Kent State Student-Athletes and Staff Complete Courts for Kids Service Project in Belize
Instead of heading home to relax following the conclusion of finals week, a group of Kent State University student-athletes traveled to Aguacate, Belize, to partner with Courts for Kids on a service project from May 16-24.
A total of 19 student-athletes volunteered to make the trip and were accompanied by five staff members as they aided community members in the construction of a multipurpose sports court located next to the local school.
“I am so impressed with all of our student-athletes and staff members that came on this trip and couldn’t be more proud of how they have represented our university,” says Katie Schilling, assistant director for student-athlete development at Kent State. “Our student-athletes did such an amazing job completing the court while working in a challenging environment. They had to adapt to being part of a new culture, and these were probably some of the highest temperatures most of them will ever experience.”
Schilling organized the trip as a way for the student-athletes to help those in need while also providing an education-abroad experience that is difficult for them to participate in while playing a sport.
Once they arrived in Aguacate, a village in Belize’s Toledo district, the Kent State Golden Flashes were tasked with transforming an area of dirt located next to the school into a multipurpose court. In addition to serving as a place for children in the community to play volleyball, soccer and basketball, the court will be used for community celebrations, dances and health fairs.
“I feel that building this court will really have a positive impact on the community,” says men’s basketball junior Jalen Avery. “The children now have a place to enjoy playing different sports. Athletics can help teach many valuable aspects of life, such as teamwork; and hopefully, this court plays a role in that for these children.”
When they were not hard at work constructing the court, the Golden Flashes spent time getting to know the children in the community and teaching them how to play basketball, American football and volleyball.
“My favorite memory from the trip was after the day of work, when the kids would run up to all of us and be so excited to play sports and spend time with the group,” says gymnastics senior Rachel Stypinski. “Seeing their smiles at the end of the long, hot day was the best feeling in the world, and made all of your aches and pains go away.”
The student-athletes lived with different host families during their stay, which aided in learning about Belizean culture.
“This experience has really humbled me,” says volleyball senior Heather Younkin. “There were three children in our host family’s house, and there was never a dull moment. Being able to get to know the children in the community really made the experience a lot better, and knowing how much happiness this court is going to give them provided the motivation to continue working when we got exhausted.”
The trip provided the Golden Flashes with an alternative outlook on enjoying life.
“As Americans, we’re constantly on the go,” Younkin says. “We tend to look at what is ahead of us. One thing I learned from the trip is that it’s alright to relax after a hard day’s work and just to enjoy the moment.”
Having to unplug from technology provided a great bonding experience for the group, as the student-athletes and staff members spent much of their time having conversations with each other and members of the community. In alignment with the department’s “Flashes supporting Flashes” mantra, the student-athletes worked with members of other teams in order to form new relationships and strengthen teamwork skills.
“This first trip was a great experience for all involved,” Schilling says. “Everybody learned a lot about themselves and grew as leaders. I think the student-athletes will be able to share their experience with their teammates and hopefully generate more interest for future trips.”
As part of Kent State Athletics’ vision to make a difference in the community, future international service projects are in the planning stages with the hopes of a trip during winter break to allow student-athletes competing in spring sports to have an opportunity to participate.
About Courts for Kids
Courts for Kids is an official 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, based in Vancouver, Washington, whose mission is “Transforming lives through building courts and cultural exchange.” To date, Courts for Kids has constructed 113 courts in 24 different countries with the help of 2,179 volunteers.