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  • By Dana Casadei

Jennifer Cooper

Eight years ago Jennifer Cooper and Jared Acker got an idea. It was a little crazy, it would definitely change their lives, and it would mean moving to a country far away from their families. The idea lingered, it evolved, and then, they decided they had to do it.

“We really loved our life…but at the same time we kept thinking about what we could do in Nicaragua, how we could live on the beach and be part of a community there and have a simpler life while providing services to empower tourism in the community that we wanted to be in,” Cooper said about the country they had fallen in love with while on vacation.

After talking about it for years, the two Michigan natives – she grew up in Birmingham, he grew up in West Bloomfield and Huntington Woods – found themselves looking at real estate in Nicaragua.

Then they found the town of El Tránsito in what Cooper described as one of those lightbulb moments.

“Our realtor dropped us off. He just wanted to show us the beach, and while we were walking on the beach…We saw the fisherman coming in from being out all night fishing and it started to rain – it was just this magical moment where we knew,” she said.

Enter Craft for Community, the lodge the married couple – both former public school teachers – run and have lived in since last November with their young son.

Craft for Community – which has a staff that is all locals – is for groups who want a vacation that is much more than wandering around town and buying a few souvenirs. This is for people who want to do something and leave an impact on the town, all while staying in a modern 3,300-square-foot beach side lodge.

“The big thing that we try to do is blend the desires of the people coming here with what the needs of the community are,” Cooper said. “We don’t want to force anything on them that wasn’t authentically needed.”

Each trip is uniquely created thanks to the partnerships they’ve formed in the town. Craft for Community is described on their website as a project-based language school, arts exchange, and volunteer center. It’s a little bit of everything.

One of their most recent groups redid the school garden. They painted the fence, re-did the dirt so it has more fertile soil, and planted some vegetables, which will be used in the school’s breakfasts and lunches.

In April, they have their first large group coming, who are from from Temple Israel West Bloomfield. Next year, they have plans for a photographer retreat to take family portraits for locals, many who don’t have photographs of their family together.

“We hope to really open people’s eyes to the beauty of Nicaragua, how friendly the people are,” Cooper said.

Craft for Community isn’t the only non-profit in the area. There’s also the Nicaraguan Initiative for Community Advancement (NICA) and the El Tránsito Arts Center, which have both been in the community for over a decade.

While they hope to be in El Tránsito for some time, Cooper said the plan right now is to see where they are at the five-year mark and play it by ear from there.

“We know what our goals are for helping the community and for our family,” Cooper said. “As long as we’re meeting those things, then we’re going to keep working on this.”

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