For the third consecutive year, select members of the Eastern Kentucky University football team took a mission trip to Haiti to serve with the Hands and Feet Project in Jacmel. The group left Kentucky on May 17 and returned to the States on May 23.
This year, 20 players along with head coach Dean Hood and assistant coaches Garry Fisher and Jake Johnson took time out of their summer break to visit Haiti.
“The trip is always a humongous dose of perspective,” Hood said. “When you get down there, you realize we are very blessed to have the things we have in America. Haiti is the poorest of the poor.”
Many of the players were making their first-ever trip outside of the United States, while some others like Jon Floyd were making a return trip to Haiti.
“Last year made such a big impact on me,” Floyd said. “I had never seen anything that poor before. This was a huge eye-opener for me.”
The Colonels’ assigned project for this year was to help the orphanage piece together the beginning stages of an aquaponics farm, with the goal of making the orphanage self-sustaining with food consisting of fish, vegetables and fruit.
“What we accomplished in one week they said would have taken seven weeks,” Floyd said. “They called us the Haitian Bulldozers.”
Besides work on the aquaponics farm, the EKU travel party assisted in painting, moving cement and moving rocks. The majority of last year’s trip was spent moving rock in preparation for a foundation for a second boys building, which is now complete.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the work our guys did and their interaction with the kids,” Hood said. “Lots of people take mission trips to the orphanage in the summer, but not many of the people can handle the physicality of some of the projects like our guys can. What they accomplished was unbelievable.”
When not helping via physical labor, the Colonels spent a large portion of time just hanging out with the kids living at the orphanage. Soccer and basketball were huge hits with the boys while jump rope was a favorite for many of the girls.
The EKU football team has a personal connection with the Jacmel orphanage as the squad has been sponsoring a boy named Stevenson for the past three years. Each month, the coaching staff takes up a voluntary collection from the players and sends that donation to the Hands and Feet Project. That money has been used to provide school uniforms, medicine and food for Stevenson.
“You go down there to work, but you really go down there for the kids,” Floyd said. “There are more than 70 kids on the compound, and they all love you and hang on you.”
On one of the free mornings, several Colonels took advantage of an opportunity to swim in a coral reef. The week wrapped up on Friday with a tour around the city of Jacmel, which was ravaged by the 2010 earthquake.
Stanley Absanon, Jalen Allen, Jared Bowling, Zack Burgy-VanHoose, Floyd, Vincent Green, Raynaldy Gustave, Robby Irgang, JJ Jude, Alex Klingel, Cameron Kowalewski, Tyler Malone, Taylor Miller, Marquise Piton, Avery Pitt, ShaQuille Prather, Kagen Skidmore, Tyler Swafford, Trey Thomas and Kamareé Walden took part in the mission trip.
“Being a senior, I really wanted to help and you could see how much we meant to the kids,” said Thomas, who was making his first trip to Haiti. “People say how bad it is over there, but you really can’t tell until you go there yourself.”
The Hands and Feet Project provides holistic, residential care for children in crisis by building and operating Children’s Villages with multiple family-style homes led by Haitian House Mothers.