By  on June 14, 2005

Oscar de la Renta does not live and die by the success of one collection of dresses. Life, of course, contains hundreds of other experiences, and the polished designer chooses to spend a good portion of his free time helping out one of the many charities he's involved with in the U.S. and in the Dominican Republic.

De la Renta left his homeland at age 18, but he returns frequently to the small Caribbean country, where his residence in Punta Cana is a veritable compound, complete with expansive gardens and its own chapel. It is in the Dominican Republic where de la Renta channels many of his philanthropic efforts, focusing on Hogar del Nino and Taller Vocacional, a home and school for low-income children in La Romana that de la Renta started with the organization Patronato Benefico Oriental nearly 25 years ago. (He later adopted his son, Moises, 20, from Hogar del Nino.)

The school opened with only eight children in attendance. Now there are 80 between the ages of six and 17, and Hogar del Nino feeds and provides medicine for more than 1,300 children a day. It's considered to be the most comprehensive child assistance program in the country. "We try to keep the structure of the home alive, as fragile as it might be," de la Renta said. "By taking care of the children through the day, we create opportunities so the mothers can go out and work. If they cannot pay at all for us taking care of the child, they pay nothing. But if they can contribute in a small way, we let them do that, because it gives them a sense they're doing something for their family."

The home is roughly an hour's drive from de la Renta's retreat in Punta Cana, but he visits as often as he can. "No one knows what my name is," he said. "They all just call me Papi."

The plight of disadvantaged children is a major concern for the designer, and de la Renta says he helps them "for selfish reasons. It gives me pleasure. You look at a child smile at you and you get it ... I love children, I relate to children, I have a great time with them," he continued. "I have the patience to deal with them."

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