Joan and Beatriz Mateo may not have known it at the time, but when each began volunteering for the nonprofit Service for Peace, it would change the course of their lives.
Theirs is a story of love and commitment—to each other and to leading communities through Service for Peace.
The organization offers training, resources and volunteers to citizens who want to make sustainable changes in their neighborhoods. Classrooms have been built to improve schools, levees constructed to prevent flooding and small businesses launched to help families support themselves, among other projects.
For their passion to lead and empower others, Joan and Beatriz, who are Amway Independent Business Owners (IBOs), are being honored with the Amway Family Hero Award for Leadership.
It’s one of four Amway Hero Awards given to honor IBOs who build stronger communities and make positive impacts in the lives of others.
Volunteers who fell in love
Joan was just 17 when he began volunteering for Service for Peace. “I fell in love with the children and the aging adults while I was serving them and saw a change in them—even if it was just a smile,” Joan said. “To me, being a volunteer was an extraordinary experience.”
He met Beatriz in college a few years later and asked her to help with a Service for Peace fundraiser. She said yes. The couple’s personalities clicked. They kept volunteering together and fell in love along the way.
Service for Peace continued to play an important role in their lives. When the organization decided to permanently establish in the Dominican Republic, Joan became its executive director; later, Beatriz became communication manager.
She had originally planned to work for a private company after graduation, but shifting her energy toward social service helped her gain perspective.
“It was being in the environment of volunteering and helping others that gave me the realization that I truly had a different calling,” Beatriz said.
Leading, teaching, inspiring
Joan and Beatriz’s volunteering paved the way for the work they now do leading communities through life-changing projects.
It’s challenging work, but they love it—especially when it makes a difference in the lives of families.
An example is a Service for Peace project in the Dominican Republic community of La Rosa. Obtaining clean water is a challenge for the 500 residents there, with some people walking long distances and having to carry water in buckets back to their homes.
Through Service for Peace, Joan and Beatriz helped the community identify leaders, develop a plan and acquire resources to build a water tank for the entire community. Empowering local leaders is an important part of the work, making the project sustainable for the long term.
“We guide them and show them how to do things, but not do things for them,” Beatriz said. “That way they value more what they have. They can do something for their community and inspire more people to do the same.”
Empowering future leaders
It’s exciting, the Mateos said, to lead a group of people by mentoring and encouraging them. “That motivates me, to see that there are people who want to get ahead, but don’t have the tools to do it,” Joan said.
He cited the Service for Peace cocoa cooperative project in the Dominican Republic’s El Cidral neighborhood. Women who had been earning less than a dollar per month are now earning more than $20 a month creating cocoa products.
“They are the ones identifying their own needs and setting out to work on them, and when I see that, it fills me with a lot of energy and passion,” Joan said. “When they see the work done, they say it was Service for Peace. But they are the ones who did it—that makes me happy.”
Oscar Oviedo, a friend and mentor to the couple, said Joan and Beatriz have a special way of making a difference. “They both have a love for service and giving themselves to others,” Oscar said. “It’s quite inspiring to see how their work impacts entire families.”
Inspired by community
Joan and Beatriz make it a point to get to know the families they work with. “When we go into a community, it’s not just a meeting,” Joan said. “We go inside their house, eat with them, talk with them about what their dreams are and what they want for their kids.”
Beatriz said it’s especially wonderful when kids witness changes in a community, because it teaches them they have the power to change their future.
“It’s like we’re creating little leaders,” she said. “You never know who that person will be in the future. Maybe we’ll have a future president—someone who will make a big impact.”
Building those relationships is so gratifying, Beatriz said. “To see the smiles on the faces of the people when their need has been met—to me, that is the most rewarding.”