday December 21, 2012.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: December 19th, 2012

A Haitian Vacation – Frantzo’s first visit to Canada

This November 15th Frantzo Begin left the island of Hispaniola for the first time to see the vast country of Canada. There were many firsts on this trip for Frantzo…his first time:

  • seeing snow

  • flying for longer then 45minutes (Did you know that Vancouver is further from Toronto then Puerto Plata?!)

  • eating sushi

  • being up as high as the CN Tower

  • having a surprise party!

  • seeing an Imax movie: James Bond – Skyfall

  • going to a hockey game (no not NHL but a great game! Thank you Jon and Christy!)

  • attending the WestJet Christmas Party

  • visiting the Stanley Park Aquarium with our friends from Boston Pizza

  • seeing the rocky mountains in Banff and riding up in the gondola

  • doing the flight simulator at WestJet and landing the plane (Cole and I make a good team)

  • viewing a LiveDifferent presentation


We asked Frantzo a few questions about his visit here, and wanted to share his answers with you.


What did you learn about Canada on your visit?

I learned just how friendly and welcoming Canadians are. The road systems are so much more organized than back home. I loved the food and think I gained some weight! I also learned that it can get very, very, cold (Calgary brrrr!) Canada is so big and every city I visited was very different from the other. 



What was your favourite experience?

I had so many experiences on this trip and don’t know how to pick a favourite, but if I have to pick just one I would say going to the WestJet Christmas party. There were so many people there and the circus performers that were the entertainment for the night were amazing. But more than that, I loved seeing everyone I had met on past Hero Holidays. It was so nice for me to visit them in their own country, and I felt so loved!



What did you think of SNOW? How will you describe it to your family back home?

Snow seems to be a normal thing to accompany the cold. It kinda makes the cold seem ok. I will tell my family to open the fridge and look at that ice that collects in the back when it gets cold. Maybe I will break some off and throw a snow ball at my son Gracely!



What have you learned on this trip that will help you as you continue to work with LiveDifferent in the Dominican Republic and Haiti?

It was amazing to come to Canada and I felt very blessed. Seeing the LiveDifferent office and getting to see one of their presentations at a high school really helped me understand more of what we do as an organization. I am so happy to belong to such an amazing organization like LiveDifferent who loves and takes care of their employees and it makes me want to work hard to represent them in the best way possible. I am proud of my job and love doing the work we do!


Anything else you want to say?

Honestly, many papers and pens would be needed to describe my happiness and my thanks to everyone who make my trip possible. There are no words that can express my gratitude to you all. You made me feel so welcome and cared for. It was an honour and a pleasure for me to be around each one of you these past three weeks. I hope to return the hospitality if you come to visit Haiti or the DR. If I didn’t get to see you, don’t worry, I will be back in January (8 – 17) for the LiveDifferent staff retreat and to visit some more. I’m excited to see Niagara Falls and do some skiing for the first time too!


– Frantzo, Nettie, and Cole – Hero Holiday Dominican Republic and Haiti Staff


Author: LiveDifferent

Date: December 13th, 2012

Haiti School Opening: How You Can Help!

I remember so many first days of school, (come on they are not that far back for me to remember!) I remember the week before sharpening all my pencils, writing my name on all my binders, and picking out the outfit I would wear on my first day back. That day after Labour Day generally had a light crispness to it with the promise of fall about to begin and an excitement. My mom even use to sing the Christmas carol “It’s the most wonderful time of year”!  But the thing I remember most is being excited to see all my friends again after a long but fun summer and to start playing school sports. Being educated was a given, something I really did take for granted. You often do not see the value in it until you meet someone who does have the same privileges. 


