by Darla Martin Tucker

They will arrive at La Sierra University to begin college this fall from locales that are 3,200 miles apart. And although they will be far from their homes, Domonique Douglas and Krista Dufala, this year’s Presidential Scholarship award recipients, have faith that God is directing their journeys and their plans to continue serving others. 

Douglas and Dufala respectively hail from Pembroke, Bermuda, and San Jose, Calif. While maintaining strong academic performances with many awards and honors they have acted on empathic impulses inspired by circumstances that impacted their young lives and took steps through the support of family and friends to establish charitable organizations and pursue causes close to their hearts.  At La Sierra, Douglas will major in health care management and pre-medicine with a goal of becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon with a practice in Bermuda. Dufala will study neuroscience aiming for a career in pediatrics or neurosurgery.

Presidential Scholar awards are La Sierra’s largest scholarship given once annually and which provide recipients with $15,000 a year for four years toward tuition costs. Scholarship criteria includes a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.6 and a demonstrated dedication on the part of applicants to improving the world around them. Students who have been admitted to La Sierra University and meet the GPA requirement must also submit a curriculum vitae describing their accomplishments and write an essay outlining how they have strived to understand and serve others, and how those experiences have helped to shape them and have impacted those they served.

Steps toward fulfillment

Reflecting on my journey, I realized that finding one’s purpose in life follows a series of steps which I called the OCAP process,” which stands for observation, compassion, action and purpose, wrote Dufala in her scholarship application essay. She later noted, “This principle is the guiding light to my entire life and I still use it to this day. I truly believe that everyone has a purpose that God wants us to fulfill, it’s just a matter of taking enough pauses to listen and see what that is.”

While she did not know it at the time, Dufala took those first steps toward purpose at the tender age of 6. It would be the start of a path leading into an all-encompassing adventure of aiding the most vulnerable around the world through her own nonprofit called KRIS, the Kids Rise Inspire Soar Foundation. It would also prove to be the latest miraculous turn for a life that began inauspiciously when her birth mother left her at five days old to be cared for by an orphanage in the Philippines. 

Krista Dufala is planning to study neuroscience at La Sierra University.

At age 22 months, she was adopted by parents from California who had prayed for a child to love. When she was 6 years old, Dufala and her parents traveled back to visit the Philippine orphanage that had cared for her as an infant. While there, they served cake and ice cream to the orphans. Joy filled Dufala’s young heart as she watched the children enjoying their treat. After returning home she asked her mother whether they could give more cake and ice cream to the orphans “again and again so they would smile ear-to-ear forever?” Her tender concern touched her mother who set about working with Dufala’s 2nd grade teacher to hold a fundraiser led by Dufala and her classmates to pay for another sweets party for the orphanage. In three months enough money was raised for the party, a success which in turn led to a larger fund-raising drive for 20 more sweets parties and then 40 parties for orphanages in other countries.

The project came to be called “Sweets for the Holidays,” and through newsletters and hand-written appeals, hundreds of fundraising phone calls including countless calls by Dufala, and through connections with orphanage organizations and key supporters, it eventually impacted orphanages around the globe with sweet-treat parties. “Sweets for the Holidays” is now one of six orphan outreach projects and programs operating under the KRIS Foundation founded by Dufala, co-founded by her mother, Lirio Dufala, a former high-tech industries specialist who serves as president and chief executive officer and overseen by a board of directors. Eventually Dufala, a musician, also began holding fundraising concerts for the foundation whose efforts have resulted in new orphanage playgrounds, new orphanage campuses, and biennial missions aid trips. 

As a young girl, it has been surreal to sit amidst the KRIS [board], composed of successful professionals, who embraced my dreams and worked hard to make them happen,” she wrote. To date the foundation has raised more than $400,000. Over the years Dufala and her fundraising activities for orphanages have garnered the attention of news media as well as 3 Angels Broadcasting Network which featured an interview with her.  

