LATIN AMERICA AMATEUR
LAAC: Local Students Get Rare Opportunity as Scoring Volunteers January 15, 2016 | La Romana, Dominican Republic By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Volunteer scoring coordinator Jefte Rijo (left) and Ambar Florencio are two local students playing key roles at this week's LAAC. (Enrique Berardi/LAAC) 

Full Coverage: Latin America Amateur Championship

Jefte Rijo, 17, explained his responsibilities this week at the Latin America Amateur Championship on the Teeth of the Dog Course at Casa de Campo.

“I am the control,” said Rijo, a high school junior. “If there’s a problem with our scorers, with the tablets they use or with the Internet, I have to know about it. I have to make sure the process is working well.”

Rijo is part of a contingent of more than 60 students at the LAAC from Hogar del Nino, a school in nearby La Romana. Rijo’s charges, all high-school age students, are serving as walking scorers for the 18 three-player groupings in Thursday and Friday’s morning rounds, inputting the scores on tablets connected to the scoring operations center.

“I always liked soccer, but this is the first sport where I’ve been really carried away with it,” said Rijo, who uses a headset to make sure his fellow students are on track. “When I talk to them, they listen to me. When we’re at school, we’re friends, but when we’re here, we’re workers.”

This is not a common opportunity for the students from Hogar del Nino, a school that was founded in 1982 to provide underprivileged children with basic needs and with the opportunity, through education, to improve their lives and break the cycle of poverty.

Local students Emanuel Silvestre (left) and Yrismer Gonzalez serve as volunteer walking scorers during the LAAC at Casa de Campo. (Enrique Berardi/LAAC)

Rijo’s lead role this week evolved out of a previous school trip to Casa de Campo last spring, when he served as a walking scorer for the DR Open, a tournament on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

“That was my first experience with golf,” said Rijo, whose mother has worked in the golf shop at Casa de Campo for nearly 20 years. “The first day was really hard – I had never walked for five hours before. It’s a really big course. This year, I felt like I could help more, not just the people playing in the tournament, but the volunteers as well.”

Hogar del Nino is a 15-minute drive from Casa de Campo, but there is a much wider gap separating the students from the lifestyle of this 7,000-acre resort. The school’s 1,500 children range in age from 3 months to high-school age, and most of them are children of workers from the city’s sugar mill, hotels or its free-trade-zone factories.

The school, which offers health services and up to three meals a day to the children, has apprentice programs for plumbers, electricians and other training workshops. Six students per year receive full college scholarships.

“We have volunteers at our school from many countries,” said Inexis Zapata, who is the coordinator of the scholarship and volunteer program. “Right now, students from Fairleigh Dickinson University [in New Jersey] are here. We provide students with opportunities they would not have in another place. They learn English, art, music… this tournament is another opportunity for them.”

Emmanuel Silvestre, 16, an 11th-grader who is serving as a walking scorer this week, had the same role for the DR Open.

“This is such a big place,” marveled Silvestre, the second of three brothers, whose favorite subject is English. “I had seen some golf games on TV before, but had never been out there before. It was a big tournament.”

Larissa Chassman, 24, a native of Bow, N.H., first visited the school on an alternative spring-break service trip in her senior year at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. She is now in her second year teaching high-school English and helped supervise the field trip to Casa de Campo.

“Stonehill also has a post-graduate service program with the Hogar,” said Chassman, who majored in Spanish and international studies. “It’s for one year, with the option to extend it for another year, which I did. I love going to work every day, getting to see the students and seeing the amazing things that they can do. It blows my mind every day.”

For Idaliza Rodrigues, 15, a 10th-grader, the LAAC experience allows her to put her favorite subject into practice. “I love math,” said Rodrigues, who has two older brothers. “I want to go to school for engineering.”

Rodrigues is a talented volleyball player, but golf is intriguing to her. “I would really like to try to learn it. It’s very tranquil out there.”

For Rijo, there is no doubt about whether the game will be part of his future.

“When I was a kid, I said maybe I want to be doctor or lawyer, but I didn’t really know,” he said. “Most teenagers still don’t know what they want to do, but this opportunity has opened my eyes. I am pretty sure I want to continue to do this for the rest of my life. If I get the opportunity, I’m going to do it.”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.