The ENC women’s basketball team traveled to Puerto Rico last month to help with hurricane relief.
The trip was scheduled during April 2017 as a chance to compete in a basketball tournament hosted by the company Sports Tours. After Hurricane Maria hit the island in September, the tournament was cancelled, leaving the status of the basketball trip up in the air.
“The hurricane came through, and they cancelled the tournament and we thought, ‘we can’t go,’” said Head Coach Sacha Santimano. “We had booked our flight and had everything done and were trying to figure out what to do.”
Santimano said that Sports Tours stayed in communication with her the next week and suggested that the team still make the trip, because they could use the help.
“There were a lot of things that went through our minds. We went back and forth pretty much every day that week,” Santimano said. “Every day, we’d get off the phone with Sports Tours and say, ‘We have to pray and see if this is what God wants us to do and pray for him to lead our team.’”
After thoughtful prayer and discussion, Santimano and assistant coach, Madison Flowers, made the decision to proceed with the trip. The athletes fully supported the decision.
“At first we were really sad that we weren’t gonna be able to go anymore,” senior Kayla Torio said. “The coaches asked us if we were sure [we wanted to go] and we weren’t hesitant. We were like, ‘No we want to go; we want to help out.’”
The team left December 14 and got to work right away. They headed to the Church of the Nazarene in San Juan where they unloaded trucks filled with generators, mattresses, water filters and other supplies for families in need.
“There were around 30-40 families still sleeping on mattresses that were soaked,” Santimano said. “We saw this wait list of families that was three pages long. You would think in three months that there would be a lot more progress, but there wasn’t.”
Santimano said that first day was one of the hardest, but one of the most rewarding because the team got to know some of the locals.
“The people of Puerto Rico are just so sweet. Their souls were so loving and their work ethic was unbelievable. They’ve been unloading these trucks 2 or 3 times a week. We did it one day and I went to bed at 8 o’clock because I was so tired,” she said.
The whole trip was not just about work, though. The team explored the old city of San Juan, hung out on the beach and kayaked on a bioluminescent bay.
“If we weren’t doing any other outing, we were going to do [the bioluminescent bay],” said Santimano.
The team also had a chance to play a basketball game while they were there.
“We were with three other teams that were there. There was not a tournament; there were just games, single games,” said Santimano. “We played at the only colosseum in 40 miles that wasn’t ruined. That building only had one entrance.”
Torio said the trip started to feel real when they drove past a gym that had been destroyed on the way to their game.
“The walls were brought down, there was no roof, all we saw was a basketball hoop,” she said. “It made us feel really grateful to have the gym we have. It was eye–opening to say ‘We shouldn’t complain about what we have here when in Puerto Rico they barely have enough to do what they want to do.’”
Senior Shelby Holmes said her favorite part of the trip was visiting the Boys and Girls Club on the last day. The team spent the day playing with the kids, many of whom couldn’t be in school more than a few hours a day due to a lack of electricity. Santimano said they were working with half of the building, because the other half had been destroyed in the hurricane. She said there were 50 kids in an area the size of three bedrooms.
“I think it was good for us to see that,” said Holmes. “They work really hard to make it look like everything is fine, but these kids only get to go to school a few hours a day.”
The team took up clothing donations at their games to bring to Puerto Rico. They brought seven suitcases full of clothing and were able to donate half to the Church of the Nazarene and half to the Boys and Girls Club.
Holmes said this was her favorite trip she’s been on and the most impactful.
“Just seeing how a struggle can bring people together and still these people could find joy and still have pride in their home and still want it to be this beautiful place that it is — their friendliness and their strength changed me and gave me a new perspective,” she said. “If I had another year, that’s where I would pick to go.”
Santimano joked that the only thing she would have changed about the trip was that she would have stayed longer. She said in 14 years, this is her favorite trip she’s taken with the team.
“You just don’t know what you’re capable of as a coach and as a player and the way that [God] works through you and others to make you realize these things you never realized before is amazing,” she said. “Just, God’s great. I don’t know how to say it any better than that.”