Over the past year during the Covid-19 pandemic, fueled by compassion for homebound senior citizens, homeless and frontline workers, Dufala launched a COVID Care Packages Project through her school to provide home-baked cookies, hand-written notes and other items. A summer entrepreneurial endeavor followed with a baking business called “Pure Goodness” that raised funds for KRIS projects and for Northern California fire victims. “God presents us with opportunities to serve all our lives,” she states.

From tragedy, purpose

The last two years of Douglas’ high school experience ushered in unwanted stressful changes and mounting traumas, experiences that would leave a deep mark and drive her to her knees. She allowed these circumstances to produce a new sense of purpose through service to others.

During this time period she suffered the sudden loss of a dear friend who died in a car accident, and along with the rest of the nation, experienced a lockdown in March 2020 due to the encroaching COVID-19 pandemic that took lives and shuttered businesses. Pivotal milestone celebrations in her teen life were reconstructed online – birthdays, college tours, senior events.

Domonique Douglas hopes to become a cardiothoracic surgeon with a practice in Bermuda.

“This period has deepened my sense of empathy for those who are experiencing loss, it has sharpened my ability to find a meaningful way to serve others, and it has galvanized my belief that being in environments that prioritize God as a solution to life’s troubles is the safest and most conducive environment for personal and spiritual growth,” wrote Douglas in her scholarship essay. 

The disorienting loss of her classmate and friend whom she had known since nursery school inspired Douglas and her friends to initiate the “Pain into Purpose” community activism group two days after their friend’s death. “…We did not want to just sit around and be sad, we wanted to create awareness,” she said. They aimed to raise awareness of the importance of road safety as a means of helping to reduce the all-too-frequent vehicle accidents that occur on the nation’s twisting two-lane arteries. Through circulating a flyer on social media and an article in the local newspaper, they launched the campaign with a call for people to dress in shades of blue on Jan. 17, 2020 “as a symbol of solidarity and a renewed commitment for road safety,” she wrote. 

A “blue wave” ensued around the country, Douglas noted. The enthusiastic response inspired the friends to create a nonprofit that spreads awareness of road fatalities on their island. “I was so glad to be a part of this organization that also helped heal my heart and the heart of others,” said Douglas.

During the pandemic Douglas also poured her heart into volunteer work as a candy striper as soon as she was allowed to return to work at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. She filled in for family members who were still not able to visit and worked with patients to create their meal plans and engage in conversations. She and other volunteers sang carols to patients during the holidays.

Both Douglas and Dufala grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist faith and with families who are rooted in their local churches – Douglas attends Devonshire Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bermuda, and Dufala and her family the Cambrian Park SDA Church in San Jose. Both are involved in musical activities and praise teams at their churches. 

Noted Dufala, “I was attracted to La Sierra for their sense of strong Adventist community and their closeness in relation and proximity to Loma Linda as I plan to apply to their medical school. I selected this college because I truly believe that this is where God wants me to be, just having this blessing of the Presidential Scholarship is enough clarity for me.”

For Douglas, the decision to apply to the Riverside, Calif. school, situated far from the shores of her island home, derived not only from her own long-standing interests in the university but to honor her lifelong friend who also planned to apply but whose young life was tragically cut short as the result of the car accident. “After he passed, I had this feeling that was telling me not to forget about La Sierra. I saw his mom one day and she was telling me about how he sent numerous emails to La Sierra about the Film and Television program and from that moment I knew I had to apply to La Sierra,” Douglas said.

For the incoming freshmen, their lives and values are grounded in their families and those who have mentored and taught them. Both cited their mothers as among key influencers and supporters. 

“The reason why I am so goal oriented is because of the leadership qualities I see in her which shine through me as well,” said Douglas. “She has overcome many obstacles in her life which makes me proud to be her daughter.”

“She’s taught me that there’s always something to be learned and always something that can be done better,” said Dufala. “But most importantly, she’s taught me to leave things to God more often and let Him guide my path throughout life.”