PLATTSBURGH — When Leo Carvajal-Olivares embarked on a 17-hour flight to the United States, he knew it would be a trip of a lifetime.
But he never imagined the lasting impact he would have in the Plattsburgh area.
“It was amazing to see someone come in and feel so connected and be so welcomed by the North Country,” said Patrick Monette, who met Carvajal-Olivares about nine years ago while living in Chile.
They became friends then, and the Chilean man was visiting Patrick on his recent trip here.
Though Carvajal-Olivares had once visited Utah, his month-long stay in Plattsburgh provided many firsts for him, Monette said.
“He’d never seen snow. He did a lot of new things while he was here.”
The pair stayed busy through Carvajal-Olivares’s visit, venturing to Lake Placid, visiting New York City and the Ice Castle in Saranac Lake and spending many evenings with Monette’s family.
It was morning visits with Monette’s mother, Nancy, that led Carvajal-Olivares to the Plattsburgh YMCA.
When Mrs. Monette attended morning fitness classes at the center, he set out on his own workout routine to keep busy.
One morning, when he ventured upstairs to find Mrs. Monette, he discovered the Zumba class led by Lisa Menia.
“It’s like he found his home away from home,” Patrick laughed as he recalled Carvajal-Olivares’s instant connection to the dance class, which serves participants of all ages, including a group from the Traumatic Brain Injury Center at SUNY Plattsburgh.
As a dance instructor at a YMCA in Chile, Carvajal-Olivares, a childhood-education teacher, was welcomed into the class with open arms and soon became an integral part of the group.
“He really knew how to work the crowd,” said Patti Warner, program director at the local Y.