Carl Bailey ’75, ’08: Making a Difference in Nicaragua

by Nina M. Riccio

As the son of an immigrant – his father came from Lebanon as a child – Carl Bailey ’75, P’08 often felt he bridged two worlds when he came to Fairfield.
“I was not raised in an affluent environment, and when I became a Big Brother to a kid from Bridgeport, I found I had a huge amount of empathy for these inner city kids,” he recalled. “I realized that no matter how hard some of them tried they’d never make it – their appearance, their race, their environment were all working against them.”
Still, everything about Fairfield was right for Bailey. “I needed the discipline of a smaller school, and I have nothing but good feelings about the energy I found among the students and professors.” Though he described himself as “a lost and lonely hippie” his first couple of years, things took a turn for the better when he pushed himself to make the tennis team. “It’s a sport that still continues to be a big part of my personal and professional life.”
Now a successful financial planner back in his hometown of Danbury, Conn., where he’s had his own firm since he was 28, Bailey long ago decided that success for him wasn’t about acquiring a bigger house or more stuff. “I figure that the more I have, the more I’m able to help others,” he said.

In 1987 Bailey’s neighbors began Connecticut Quest for Peace to provide food, medicine, education, and healthcare to the poor of Nicaragua, and Bailey was interested in their mission. Several years ago, he spent almost a month living in a barrio in Managua. When he came back, he vowed to put his energies into three areas: a medical center; a school; and a cultural center to teach culinary skills to women so they could work in the country’s burgeoning tourist business. His passion: bringing medical teams to Nicaragua twice a year to do cleft palate surgeries.

“It’s a far more complex medical issue than I ever realized,” he explained. “In the worst cases, these kids were born without a roof in their mouths, so they can’t eat or breathe properly. Without the surgeries, these children are forced to live on the fringe of society, so a $400 surgery forever changes their lives.”

His teams include some of the most experienced plastic surgeons in the U.S., and they are educating medical teams in Nicaragua to carry on their work. Over the years, Bailey has raised and donated over $500,000 and has generously sponsored several Fairfield University students on mission trips.

Closer to home, Bailey’s got another project, one that harks back to his days on the Fairfield tennis courts. He began Danbury Grassroots Tennis, an organization for city youth ages 8 and older that gives them a chance to play tennis several hours a week, get homework help, learn about time management and healthy eating, and have access to volunteer mentors. Approximately 75 children are enrolled in the program now, and several “graduates” have gone on to college.

“It sounds corny, but the Jesuit message of embracing diversity, and of seeing the world on a broader level than what is in your own backyard, really resonated with me,” he said. “It taught me the link between spirituality and success, not the least of which is that it’s incumbent upon graduates to do something good with their lives.”