August 5, 2018

BLOG: Service-Learning Experience in Puerto Rico



Fourteen student-athletes are spending nearly a week (Aug. 3-9) in Puerto Rico for a service-learning experience coordinated by the OSU Department of Athletics, SASSO, Buckeyes Go International and Soles4Souls. Check back here for continued updates.

Next Wave of Buckeyes Traveling to Puerto Rico for Service-Learning Experience

DAY SEVEN | August 9, 2018

One more update while in the Washington Dulles airport during our layover:

DAY SIX | August 8, 2018

Now, that was an exclamation point to end our week of service! Wednesday presented a change of pace, switching gears to a post-Hurricane Maria community rebuilding project in the Comerío area. We knifed through the mountains en route to the neighborhood, offering up several awe-inspiring sights along the way.

A friend of Manuel and Juan’s, Edguardo, led our final excursion. Like many Puerto Ricans dissatisfied with a lack of disaster relief, he’s taken it upon himself to ignite the community rebuilding process. He and his wife are not from Comerío, but yet have spent the past 10 months-plus leading the charge to bring this particular neighborhood back to its pre-Hurricane beauty. Edguardo’s organization focuses on the reconstruction of culture and placing the decision making into the hands of empowered community members.

Today we set out to complete three different projects. Check out the video below:

We met inspiring people while in this community. Pepe (picture above in the front row in a blue shirt and hat), beamed with pride in telling each of us all about his construction projects around the neighborhood. His love for the community and all people was clear and without question. Pepe was fountain of wisdom for our young student-athletes. In addition to Edguardo’s selflessness, we were also blessed to work alongside several other individuals who did not live in Comerío yet were there simply to lend a helping hand. Eli (top left in black hat) shared his story with many of us, a tale which can bring one tears of joy in an instant. He was born and raised in California, taking annually trips to the island with his Puerto Rican father growing up. A few weeks after a visit to Comerío, Eli was in New York for a job interview. When his flight back to the West Coast was cancelled, he spontaneously booked a flight back to Puerto Rico from NY and hasn’t gone back since. He was drawn to the service and couldn’t turn away from it. Heart warming to say the least.

Thursday is our return date. Back to reality. Back to our normal lives in the States. Back to our friends. Back to our family. Back to Buckeye Nation. Back as changed individuals with a new perspective on what’s important in life.

We’ll talk to our final four student-athletes this evening and report back tomorrow with one final blog post. Check ya then.

DAY FIVE | August 7, 2018

Our final two shoe distributions have come and gone after  stops in Cataño and Guaynabo  today. Cataño offered an experience similar to our previous visits this trip, but the time spent in Guaynabo brought some unexpected challenges. The type of challenges that are holistically beneficial, but hard to see that on the surface.

The neighborhood we visited is one of the toughest in Puerto Rico and permission is needed in advance to enter. Working alongside government officials, we were fortunate enough to serve the people of this community and bring a dose of happiness and positivity to some of the children. We were also faced with the hard reality of their situation, however. This made for discomfort, confusion and left many with questions of ‘Why?’ Nightly reflections are a huge part of this experience and tonight’s was without question the most intense and mind-shifting. Deep soul searching occurred and constructive questions were raised. People stepped out of their comfort zones and showed vulnerability. Frankly, it was beautiful to see. The number one purpose of this trip is to serve, but self-growth is an important aspect as well. Our group grew today, and that’s something to be proud of.

Service takes a different form tomorrow as we switch gears from shoe distributions to post-Hurricane Maria community rebuilding. Fence painting and home construction are a few of the items on Wednesday’s docket. Looking forward to it!

DAY FOUR | August 6, 2018

Today brought two more shoe distributions with a total of 75 pairs of shoes and many more smiles walking away. The first was extremely tough, but equally as rewarding. We visited Institucion de Niños Andres, a facility which homes boys who have been separated from their families for a number of reasons. We had to work a bit harder to get the smiles started here, but, dang, was it worth it! This was the smallest and most imitate group we’ve served — making the connection with the children even stronger.

Naranjito represented our next destination. We were met with open arms upon arrival to a local school as kids and adults alike from the community gathered to welcome us. During introductions on the microphone, Zach Steiner (wrestling) and John Wiitala (ice hockey) received the loudest cheers as they surprised the group by speaking in Spanish.

Just as exhaustion was starting to hit hard for most of us crossing over the halfway point of the trip, we had our earliest return to the hotel tonight and will soon get the much-needed rest to complete the trip strong. Our final two shoe distributions are scheduled for tomorrow and as one of the trip supervisors, Prince Moody, says ‘We have to bring the juice!”

Until next time, Buckeye Nation. Peace out! ✌️

DAY THREE | August 5, 2018

Sunday was spent in Old San Juan exploring the area and inhaling the rich history in and around the centuries-old fort. Manuel and Juan showed us all the prime locations, dishing out Puerto Rican facts along the way. Strolling through the vibrant colored homes eventually led us to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a massive fortress on the coastline.

