An expat making a difference

One mans selflessness has made such a profound impact on a burgeoning expat community. The man in question is Jim Webb and the community is Boquete, Panama. Unlike many expats who come to Boquete, either to escape the northern winters or to call Panama home, Jim came for the sole purpose of volunteering at a Drug & Alcohol Treatment Centre. Needing 500 volunteer hours to become a qualified counselor, Jim did a Google search that directed him to Serenity Vista Holistic Drug and Alcohol Rehab, in January 2016.

A Freelance Writer, I arrived in Boquete in early January 2017, to explore and write about my journey and was blessed to meet so many incredible people. It’s easy to fall in love with this mountain town because the people are friendly, the weather is comfortable and all amenities are within walking distance. This is a region with a population close to 25,000, with approximately 20% being expats. My interest focus shifted as I started to meet inspirational people like Jim, who were giving their time and resources to help others. I knew this story had to be shared.

Guided Hikes

Friends of mine met Jim while waiting in line at a local restaurant. The discussion led to hiking and he offered to take them on a guided tour. I was invited, we were introduced, and a friendship was forged. Jim supplied the car, his time and a truly insightful guided tour. That’s just the way Jim is. As a retired Insurance salesman, he has the gift of the gab. He’ll sit outside the coffee shop with his dog Dundee (a striking Australian Shepherd), speaking in his friendly Southwest Virginian drawl and people will simply gravitate toward him.

Jim and Dundee 

Introduction to PickleBall

During our hike, Jim spoke passionately about a racquet sport known as Pickleball. I was shocked that I’d never heard of the sport. I mean seriously……Pickleball? A ball shaped like a pickle? I told him I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it. So, he emailed me a link to the official Pickleball website and it all made sense. It’s a combination of tennis and ping pong using a whiffle ball, played on a court approximately 75% of the size of a standard tennis court. Since strength and power aren’t critical, it’s well suited to men and women of all ages. You can play as singles, but the game is most commonly played in doubles.

With the aid of a dozen rackets generously donated by Neil Friedenberg, President of Pro-lite Sports, and a net Jim purchased with his own money, Pickleball came to life in Panama. The first time I played I was hooked! What really impressed me was the diversity in players, who ranged from young teens to men and women in their seventies. The game of Pickleball is getting the local kids involved in sport, while getting others off their couches. Talk about powerful. With only a few years playing the sport, Jim’s passion is evident in the patience he displays while teaching the rules to all newcomers.

Some pickleball regulars

It’s important to note that the process wasn’t simple. Months were spent sourcing the gymnasium, getting to know the maintenance staff, dealing with the head of recreation for Boquete, filling out complex forms, posting ads through local sites, and introducing and teaching a sport that is foreign to most. Jim handled all of it while volunteering at the addiction center, providing guided tours to visitors, and engaging an entire community through sport.

I’ve spent enough time in Boquete to hear rumblings about how the expats are driving up prices and hence, pushing some indigenous folk further from town. Granted, there are many foreigners who simply come in search of sun and a better quality of life…..and who can blame them. But we can’t overlook those who sacrifice their time, energy and resources to positively impact the lives of others. Jim Webb is one of those people. He is an extraordinary individual, whom I’m proud to call my friend.

For those interested in playing Pickleball in Boquete, please drop by the local gymnasium on Mondays and Fridays between 1 and 3pm. All welcome.

 

 

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