PREP ZONE

Volunteering for children of other countries helps athletes learn about themselves

2011-04-28T22:00:00Z 2011-04-29T04:55:05Z Volunteering for children of other countries helps athletes learn about themselvesBy Hillary Smith and Matt Douthett Times Reporters nwitimes.com

After a week spent in Guatemala, Michael Croft sneaked back into the baby room of an orphanage one last time.

He had a chance to say goodbye to the children who, in less than a week, had touched his life. 

"That was the most emotionally significant thing I did the whole week," the Covenant Christian senior baseball player said. "Out of everything we did, working in the baby house was my favorite.

"I was in there three of the five days, and it was fantastic. The kids liked me, and I learned so much. It was a big step for me."

Twenty of the Demotte school's 23 seniors attended a service week at the Casa Bernabe Orphanage in Guatemala, where they volunteered for a series of jobs ranging from dry walling to gardening to child care. It's all part of the school's service week projects, in which each class spends time away from school bettering their community.

"It teaches you a lot about yourself," senior baseball player Justin Dexter said. "Over the course of four years, it teaches you aspects of spiritual growth and inner growth, and you learn some handy skills, like dry walling."

The Covenant Christian ballplayers aren't the only ones in the region athletic community learning about, then acting to improve, the world around them. Morton golfer Jozef Zawacki heard a speaker teach about the Invisible Children in the Ugandan Civil War and decided to make a difference, too. Zawacki and fellow golfer Ryan Robinson are planning a summer concert to raise money for the children of the South African country.

"A lot of their maturing has come from their involvement in extracurricular activities," Governors golf coach Robert Hall said. "They are still involved in several (activities), but now they are leaders. Their focus is better, and all things are in their proper places."

•••

At Covenant Christian, the service week activities take Knights across the country before they travel to other countries. As freshmen, the class remains locally, this year working with the Lakeshore Area Regional Recovery of Indiana and Christian Haven in Wheatfield. The sophomores help prepare a camp for underprivileged youth in Michigan, while the juniors go to Kentucky to rebuild and renovate homes in Appalachia. The senior project takes the class to the Guatemalan orphanage to combine all of the lessons they've learned through the first three years of experiences.

"Being in a different country gives you a glimpse into your character and your classmates' characters," Croft said. "When you're done, it's not like you're just part of the same class anymore; it's like you're part of the same family."

The service week comes after spring break at Covenant Christian, not in lieu of. It also means that the spring sports lose their athletes for a week, shutting down the schedule and practices while the school is out of town.

Dexter said that to keep his baseball skills fresh, he packed his mitt and a ball to toss around with the children in the orphanage. They'd have nothing of it.

"Soccer was more their thing," Dexter said. "With the kids constantly around, it was hard to throw the ball around, because all they wanted to do was play soccer. They'd bring the soccer ball out, and it was pretty hard to turn them down. So I spent the week playing soccer."

Returning to the region for nearly a week of rain outs helped the Knights return from using their hammer-swinging muscles to those that toss around the baseball.

"The first day back, we were a little rusty," said Dexter as the school returned to normal operating procedure Monday. "That first practice was pretty hard, because we did not even have a chance to look at a baseball all week. I'm not used to having a busy, busy schedule like that when you're working all the time, and if you're not, you spend all of your time with the little kids."

Croft said he has a little brother who was adopted from Bulgaria. He said that spending time in the orphanage gave him a better understanding of why his parents chose to adopt a new member of his family.

"Before I left (Guatemala), I realized that was probably the last time in my life or their lives I was ever going to see these amazing little kids," Croft said. "There's a good chance none of us are ever going to come back, but they all touched our lives."

•••

Giving a voice to youngsters who don't have one is the goal of Zawacki and Robinson.

What began as the simple acceptance of an invitation from his cousin to attend a church youth group event turned into a very shocking, yet motivational experience for Zawacki.

A movie detailing what the children of Uganda experience on a daily basis was shown, and it was then that Zawacki learned of the horrors occurring for the Invisible Children.

"I was just in shock that something this wretched could take place," Zawacki said. "How could the government allow this to go on?"

After speaking with a member of the organization, Zawacki learned of possible fundraising opportunities he could pursue that would benefit the Ugandan children.

"That following Monday I pitched an idea to (Morton principal Doug Friend) of doing a concert, and he was ecstatic about it," Zawacki said.

The benefit will include several different songs and video footage of what is happening in Uganda, meaning Zawacki needed to get Morton's choir to perform the songs.

Zawacki and fellow golfer Ryan Robinson are both involved in the Academy for the Performing Arts at Morton. Robinson is in the choir, and helping out with the benefit was a no-brainer for him.

Like Zawacki, Robinson's reaction to the civil war was one of shock, but for different reasons.

"It shocked me, personally, because it really hits me close to home," Robinson said. "My mother visited a family member who used to live in Uganda back in 1993. I never knew the family, because it was on her side. It was bad then (in 1993).

"When I learned about what Jozef was doing, it was really touching. I was like, 'Man, we have to do something.'"

Zawacki has an immense responsibility in preparing for the benefit. He's in charge of fundraising for the event and plans to have several movie nights at the high school and hopes to sell candy to make the project happen.

The benefit, scheduled for June 21, will have a flat entrance fee. Proceeds from the tickets will be sent to Uganda to aid the children.

"I'll send the money off, record it and let the kids see what we're doing here in the states," Zawacki said. "I'll send that off, so they can see that there's someone helping -- that they're not alone."

Robinson said the benefit concert has received a great deal of positive remarks from around the high school.

"We ran it by our coach, Robert Hall, and he said it was a really good idea," Robinson said. "He said what (we're) doing is very inspiring."

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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