Kelci Tookey is a 19-year-old dancing machine – literally. Her family is full of successful dancers, and she’s been dancing for seventeen years, four of which she has also been teaching. She’s extremely grateful for being able to take part in something she loves, and is excited to make her dream of working for a dance company come true. Even more impressive, last year at only 18-years-old, Kelci challenged herself to dream even bigger and change the lives of people she’s never even met.
Last January, Kelci’s friend asked her to accompany her on a trip to the Dominican Republic, but not your average tourist trip to lounge around on a resort and soak up the sun. As part of a humanitarian trip with Live Different, Kelci would be building a house for a local family. She immediately loved the idea, “I’ve always had an inkling that I wanted to do something like this. I think I was 11 years old when I went up to my dad with a World Vision poster and asked him if we could sponsor a child… I knew that I needed to do more.”
Kelci asked her parents for this trip be her 18th birthday present. “I never actually thought how much it would change me, but I thought it would be a fun thing to do and it would be something that would make a difference in my life.” After weeks of convincing, her parents agreed to let her go.
In July, Kelci and her friend began their adventure to the Dominican Republic. They met up with 80 other students from across Canada in Toronto, were split into teams and were introduced to their families. “We were assigned the Deela family… Unfortunately, [their] entire community floods daily because they are right at the bottom of the hill in Agua Negra, [which] loosely translated means black water. It’s because all of the water, all of the sewage, everything from the community runs down to the bottom of the hill where this community is based… When I was introduced to our family, they were living in a foot of water and they had so many rashes and skin problems. Something we think is unbearable is everyday life for them.”
The team spent 10 days building the family a fully furnished house 4 feet off the ground. They spent their last day celebrating with the community, “The kids were absolutely thrilled that they got a little sliver of cake and little tiny sip of pop, and it was such a special moment with all of them.”
After heading back to Canada, Kelci experienced reverse culture shock. On her trip, she had witnessed a little boy picking up edible scraps from a garbage dump because his family didn’t have enough money for food. A last-minute trip to the grocery store on the way home showed Kelci how much the trip affected her, “I walked into the grocery store and I look around and I see on one side – bless their hearts because they know no different – a little girl that is begging her mom to buy the sugar cookies and is having a hissy fit because she can’t get the sugar cookies, or just my mom just throwing things in the basket because we’re fortunate enough and it’s just what we do. I turn to my mom and I say, ‘I need out… I’m going to go wait in the car. I can’t be in here right now.’”
After about a month, Kelci realized that she could do more for this community. She told her parents she wanted to put on a benefit concert, “I don’t know if 100 people will show up. I don’t know if I’ll raise $2. I don’t know if I’ll raise $5000. I just want to try to do it.” After getting the support from her parents, she made a post on Facebook asking if anyone was willing to help her. Over 200 people came forward. In addition, the support from her siblings helped Kelci take the event to the next level, while still keeping it her dream, “They’ve always been in the background, which is really special because they could’ve easily made this very successful and I did it on my own.”
The Building Dreams Benefit Concert took place on January 25th and raised $23,000 through the live show, various raffles and 50/50s, a silent auction, and the sale of bracelets and T-shirts. This number far exceed her goal of $6,000 – enough to cover the cost of building a home. 12 people had signed up to help her build this home, each paying their own trip expenses. Kelci sat down with her team, looked at the $23,000, the 12 names on her list, and the $2,500 per person it would take to get to the Dominican Republic. Kelci decided to dream bigger – $44,000 to be exact. Her team brainstormed every single possible fundraiser they could from selling gift certificates to asking for corporate and individual donations.
The team raised $45,000. “Our home is paid for, (and) our 13 members are able to go to the Dominican Republic…” They also made a $1,000 donation to buy the family furniture, groceries, and new shoes.
Kelci’s team left on July 17th to build a home for the Garcia family. “I thought that I may be able to build a home or maybe I’d be able to get myself over there, or maybe I’d be able to bring a couple friends, but I never, ever thought that I’d be able to bring 13 people… With all the love and support I got from my family and from my friends and from extended members and from strangers… together with all of their help and all of their support, we’re going to do it. We’re going to build dreams.”