L iving in an impoverished country without common comforts like electricity isn't usually a sign of success. But for University of Colorado graduate David Palmer, the lack of luxury means he is doing something right, he said.
Palmer, 27, launched The Joan Rose Foundation -- named for his late grandmother -- in October, 2010, as an effort to provide food, education and opportunity to 43 children born into poverty in the Dominican Republic.
About two years later, the program has more than doubled and now provides a safe haven for 105 children.
"To me, the saddest part of poverty is the complete lack of opportunity -- to know as a kid that you'll never have more," Palmer said. "Our mission is to help them lift themselves out of poverty."
The students attend Palmer's program Monday through Friday for about six hours per day, giving them a safe place to learn and play as well as providing the malnourished youth with a nutritious meal.
Many of the students get more food in one day at the program than an entire week at home, despite the best efforts of some of the parents, Palmer said.
The foundation also pays for medical care for the students, which Palmer said is a necessary cost in helping the children focus on education.
"Hunger leads to whole mess of health problems and it makes it tough to educate these kids when they're in that position," Palmer said. "So it's just a Band-Aid for us to be able to teach them."
The foundation also started a trade school for homeless kids in the area, who have often been neglected for so long that college -- the foundation's goal for most of its students -- is not an option even with the help of the program. The trade school teaches the students practical skills like literacy and basic math and also provides specialized plumbing and electrician classes to prepare them for a job.
Palmer said he has spent the majority of his time since graduating from CU living in the ghettos of impoverished countries, learning about a lifestyle much different than his own upbringing.
Palmer gave up his comfortable lifestyle in the United States to live in a rural area in the Dominican Republic and make a difference in the lives of local kids.
"I've never wanted a comfortable 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job," Palmer said. "I've always wanted to help, and I can help -- maybe not every kid and I can't fix poverty, but it's not about that. It was something that was very wrong, that I knew was wrong in my core and I could help fix for some people."
Being immersed in the foundation makes it easier for the program to adapt to the needs of the students, but not without some support from several donors in the U.S. -- including Palmer's college roommate and business partner Ben Brockland.
Brockland founded an undershirt company, UnderFit, in 2011 and brought Palmer on to assist with manufacturing, as there is a large manufacturing industry near Palmer's site in the Dominican Republic.
Though Brockland has since moved manufacturing back to the U.S. to support the national economy, UnderFit supports the foundation as part of its give back program. The company provides more than 1,000 meals to the foundation through T-shirt sales and has kept Palmer on as a valued business partner.
Despite early success with UnderFit, Palmer remains dedicated to the foundation that fills his heart, rather than the company that fills his wallet.
"To me, it's such a clear choice," Palmer said. "They have nothing and I have the ability to help them."
--Follow Whitney Bryen on Twitter: @SoonerReporter.