His humanitarian missions to Honduras as a Gilmour student may have been a catalyst for Alex Kelly ’03 to serve others. Today, the alum is a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Children, Youth and Families Program in Costa Rica. He has been there since last September and lives in Barrio INVU Las Canas, located on the Inter-American Highway, which connects North and South America through the Central American isthmus. “My work focuses on children and youth, but really encompasses the whole community,” Alex says. Since 1999, the town has grown from a shanty community with no electricity and only two taps for water to 5,000 residents. “Starting in the late 1990s, the government housing agency INVU started to build single-family homes,” the volunteer says. The town opened its school in 1999 and now has 600 students from kindergarten through grade 6.
Even with these improvements, the barrio faces serious problems with drugs, violence, lack of education and opportunities, and poverty. Alex’s work involves expanding children’s horizons and preparing them to succeed. Many of the children have never been outside the Las Canas area, so he is working with the sixth graders painting a map of the world on the school and studying world issues.
Recently, he began a project to raise the self-esteem of women and girls in the community by organizing a cooperative to sell bags in Costa Rica to tourists. “The women are the real drivers of change for the community. By empowering them we greatly improve the community at large,” he explains. Even though it seems easier at times for Alex to take charge of what needs to be done, he knows this will not help the community in the long run. “It is very important to have the community behind you, leading the way on any big project because eventually I will leave,” he says.
“If the townspeople gain skills, the knowledge will remain there.” The Gilmour graduate traces his interest in community service to his four trips to Honduras – once as a student, twice with Gilmour alumni, and once alone. He believes his experience at the Academy taught him to pursue what he wanted to do and armed him with the tenacity and conviction to do it. This was reinforced at the University of Dayton, where Alex earned his bachelor’s degree in political science last year. While living in Dayton, he helped head the Dakota Center Homework Club in the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood and was honored with an award for his work.
Building on his experience on Gilmour’s Boys Varsity Soccer Team, Alex plays a good deal of soccer in Costa Rica and runs weekly games for younger and older children on a makeshift field in Las Canas. “One of the biggest challenges is the lack of a field or any grass, so we play on pavement and it changes the game completely,” he notes. In his spare time, he reads and sightsees. Although living in Central America does not afford him much time to interact with his friends from Gilmour, he points out that it is possible to drive to visit him, though he warns that on their return to the United States one group of Peace Corps volunteers took a bus through Mexico and the trip took 54 days.