Villanueva lends hand in native Dominican Republic
Pitcher and wife, Arianna, help support charitable children's home
MILWAUKEE -- Carlos Villanueva's wife, Arianna, was searching on the Internet one day, looking for a cause the couple could support in their native Dominican Republic, and discovered Casa de Luz, the House of Light.
Casa de Luz is home to about 25 severely disabled children whose needs overwhelm their families. Some parents turn the care over to the staff at the small hospital. Some simply abandon the children there.
The Villanuevas called the facility, and talked to a man named Lucas.
"He said, 'We have kids here,'" the Cubs pitcher recalled. "'Their parents drop them off. They knock on the door and leave them.' These are kids who need 24-hour care. Some can't even move. There are a couple with Downs syndrome and they can at least walk around, but other ones need special wheelchairs and they're laying in bed all day and they need to be cleaned and fed. We said, 'Let's go check it out.'"
To get there, you drive a paved road outside of Santo Domingo, then turn left, and suddenly, the road ends and you're traveling on a dirt road. At the end, they found Casa de Luz.
The Villanuevas toured the small building. It was clean -- there was a kitchen, laundry room and minimal furniture. There were also brightly colored murals painted on the walls, and children.
Lucas didn't ask for money, but food and diapers. Casa de Luz was originally started by a foundation from the U.S., but when the devastating earthquake happened in 2010 in Haiti, the group decided the need was stronger on the other side of the island.
A short time after their first visit, the Villanuevas returned to Casa de Luz unannounced. They found the same thing -- it was clean, the children were well cared for. Carlos and Arianna decided to help.
Villanueva had received a Pitcher of the Month honor, and wanted to donate the $2,000. He also alerted the MLB Players Trust Association, which matched the gift. The connection with the Players Trust, which works with such groups as Medicines for Humanity, an international health care organization, helped the Casa de Luz get assistance from the Dominican government.
"Now, every month, [Casa de Luz] gets money from the government, they get food," Villanueva said. "They have a plantation in the back, and can grow their own food.
"Neither me or my wife have any experience with this, but it touched us. We were just looking for different people and places to help out. We thought these people were genuine. Now we're working to get a doctor to visit every week."
Villanueva's working with the wife of former big leaguer Stan Javier. She's a doctor and also has connections, and she was trying to get doctors to visit the children on a regular basis. From where the Villanuevas began to now, Casa de Luz is shining bright with hope and support.
Carlos Villanueva, 29, and his wife's efforts are celebrated today as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. The Cubs pitcher said they've kept their efforts low key because neither he nor his wife wanted attention. They just wanted to help.
"We don't gain anything back from this, just the satisfaction of seeing these kids," Villanueva said. "It breaks your heart when you go in there. [In our last visit] there was a new one, and his eyes were almost closed shut because they were infected. The mom brought him and said she'd be back, and she never came back.
"These are really poor people," he said of the families. "Rather than leave them there to maybe do something out of desperation -- these kids could easily die. You have to care and love these kids because it's not an easy job."
The Villanuevas will return once the baseball season ends to see how the children are doing.
"You start small and you never know -- maybe it'll grow?" Villanueva said of Casa de Luz. "Maybe we'll go find some other place that needs help. I always wanted to do stuff like that, but to me, sometimes it looks kind of corny, and you think people are just looking for publicity. I understand more now.
"We get so much from this game," he said. "You get all this money and you share back. We can get doctors and the government involved. It's something that's touched me and my wife and we've involved her parents and my parents. It's something that can only bring positives into this world."
The Villanuevas don't have children yet. Arianna does get attached to the ones she's met at Casa de Luz.
"They're so loving," Carlos said of the children. "The ones who can move want you to play with them. My wife is very sensitive. She's never seen this before and now that I have the opportunity to get involved in these projects, she's like, 'When can we go to the hospital?' It helps both of us and keeps us grounded. It's been an experience."
It's one the Casa de Luz children definitely appreciate.