Parker Nickelson didn't go to just any summer sports camp this year.
Nickelson, a 17-year-old Eagan baseball enthusiast who attends Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, was selected from a pool of roughly 100 applicants nationwide to participate in the Boston Red Sox' Lindos Sueños program.
Instead of attending two-a-day practices or going back-to-school shopping this summer, Nickelson traveled with 10 other American teenagers to the Dominican Republic. There, they and 10 Dominicans selected for the program spent nine days playing baseball, rebuilding homes in impoverished towns and sight-seeing in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic's capital city.
"The goals of the program are two-fold," explained Lindos Sueños Program Director Mike Olano. "One is to bring together kids from disparate backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds ... and unite them through baseball. "The second goal is to really positively impact the Dominican community."
Earlier this year, Nickelson sent in an online application for the program, and went through two over-the-phone interviews. His passion for community service, love of baseball and 12 years of Spanish classes in school made him an ideal fit for the program, according to Olano.
After arriving in the country on July 25, Nickelson and his 19 teammates spent their mornings volunteering in El Mamón de Guerra, a small village adjacent to the Red Sox Dominican Academy. Guided by a carpentry expert, the group helped install new windows, walls and doors at the homes of impoverished Dominicans. When necessary, they also expanded homes to give needy families more sheltered space.
With their morning work done, the group would then head back to the baseball academy, where they spent the afternoon practicing and squaring off against other Dominican teams.
Nickelson spent plenty of time getting to know his teammates and opponents while hanging out in the dugout. And when he returned home, Nickelson was selected to throw out the first pitch at a Fenway Park game on Aug. 25 during a ceremony recognizing the volunteers.
He may have gotten a couple of Red Sox' autographs out of the ceremony, but it was the volunteer work that left the biggest impression on Nickelson.
"Where I live, here in Eagan, it's a wealthy city and it’s not like I’m living in poverty or anything. But just going down there and seeing how most of the world lives open my eyes," Nickelson said. "It felt good to change a couple of families lives."
Program sponsor JetBlue donated roundtrip flights from Boston to Santo Domingo for all 10 American teens and members of the Lindos Sueños staff, according to a press release issued last week.