Héctor Algarroba has a knack for connecting with people. It’s what he does best, in his personal life and on the job as a Lead Engineer in New York City.
He also has an unwavering desire to help, a talent for giving and undeniable skill at spurring action. A call or letter from Héctor asking for assistance rarely goes unanswered.
To organize his efforts, Héctor founded Fundación HHS in 1998. He named the organization to reflect three generations of the Algarroba family, including his father, Hipolito, and son, Steven. Along with foundation director Sonia Martínez, Héctor and Fundación HHS focus primarily on assisting people in the Dominican Republic.
Here, Héctor shares what awakened his drive to help others, the secret to the Fundación’s success and ways he wishes he could do more.
When did your desire to help others start?
It began when I was a kid. My parents taught me that I could be part of the solution to problems I saw. And that it didn’t always have to cost a lot to make a difference.
During our first family trip to the Dominican Republic, I saw the local children playing baseball with no equipment. Like those kids, I was obsessed with baseball, so that felt really unfair. On every trip after that, we brought baseball equipment with us. Later, when I took my son on his first trip there, we continued the tradition and gave out bats and balls that we brought in our luggage.
Feeling the joy that brought, I was hooked and I’ve been giving back ever since. Soon, we added used sneakers. The kids are thrilled to have them—and not just to play in. Walking to school, protected from stones, broken glass and mud, makes a big difference.
My dad and I started with a simple idea centered around baseball, because nine innings go a long way to keep a kid active, off the streets and away from drugs. But we quickly expanded our scope when we saw the need in other areas, like education.
Fundación HHS has done some amazing work around education. Tell us about that.
Each fall when school starts in the U.S., I see all the shiny new backpacks and shoes our kids get every year and I can’t help but think about the ones from last year that get stuffed in a closet.
Dominican kids are so hungry to learn, and they struggle through no fault of their own. We focus a lot on the remote mountain communities, particularly on the south side of the island, which are heavily challenged. We trek supplies there using donkeys, since the region is so difficult to access.
Kids cherish the donations we bring. We give them composition notebooks, since they work for any class, and they protect them under their shirts when it rains. We bring pencils, since ink dries out so easily, and they use them down to the stub.
And, it’s not just supplies. We petitioned the local authorities and so far we’ve been able to replace two crumbling single-room schools with new bigger buildings near Santo Domingo. We also connected with Virginia Reed, a children’s book author in Spain, and she has sent thousands of books from all her writer friends. We use them to open libraries at schools and other locations.
There’s so much more we can do... I’m trying to get a small projector so that we can show movies—imagine a child who’s never seen a movie! Musical instruments, too. Learning to play music could truly be life-changing. And, I’d really love to take 10 top students to Disney World. That’s a dream I have.
Your ability to avoid red tape is impressive. How do you do it?
I don’t know that I’m more successful than other people who do what I do. But I make calls, I’m sincere and explain what I need.
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, we heard about thousands of people who were suddenly amputees because of their injuries. Health care needs can be very difficult to address if you’re not affiliated with the government or a hospital. But, the Fundación wanted to help, so we decided to focus on one obvious need: wheelchairs. We found some partners in Canada, the Rotary Club of Ancaster A.M. and a Knights of Columbus group, to help us get them. To date, we’ve
hand-delivered more than 5,000 wheelchairs to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, including 1,500 for Haiti in the first month following the quake. We’ve sent hundreds of crutches and canes for the blind, too.
Fundación HHS has never fundraised for money. We only ask for material donations. It costs me about $60 a box to send supplies to the Dominican Republic. I put aside a little money every payday, and I send a few boxes at a time. The Fundación uses my family’s ancestral home as its headquarters, and my dear friend Sonia Martínez directs our local operations. We take personal responsibility for every donation. I travel there a few times a year, and every item we give is hand delivered to our recipients.
I guess our success comes from keeping things simple. No middlemen, no cash—just generous patrons, tangible donations, a few dedicated helpers and a lot of legwork.
You clearly have a strong connection to your heritage.
Dominican Americans, like all Americans, celebrate our people and our culture.
A few months ago, I wrote a letter to the New York Mets. I was thinking about Osvaldo Virgil. He was one of my father’s favorite Dominican heroes.
On September 23, 1956, Ozzie became the first Dominican-born player in Major League Baseball. He’s 86 now and I thought, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, we should celebrate this hero while he can enjoy it with us.
My letter reached the right people at the right time. The Mets flew him up from the Dominican Republic, and on September 26, 2018, Ozzie was an honorary coach and threw out the first pitch in their game against the Atlanta Braves. (In a fun coincidence, the Braves pitcher that night was Sean Newcomb; his father, Bill Newcomb, is a Boston-based Lead Engineer for CBRE.)
What keeps you going?
Everything I do comes from the heart. My parents inspired this in me, and I honor them by passing it along.
I want to inspire these children, help them learn and experience as much as they can of the world. You never know, one of these kids could be the next Albert Einstein or Neil Armstrong.
Fundación HHS is a small operation that has accomplished a lot already. We can only change so much, but I have to keep giving what I can. It’s the best thing I know how to do.