HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Preparing for their annual tropical getaway is a routine will never tire Mike and Maria De Riso, but their escapes are never about sun and fun at the beach.
The couple from Henrico immerses themselves in Caribbean culture; from drinking Haitian coffee to practicing Creole.
“I’m a lucky woman. I go to a Caribbean Island every year,” says Maria.
“There is no running water. There is no electricity. And you have to be careful of the food.’”
Maria and Mike’s vacation is dedicated to helping others in Haiti.
Holding photos of many of the young Haitians they know Mike says, “This is the reason I go back. The kids. These kids. I see their eyes and they’re just so precious.”
For over a decade, the DeRiso’s non-profit organization, Good Neighbors International, has impacted thousands in the town Ouanaminthe, where abject poverty is rampant.
“They’re just trying to go day to day and it really does touch your heart,” Maria says.
Their organization fosters education by supporting teachers, who help hundreds of young kids graduate.
“Education. Educate the kids so they have a shot. Let’s educate the kids so they can help themselves,” Mike says.
The couple also boosts economic development by providing micro-loans to budding business leaders.
On their agenda during their next two-week trip is to dig new wells and introduce food programs, like growing fresh vegetables.
“Everything we raise goes straight to Haiti because that is where our heart is,” says Maria.
The DeRiso’s who donate their own money and rely on the generosity of others say the return on their investment is priceless.
“My life has never been the same,” says Mike. “I look at my life so differently today because of my experience in Haiti.
Mike and Maria say they can’t solve all of the country’s problems, but they can brighten the days of people in need with simple acts of kindness.
The couple’s goal is to lending a hand up and not a hand out.
“We believe in teaching a man to fish and let him fish for himself,” says Mike.
The DeRisos are counting the days till they can return to their beloved second home, when they embark on another Caribbean vacation rich in reward.
“Because they’ve become our friends and family,” says Mike. “I could never walk away from my friends down there. They’ve become such a part of our lives.”
Upcoming projects include building desks for teachers at the local school and helping raise funds for an open-air truck to serve as a school bus.
One hundred percent of all donations are spent on the people of Haiti through Good Neighbors International.
If you would like to help Mike and Maria, click here.
If you know of someone who you would like to see featured in “Heroes Among Us” email Reporter Greg McQuade.