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Isabel Vasquez R.D.N., ’19

Isabel Vasquez R.D.N., ’19, was weighing the differences among a handful of universities with a focused Nutrition curriculum as she evaluated her different options for college. “I knew I was interested in nutrition, so that was the big reason why La Salle was worth looking at,” she recalls.  But, there was something special about La Salle University. “I immediately felt that sense of community that made me feel at home from my first time on campus,” Vasquez says.  When she enrolled at La Salle, Isabel expected to find success in the top-rated Nutrition program.  Her expectations were met; she excelled in the curriculum and found success in the esteemed Coordinated Program in Dietetics.  Internships and a path to becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (R.D.N.) followed.  But La Salle provided more than an exceptional education in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences.  In a tale all too familiar for Explorers, opportunities to participate in the Lasallian Immersion and Volunteer Experience (LIVE) guided Isabel to a new passion for social justice.  This newly inspired passion would fuel Isabel’s post-graduate dreams, which are ready to take shape as she embarks on a new adventure of service to help the people of Angostura, Dominican Republic as a part of the non-profit organization, Ondawave.

During her freshman year, Isabel immediately became active in the LIVE trips which became a mainstay through her four years at La Salle.  For Isabel, service at La Salle was different than her previous experiences.  “While service was valuable in high school, it wasn’t enforced in the same way that it is at La Salle.  It was more of just a box to check rather than something to be invested in,” says Vasquez.  Her freshman year presented the opportunity to take part in the LIVE trip to the Dominican Republic.  Isabel identified resonantly with the Lasallian value of community during this trip as her grandparents were born and raised in the Dominican Republic.  Following that inaugural trip for her, Isabel’s eyes were opened to the power of Lasallian service.  What started as a way to give back during her time as an undergrad transformed into a new vocation.  Upon graduating from La Salle in 2019, Isabel knew that she was on the precipice of something special.

As Isabel was working on her degree at La Salle, other La Salle alumni were in the midst of developing a new organization with Lasallian values at the heart of their mission.  Ondawave, launched in 2015, was founded by seven La Salle University graduates and is currently under the direction of Betsy Long.  Ondawave is a non-profit organization dedicated to, “co-developing sustainable, community owned programs to alleviate the cycle of poverty for the people of Angostura, Dominican Republic,” states the Ondawave website.  Now in its fifth year of operation, Ondawave has engaged the community of Angostura through a different approach to service.  The leaders of the Angostura community determine the projects and programs they need to propel the town forward.  The Ondawave team then assists the community achieve their goals through hands-off advising.  As Paul Dunne, ’14, an Ondawave co-founder explains, “If Angostura no longer needs to work with Ondawave, Ondawave has fulfilled its mission.”

Isabel graduated from La Salle University with a degree in Nutrition and a renewed vision for her post-graduate life.  Following her service experiences at La Salle, Isabel knew there was still more of an impact that she could make.  “I discovered so much about myself and the world.  I wanted to make a greater impact than I could in a week’s trip and do something with the spark La Salle inspired,” says Vasquez.  Returning to assist those in need in the Dominican Republic was at the forefront of her mind.  To her, going back to help in the Dominican Republic was a way to honor her grandparents who made great sacrifices for her family.  “I want to help people who are in the same position as my grandparents were,” she says.  Fortunately for Isabel, her La Salle community would be there to help her make an immediate impact in the Dominican Republic.

Isabel looked all over for different programs servicing the Dominican Republic.  She knew that Ondawave serviced a town near where her grandparents were raised.  Her friends from La Salle, Ciara Morales, ’17, and Lindsay Hull, ’17, were part of the Ondawave team so she sent Ciara a text asking about long-term volunteering to see if she had any insight.  “Ciara responded immediately, saying they just had a team meeting at which they decided to put people on the ground in the Dominican Republic for the first time in organizational history.  She kept saying how crazy it was I texted her at that exact moment,” she laughs.  Just like that, Isabel found her path.

Beginning on January 14, 2020, Isabel and another Ondawave team member will be living in the Dominican Republic for six months to work in Angostura as In-Country Coordinators.  Their goal is to accelerate the progress of organizational goals, specifically working with the government to get the town medical clinic recognized and operational.  Currently, those seeking emergency or simply adequate health care have to cross two rivers by donkey, motorcycle, car, or foot.  This is a critical endeavor for the people of Angostura to simply provide them the right of healthcare.  Through the town leadership of Angostura and the guidance of Isabel and her Ondawave team, there is no doubt that this necessary step for the community will become a reality.

Isabel reflected how influential La Salle University and its teachings of service inspired her Ondawave team.  “We all felt faith, service and community during our time at La Salle.  Ondawave expands on the seeds that La Salle planted when we were students,” says Vasquez.  Ondawave especially builds on the foundation of service and community, specifically for improving the lives of those living in Angostura.  Ondawave’s approach of working towards social justice and acknowledging how it differs from charity ensures that they will not do for the poor what the poor cannot do for themselves.  The respect and love that they show for the town has made a direct impact on the community and improved the lives of its residents.  There is more work to be done, but because of the beautiful partnership established between Ondawave and Angostura there is nothing they can not accomplish together.  What began as a non-profit organization and small town working together has blossomed into a family.

Following her six months in Angostura, Isabel wants to take it one step at a time.  “I can only imagine how much I am going to grow and change over the next six months,” she explains.  Moving forward she hopes to be able to blend her passion for social justice with dietetics.  Right now she just wants to focus on the opportunity in front of her.  “[The] goal is to become a part of the community.  It is a joint effort between us and the people of Angostura.  More things will come up that we see as opportunities for us to partner together to help them,” she says.  Isabel is on the exciting path of truly living the Lasallian values that La Salle University instills in its students.  Through working with Ondawave and the people of Angostura, she will have the opportunity to further instill those values into a larger community.  No matter where Isabel Vasquez goes next, a community rooted in social justice is surely to follow.

-Tom England, ’16