“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” -Dr. Seuss
For the second year in a row, Rich Valadez, a bartender at El Gaucho Bellevue, gave up a week of his normal life of serving fine food and wine, in one of our beautiful and air-conditioned restaurants, to volunteer at an orphanage in an extremely poor area in Mexico, about 90 minutes south of Tijuana. He joined others from his church in Gig Harbor to help kids, aged 4-18 years of age, at two different orphanages, “escape from reality.”
Spoiling them, Rich explained, was simply spending time with them, helping with everyday chores, cooking, taking them on special outings, and completing special projects that would make their life a little more enjoyable.
Rich helped out at Rancho Milagro, a state-run children’s facility near Ensenada, a dilapidated port town in a budding wine region. The orphanage has only two full time care-takers, a husband and wife team, which means the kids rely on and take care of each other. Even though it’s technically a state-run facility, the orphanage is completely dependent on donations.
“They each have chores every day to keep their ‘home’ running,” says Rich. “There are 4-year-olds who sweep and clean every day. The older kids will garden and cook, and take care of their goat. Everyone pitches in.”
Part of the requirement for Rich and members of his team to be a part of the mission trip, was to donate certain staples and clothing to take with them. Through rationing the rice, beans, vegetable oil, and similar staples, Rich’s group was able to feed over 200 families. “One 2-pound bag each of rice and beans, feeds a family of 4 for a month,” Rich explains. “They make it stretch. It’s amazing at how much they can do with so little.”
Additionally, Rich and his team took supplies with them to build a basketball court, and once there they were also able to build a volleyball court and zip line. Rich kept busy fixing bikes; there were 5 donated, but they were non-working bikes when he arrived. He cannibalized one to fix the other four.
This was Rich’s second year of volunteering at Rancho Milagro, and the 4th year for his wife, Chelsea. For Rich the best part of this year’s trip was reconnecting with 10-year-old Antonio Perez, whom he met last year. Antonio had shown a great interest in judo, so Rich donated a little money every month for him to follow that passion. Rich learned on his recent visit that Antonio won a country-wide tournament and will be traveling to Brazil later this year to represent Mexico in a judo tournament.
“It’s amazing to see this kid, in the circumstances he’s in, to rise above it all and just kill it,” Rich said. “He’s only 10 and is going to represent his country for his age group. It’s mind-blowing.”
Rich plans to make the trip to Rancho Milagro every year. “Last year I was there for my 40th birthday, and it was the best way to celebrate. This year I was there during the 4th of July, and it hit home for me that, simply because of where I was born, it allows me to do things for others that they don’t have the freedom to do. I was in the army for 9 years, and patriotism never hit me like it did at Rancho Milagro.”
The trip for Rich is also about keeping everything in perspective: “I’m used to selling $300 bottles of wine, but at Rancho Milagro a bag of rice and beans means everything to them.”
Interested in helping Rancho Milagro? You can send donations to the local nonprofit it supports: Preparing for Rain Ministries, P.O. Box 2226, Gig Harbor, WA 98335.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
We are fortunate to have Rich on our El Gaucho team, who is helping his community and the world be a better place.