A few feet from the entrance, our group was startled by a loud “O-H!” We then, of course, responded with a robust “I-O!” to our fellow Buckeye Nation members who informed the group that they were vacationing in Puerto Rico from Florida.

Once inside, nearly 90 minutes were spent conversing the fortress’ expansive footprint and taking in the incredible views. Upon departure, we were spotted again as a man donning a Cleveland Cavaliers shirt belted out an “O-H!” of his own. Buckeyes are every way, man. It’s wild.

Walking over three and a half miles by that point according to Paige Postalwait’s smart-watch, appetites had been built. Those grumbling stomachs were met with an amazing proposition:  ‘Do you guys want to go to a restaurant that has chocolate of some sort included in every item on the menu?” asked Manuel. Um, yes, please. While the thought of chocolate infused in savory food may seem odd for some folks, any skepticism was erased after the group put down a delicious lunch. Chocobar (soon to be opening a location in New York city) offered choco-ketchup with your fries, a chocolate balsamic vinaigrette, sandwiches with chocolate bread and many, many more cocoa-inspired foods. But as should be expected, desert highlighted the quick stop.  Mmmmmmmm, milkshakes.

Back to serving for Monday with another double dip of shoe distribution! Can’t wait to report back. Hasta mañana!

DAY TWO | August 4, 2018

We dove in head-first to service today, spending the day in the Loiza area for a two-fer of shoe distributions. Our very first distribution went off without a hitch, handing out 65 pairs of shoes before branding each of the children as Buckeyes by applying fun temporary Ohio State tattoos!

Then it was PLAY TIME, hitting up a nearby playground for fun on the teeter-totters, slide and swings. The ‘adults’ quickly blended in with the community’s children, filling the late morning hours with loads of laughter and love.

Shoe distribution #2 was held in another Loiza community and resulted in 70 more beautiful kiddos walking away with brand-new kicks. The day’s itinerary allowed for more play time at our second location, and play we did. For hours on end. Don’t fret coaches, these Buckeyes no doubt got in their workouts today chasing around the lil rugrats in the hot Puerto Rican sun. A large game of ‘pato, pato, ganso’ (or ‘duck, duck, goose’ for our non-Spanish speaking amigos) capped off play time before massive speakers were rolled out and a dance party ignited. Alexus Pyles (track & field), Asa Burke (track & field) and Jack Jasinksi (lacrosse) eased into it with a rendition of the cha-cha slide:

A cultural immersion adventure is on the docket for Sunday, but we got an early taste before leaving this small village. They were known for their distinct dance moves and refused to let us leave until every single Buckeye cut a rug in the middle of the dance circle. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. While embarrassment was high for many and some Buckeyes flashed higher levels of dance skills than others, good times were had by all as we mimic’ed the routines of the local women’s dance team.

Exhaustion set in during the drive to dinner at a restaurant alongside the ocean and conversations were a bit subdued. That quickly changed though once the plates were empty and we ventured to the shore for a a bioluminescent bay kayak tour. Explaining the phenomenon best seen at this particular bay in Puerto Rico is not easy. In simplest terms, there are plankton in the bay that light up like fireflies to create an awe-inspiring scene in the water. The video below is from a nearby bay and is a good example:

A post-midnight return to the hotel nixed a vlog posting for today. We’ll catch you all up with a double-dose of video tomorrow. Again, we appreciate you following along and we’ll talk to you on the flip side.

DAY ONE | August 3, 2018

Months of anticipation were met today with a long day of travel to Puerto Rico, a jaunt which began with a 3:45 a.m. arrival at the Fawcett Center.

Devin Landstra, a Buckeye swimmer, picked up the early edge for trip MVP honors upon her arrival with two dozen donuts in-hand. Talk about a first impression! With the deep-fried treats devoured, the wheels on the bus began to go round-and-round, transporting the Buckeyes to Port Columbus.

A quick layover in our nation’s capital was the last pit stop before stepping foot in San Juan. The beach immediately summoned the entire student-athlete contingent for team bonding in the waves of the Caribbean Sea.

The sun-kissed group reconvened back at the hotel a couple of hours later for a rundown of what’s to come in this sure-to-be-unforgettable week ahead. Kristen Schwartz, our leader from Soles4Souls, introduced us to Manuel and Juan who will assist in our service efforts by transporting and translating in the local communities.

Dinner came next, enjoyed at a nearby spot specializing in Puerto Rican and Cuban cuisine. Manuel recommended a traditional Puerto Rican dish named Mofongo. Described as a “volcano of mashed plantains with meat and sauce spewing out of it,” nearly the entire group took him up on his suggestion.

Some chose chicken, some steak and sauce selections included either a garlic or tomato option. No matter the picks, all agreed that Mofongo needs to make its way to the continental United States and more specifically, a locale in the Short North would sure be nice.

Awake for over 20 hours (okay, we may have caught a few hours of shut-eye on the plane) it’s time to the hay.

There will be no ‘dipping in our toes’ to the service-learning experience tomorrow. A double dip of shoe distributions awaits and this clan is champing at the bit to see the children’s smiles.

Good night, Buckeye Nation. Thanks for following along and check back daily for more updates as the week progresses.