As much as we love finding the perfect holiday gift, this time of year also calls to mind a different kind of giving: working to help those in need. For Barneys as a whole, that means using our #LovePeaceJoyProject campaign to support a few of our favorite organizations through the Barneys New York Foundation, but individual members of our team have also been doing their own part to give back. Today, we take a look at one such effort with our VP of PR & Events, Ashley Calandra, who spent her Thanksgiving in Nicaragua helping one very special family by building them a new home.

Ashley’s journey was the result of a partnership among three organizations coming  together to make a profound difference in the lives of Nicaraguan families in poverty-stricken communities. Members of CRAD, an immersive adults-only “summer camp,” joined together with JOURNEY, an organization whose mission is to create a new generation of travelers that are driven to address the needs of our world through “Conscious Travel.” The last piece of the puzzle came via Techo, a youth led non-profit organization that seeks to overcome poverty by pairing families in Latin America and the Caribbean with youth volunteers. The three group joined together to build more than 20 homes over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Barneys VP of PR and Events, Ashley Calandra, along with the children of the Calero family in their nearly completed new home.

“I think what made this trip so special was that it afforded us the opportunity to really immerse ourselves in the culture and community that we were there to help,” Calandra tells us of the experience. “It was inspiring to travel with friends, both old and new, that had a shared purpose and were hoping to make a difference.”

After a few days spent at Aqua in Redonda Bay getting to know each other—not to mention having a beachfront Thanksgiving dinner—the CRAD journeyers made their way to El Panamá, Masaya, where they joined forces with Techo and were introduced to the families whose homes they’d be helping to build. For Ashley, it was the Calero family—an extended family consisting of five adults and four children—who had all been sharing a single 4mX8m home with no running water or sewage system.

Volunteers from the Latin American-based youth volunteer program Techo, along with participating members of CRAD, take a break from building to enjoy lunch with one of the locals who will be occupying the new homes.

“I don’t think there is anything that could have really prepared me for what I would see or how I would feel during this experience,” she tells us. “At the end of the day, we’re all human beings who are deserving of adequate and safe living environments, so to see these conditions firsthand was saddening and eye opening.”

Calandra became fast friends with all of the family’s four children.

Ashley and her group spent two full days with the Calero family as they worked alongside each other to build the new home. For Ashley, it was this time spent with the family that was the most rewarding part of the trip. “I felt so lucky to be paired with the Caleros—despite their circumstances, they were so filled with genuine kindness, compassion, and a sense of optimism that it was contagious,” she says. “They lifted my spirits up and taught me that love can really carry you through a situation. My intent with this trip was to do something beyond myself—to play a small part to change a family’s life—but in the end I was surprised by how much the experience affected me in return.”

Participants in the trip share a moment of camaraderie.

Feeling inspired and want to get involved? Check out these amazing organizations to see how you can make a difference: