A local photographer recently won the trip of a lifetime to the Dominican Republic.
This was no ordinary vacation. In fact, nobody on the plane even knew where they were going to land.
Jess Maples is a photographer and social worker filled with passion.
"What is my passion? That changes every day," Maples said.
"I applied totally not thinking I would win it," Maples said.
Out of 40,000 applicants, Jess was one of 50 people picked.
"Of course I was excited," she explained.
While she was excited, there was a part of her that was uncertain.
"We had to be in New York on a Tuesday morning, but we didn't know where we were going," Maples said.
She didn't find out until sitting at the airport, running off little to no sleep, that she would be going to the Dominican Republic to volunteer.
Just like that, she was in the air with a plane full of people ready to volunteer.
"We stayed at a new resort that is trying a new thing called 'voluntourism' trying to get people to help underdeveloped areas," Maples said.
The first project for the team in Punta Cana was to paint a wall at a local school.
"We created this big beautiful mosaic wall. they asked if anyone was an artist and I raised my hand, not knowing I would be the only one, so I quickly put it back down. They picked me to choose the colors on the wall," Maples said.
On day two they painted inside of a special needs school and the last day they all built buoys to protect the coral reef.
One thing that stood out to Jess was her interaction with the local kids.
"I tried to get a group of the smaller kids in a circle to pass the ball around so everyone could be included," she said.
Jess said it was inspiring to be around so many people who wanted to help.
"Oh my gosh, I would go back tomorrow," Maples said.