“Keep your head up, you’re Cigar Family.” A young boy’s counsel, trying to cheer up a pouting schoolmate by pointing out how privileged he is in life, has become a common saying – not only among the people behind the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation (CFCF), but also among the contributors who come to visit the foundation’s yearly get together.
The Cigar Family Community Complex is the vision of Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr. of the Arturo Fuente Cigar Company, his friend and business partner Eric Newman, of the J.C. Newman Cigar Company, and David Luther, executive director of the Dominican Institute for Integral Development (IDDI). It was founded after an experience Carlito had had at the site of his new tobacco farm: “We used to host lunches there,” he explains “and every time an automobile drove into the area dozens of children would run up to the car. They were dirty, had no shoes and swollen bellies from parasites and they’d ask for money.
The Cigar Family Charitable Foundation has changed the lives of thousands of children and their families in the Dominican Republic.
It was a sad feeling, and strange for visitors. On their next visits they would bring crayons, pencils and other material for school. What I didn’t know at the time was that there were no schools.” A pivotal moment was when Dominican baseball star Sammy Sosa came to one of these lunches.
“After the visit, he sent the children gloves and baseballs. A month later a kid came to me and asked for another glove because his dad had pawned it to buy rum. That’s when it hit me,” says Carlito. “
You can’t change a kid’s life just by bringing him pencils when there are no schools, and you can’t change a kid by giving him a glove, because you’re only teaching them to ask for more. The only way is through education.”
The Cigar Family Community Complex started with an elementary school. A year later, the medical centre was built, and since then, it has evolved into a project that reaches out to 20 communities with a total of 237,000 people. A high school was built, as was a baseball field and a basketball court. The school children can now take classes in dancing, music and different sports.
They even grow their own organic food, and the result is that 90 percent of the students go on to higher forms of education. “It changed their whole zest for life,” Carlito continues. “They didn’t use to have any dreams, but now they’re ambitious and know they have an option.”
Eric Newman tells another episode: “This one kid, Nelson, wanted to be a doctor but his mom told him to get that idea out of his head. ‘People like us don’t become doctors,’ she told him. ‘If you’re lucky, you’ll be working in the tobacco fields’. Not that there’s anything wrong with working in the fields, but Nelson never lost his dream and now he’s studying to become a neurosurgeon.”
The only way is through education.
The project has had a great impact on the whole area. Not only do the students get a good education, they also get access to medical healthcare. “The main keys to our success are two,” David Luther says. “It’s continuity and that we don’t just focus on academic achievements but also on community development. A total of one million dollars is invested in the project each year, including all outside costs like school buses and the work in the surrounding villages.
What sets the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation apart from other not-for-profit organizations is that all contributed funds go directly to charitable purposes, whereas all administrative, legal, accounting and fund-raising costs are underwritten by the Fuente and Newman families.”
The Cigar Family has about 20,000 members. One of them is Jeremy “Mic” McGrath from Saco, Maine. He’s visiting the event for the second year, and has organized a pledge drive with his fellow motorcycle-riders at the Maine Masonic Riders Association.
“The first time I visited this complex I left with a passion to help these kids, so we all drove from a shop in Saco to another in Epping, New Hampshire,” says McGrath. “Everyone gave 20 dollars and we raised 1,000 dollars in total. This year we’re going for 3,000 dollars, which would sponsor two children for one year.”
We now have around 450 students.
“There are 10,000 kids in this area who need to go to school,” Carlito concludes. We now have around 450 students, and my dad recently told me that he wants to see a thousand before he passes on. We also want to do environmental work, build houses, schools and hotels. We want to transform the world.” The United Nations has recognized the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation as a model for other developing countries and communities. Children who once only aspired to be farm workers are now setting their sights on becoming architects, scientists and diplomats.
Education has given the whole community a sense of hope and new meaning to life.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2014. Read more