USF Student Athletes Reach Out in the Dominican Republic: Gain New Perspectives

A few lucky San Francisco athletes were privileged enough to spend Spring Break 2012 on a sunny Caribbean island — but they weren’t there just to relax and lie on the beach. Members of the USF soccer and volleyball teams spent their break doing community service work in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic.

The week consisted of several different kinds of projects for the athletes, including construction of playgrounds and soccer fields at a school, teaching P.E. classes, working at an orphanage and providing a large clothing donation. They spent much of their time with children from difficult home situations.

“Initially we thought it was working with kids, and teaching them volleyball and playing sports with them, but I think we found out it was a lot more than that,” sophomore volleyball player Rebecca Kopilovitch said.

The group found the children they worked with to be inspirational in a way that went far beyond what they expected at the start of the trip.

“They [the children] are so proud of what they have, and they are so grateful for what they have, and so grateful for us. Every day we would arrive where we were working and they would swarm the car, swarm us, giving hugs. It was so amazing to feel such love coming from such troubled background, where there really is no love,” freshman soccer player Mackenzie Krieser said.

Many of the children that the USF group met and worked with were orphans or children from abusive households, extreme poverty, alcoholic parents, and other difficulties in the home.

“Some of the stories that we heard about the kids, it was really shocking, because they were the most loving kids I have ever met in my life,” freshman soccer player Lauren AbuAli said.

The group from San Francisco spent their last day on the island at the orphanage, where they had volunteered most of their afternoons. Sitting at long tables and listening to music with the 80 or so children and some parents, the USF students were overwhelmed by the affection they received from the children.

“[There were] smiles all around, even though it was the end of the trip, there was a joy that came over everybody. It was very humbling to see everyone happy, especially knowing the situation they come from,” senior volleyball player Leanna Ludes said.

For both Ludes and Kopilovitch, the final afternoon at the orphanage was their favorite part of the trip. And while that afternoon marked the end of the week on the island, it was the beginning of the second aspect to the experience for the volunteers: the experience of returning to the U.S. with a new, wider understanding of other parts of the world.

“I think it’s so important for everyone to have an experience like that. Here in America, we’re sheltered…this is not a reflection of the rest of the world. It is so
important to be enriched as to how it really is,” Krieser said.

“When an opportunity presents itself like the one we got to go on, it’s something you’ve got to take advantage of because being a student athlete you don’t get a lot of time,” Ludes said. “To take a week and just go help — it’s a really humbling experience, and you don’t look at America the same afterwards.”

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