How many people do you know who own their own mountain? I know exactly one. Michael Ballantine was a neighbor of mine who thought his kids were growing soft with their posh suburban lifestyle (I concur.) His print business was doing well so when an opportunity presented itself to do a yearlong mission trip to the Dominican Republic he signed up the whole family! In 2001 Michael, his wife Lisa, and their four adolescent children headed to the second largest island in the Bahamas. The next fourteen months was everything Michael and Lisa had hoped for and more for their kids. Serving the poor, developing a church and living a far far less luxurious lifestyle that not only brought them closer than ever as a family but changed all of their life’s trajectories.
Returning to the states they all had a new appreciation for the advantages living in America provides. But Michael couldn’t shake what his entrepreneurial brain registered. Everywhere he had looked in the Dominican Republic he saw nothing but business opportunity after business opportunity. In his late 30s he enrolled in college to learn Spanish, setting his plan in motion. Lisa joined him, wanting to get a degree in art with an emphasis in working with ceramics.
When he announced to her in 2005 that he had decided to sell his business and invest all of their life savings to develop a tropical mountain in the Dominican, she was less than pleased. Moving there to serve a one year mission trip was a big commitment, moving there permanently was a huge one!
As a business owner Michael is a natural salesman. It took all his charm and persuasion to get Lisa on board. That’s when fate struck or to hear Lisa recall it “When God sent me a letter.” Reading Ceramics Monthly she was fascinated by an article describing how a combination of clay, sawdust and silver particles can be combined to filter unclean water and make it drinkable. At the end of the article she saw its author’s name, none other than her own jewelry professor! Lisa eagerly met with him and described her family’s plans to relocate to the D.R. Was it possible she asked to bring this ceramic technology to the Dominican and help provide clean water to the children she had served before? Her professor took her under his wing and she hatched her own plan to establish a ceramic factory in the D.R. Any hesitation that Lisa had about moving the family was now replaced with her new personal calling to provide clean drinking water with her newly established non for profit, FilterPure.
In 2006 the family sold their home and sold or gave away many of their possessions and moved to the Dominican. Personally, we were sad to see them go but both excited and scared for them at the same time. Both of them were going full steam into a radically different world that few of us would ever dare venture. If that was the whole story there it would be motivating. The final piece of the puzzle at least as it relates to Aquascape however, is the influence Lisa had on my wife, Carla. Inspired by Lisa’s success with FilterPure, Carla had the model to establish her own not-for-profit, the Aquascape Foundation. If not for Lisa’s example and corresponding encouragement there might not even be an Aquascape Foundation. Because of that Lisa is officially a “Super Mentor” that is someone who helps another person gain the confidence they need to pursue their own dreams. For that I am eternally grateful seeing the purpose the Aquascape Foundation has provided for my wife. And the thousands of people who now have access to clean drinking water because of her foundation’s efforts is a testament to the worthiness of her cause.
As for Michael and I, we continue to support our wives’ efforts by working our own causes. Michael’s mountain now has 80 houses and a drop-dead gorgeous restaurant with plans for a luxury hotel and spa just getting under way. His entrepreneurial vision has created hundreds of jobs that wouldn’t exist if he didn’t cash in his posh job and lifestyle for one far more risky and challenging. I’m proud to call both Michael and Lisa our dear friends. And all of us are already brainstorming our future projects while hopefully inspiring others to do the same!