Having a primary education is listed in the UN’s Rights of a Child, and yet every year approximately 67 million children worldwide, many of them girls, do not receive this opportunity. Three years ago, when LiveDifferent’s Cole Brown (our Manager of Operation in the DR and Haiti) visited the mountain community of Calvaire in Cap Haitien, he found children who were a part of this astronomical number of uneducated children. He knew that LiveDifferent needed to help and set out with the plans to help Calvaire. The first thing LiveDifferent did was to buy the land for the school. The crazy thing was that to the naked eye it looked like we had just bought the side of a mountain, but as construction began, our work crews dug right in (literally!) and built a beautiful retaining wall and it all came into better focus. 

retaining wall

Construction began May 2010 and our first group of Hero Holidayers from Ft. McKay Native Reserve were there to do it! Since that first trip we have had 3 other teams come and complete 2 classrooms, washrooms, and an office (currently being used as another classroom). Construction has not been easy and is even primitive at times. For example, instead of using heavy machinery, our crews have dug and lit fires under boulders to make them easier to chip away. Nothing gets wasted though, because these rocks have been used to build the retaining walls around the school. Water for this project had to be brought by hand, mostly from a natural spring at the base of the mountain. On our trips, for fun, we get our volunteers who are up for it physically to do a “water run”. It’s hard! I had to do it with only half a bucket and still came to the school huffing and puffing as little children passed me with full buckets on their way to their homes (these kids do this up to 12 times a day!). Despite all these challenges and daunting tasks LiveDifferent kept focused on the fact that our school would help in educating this community and aid in ending their cycle of poverty. Finally, in October of 2011, we began our first year of school!!! 


This October 9, 2012 was the first day of our second year running classes. LiveDifferent partners with a Haitian charity called A.S.E.E.D.H. and this group oversees the day to day running of the school. They and our teachers believe in education and its strength in ending the cycle of poverty. It is so evident when you see them in action at the school how much they love and care for each of the students. Currently, we have 177 students enrolled for this 2012/2013 school year. There are grades JR Kindergarten to 5 being taught by 6 teachers, 1 Principal, 1 Administrator, and 2 Educational Assistants. Each child wears an adorable yellow and green uniforms. The subjects taught to the students are: Creole & French, math, social studies, science. 


This school is truly making a difference in this poor mountainside community! Education is a key part in fighting poverty. Haiti may seem so far away from Canada, and sometimes you want to help but don’t know how. Don’t worry, it’s easy to help! Here are some suggestions: 

  1. Partner with LiveDifferent and donate to our school. There are lots of operating costs associated with the school (teacher’s salaries, books, uniforms, supplies, water). Plus we need to build more classrooms too! /donate
  2. Come on our May 2013 Haiti trip. Meet the children and be a physical part of building new classrooms. Registration and trip info:/haiti
  3. Tell others about what we are doing! This is a story worth telling! Share this story on facebook or email it to your friends!

These children are valuable. Their future is valuable and we want to see them become the men and women they were meant to be, and you can be a part of helping that happen!

Nettie Brown
Manager of Operations for Dominican Republic and Haiti


Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 25th, 2012

Pic of the Week – Haiti School is Open!

Our school in Haiti is now open for the year! 177 little ones are all ready in their uniforms excited for the opportunity to receive a good education!

haiti school

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 11th, 2012

Why Laura Rocks!

Laura Rocoski has been one of our summer staff members this year. Laura rocks! Partly because she makes great eggplant soup (totally serious on that one!), partly because she has this awesome “I totally sound confident” phone voice, and definitely because she dreamed up an idea and made it happen.

Earlier this year Laura came to us with a proposal for a government grant to work for us for the summer. Laura had been a part of our LiveDifferent Academy and Hero Holidays in the past, and she knew she wanted to stay connected. Through her experience with LiveDifferent, she is now studying community development and focusing on international opportunities in school, and she wanted to take some of that goodness and invest it into LiveDifferent for the summer.

LIttle Miss Rockonski

Not every one is able to do what Laura did, but we want the world to know how much we have appreciated her passion, enthusiasm and her stellar ideas and skills that she put to work during her time with us.

Laura, on behalf of everyone in LiveDifferent and all the lives you have been a part of changing, we want to say THANKS! You are a rock star of compassion and a voice for change. All the best in the year ahead!

Much love,


Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 29th, 2012