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Creating life-changing trips

After traveling for miles on an isolated dirt road, first through rice fields then up to a 
mountaintop, my husband, David, and I rounded a bend on our four-wheeler to be greeted by squeals of delight. Children, some of them unabashedly naked, came running to welcome us.

We had endured potholes the size of our living room, a quick rain shower and even a faulty brake system on this bumpy ride in the Dominican Republic, but it was all worthwhile. Those exuberant greeters knowingly reached for our mud-stained beach bag tied to the handlebars, and David distributed the candy bars and crackers we had stashed inside. In his fluent Spanish, he chattered with the locals about their beautiful country and thanked them for their hospitality.

The treats were big hits, but they couldn’t compare to the impact those smiles and giggles had on David. After a dozen similar encounters that afternoon, that typically stoic guy was wiping tears from his face.

“This hasn’t been a vacation,” David said. “This has been an experience.”

Priceless Memories
Some travel experiences are life-changers, offering bank directors and their club members rewards that are difficult to find in any other professions. After all the gourmet meals, fancy hotels and even Broadway entertainment, those extraordinary moments usually stand out because of the people we meet and the people who share our travels.

When asked, bank directors instantly know what those rare experiences were for them.

Sandy Green, director of the Pineapple Gold Club at Franklin Synergy Bank in Franklin, Tennessee, could hardly speak when she described her group’s visit to Normandy, France.

“With many World War II veterans in the group, including my father, we went during the summer of the 60th anniversary of D-Day,” she said. “Everything was decorated, and we were surprised to see how enthusiastically the French celebrated the Americans. Many who had been there during the invasion invited us into their homes. They honored the vets in our group when we were at the cemetery — an incredible celebration that included a wreath.

“After, my father and I walked on the beach, and he had tears running down his face — oh, my gosh — I can’t talk about this without crying,” Green said, hesitating to even finish the story. “This wonderful man — I’d only seen him cry once before — told me how happy he was to be part of this. He got a bag of sand off that beach and filled up little bottles with corks and gave one to everyone.

“It’s a day I’ll never, ever forget. How happy I will always be to have been a part of it as well.”

These once-in-a-lifetime occurrences seem to bring emotions to the surface with anyone who has experienced such drama and happiness at the same time. Linda Mattingly, director of the Star Club at Alliance Bank in Sulphur Springs, Texas, was no exception. The avid lover of animals only briefly mentioned the incredible beasts her group encountered when they visited Kenya. It was her times in the native villages that touched her most deeply.

“The people, they have no mirrors, and when you take pictures, they can’t believe what they look like,” she said. “They want to touch you and hold your hand. Working with the skills that God gave us, they mold and handcraft everything, including the most beautiful jewelry.

“They are so happy — they are always laughing. In fact, they think we are rich; but they are so much richer than we are. They have nothing, and yet they are so joyful.”

Looking at one of those handcrafted necklaces, now framed in her office, Mattingly’s tears began to flow. “When you think about your favorite gifts in life, what are the best things? They are the gifts that come from the soul. I can’t tell you what those times have meant to me. I’ve been there four times, and I could go every year because I put that joy in my heart and bring it back with me.”

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