#TGW: Jackets Without Borders Take Flight for Puerto Rico

May 5, 2018

Jon Cooper | The Good Word

Jackets Without Borders’ inaugural service trip to Costa Rica last August was considered a major success and brought with it optimism and anticipation for an even-better second edition.

On Saturday morning, that second edition became reality.

A group of 18 student-athletes — women’s basketball’s Martine Fortune and Chanin Scott, football’s Brad Stewart, Hamp Gibbs, Charlie Clark, Carson Fletcher, Austin Nash and Liam Byrne, volleyball’s Sam Knapp, swimming and diving’s Jonathan Vater, Henry Carman, Jacob Kreider, Julia Shuford, Celine Nugent, Catriona MacGregor and Caroline Doi and Annabel McAtee and Hyewon Jung of the spirit squad — as well as three athletics staff members — Total Person Program coordinator Maureen Tremblay, director of brand and ideation Brad Malone and volleyball assistant coach Randi Raff — boarded a plane at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport destined for Puerto Rico. They arrived safely on Saturday afternoon.

The group brings with it the goal of helping raise houses to an area on the outskirts of San Juan that was decimated by Hurricane Maria, raise spirits and hopes of the people in that community and continue to raise the student-athletes’ awareness and consciousness of the world around them — all priorities of this initiative, which is the brainchild of director of athletics Todd Stansbury.

They’re big goals, which can be reached just by playing a part.

“I think really, the biggest impact we want to have is helping continue the work that’s been done and getting the community in a place that is better when we leave than it was before we came,” said Tremblay, who coordinated the trip. “We’re at least hoping to contribute in some way in that area, being able to service the community in whatever they need while we’re there.

“The whole point is to partner with the people in the community and work together so that we’re offering assistance to the project that they’re already doing rather than coming in and doing it by ourselves,” she added. “Working together, providing with what they need, being extra hands and a resource than they might have otherwise.”

Jackets Without Borders will be partnering with the GlobalWorks Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing and helping rebuild communities in need around the world. GlobalWorks knows the landscape of Puerto Rico, as it has been working there for more than 30 years.

Jackets Without Borders will hit the ground running, beginning by familiarizing itself with the surroundings. They’ll get a tour of San Juan and take part in a dinner that night with Georgia Tech alumni and donors. They’ll conclude the trip next Friday by visiting the El Yunque Rainforest. In the days between, the student-athletes will get to work, building permanent housing in a community on the outskirts of San Juan. In the evenings, they’ll have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture.

“I know that the company we’re going through, GlobalWorks, this is a spot they go to very often,” said Stewart, one of two Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) members on the trip (Scott also is on the board). “They need a lot of help, especially after the hurricanes came through, it really hurt their towns. There’s going to be people down there to help us out and lead us in the right direction. We’re just giving hands to the people who are down there.

“Like we discussed in a meeting, we’re only going to be there for a week so the likelihood of us having a major, major impact on these people’s lives is not what we’re there for,” he added. “We’re there to help as much as we can this week to get them one step closer to the place they want to be.”

“They told us the community we’re working with, it’s not like an actual neighborhood. It was kind of like a tent city. They kind of made their homes out of what was available,” said Fortune. “So we’re going to be helping them, making sturdier housing and providing aid like that to get their community more established.”

The Jackets Without Borders trip is the latest Georgia Tech-based initiative to provide relief to Puerto Rico. It follows the softball program’s efforts to raise supplies and funds for those devastated by Hurricane Maria last fall. Head coach Aileen Morales, who spearheaded that effort, expressed her pride in and gratitude for Jackets Without Borders.

“I think this is amazing and am proud that our own Georgia Tech student-athletes will be a part of the rebuilding effort,” said Morales, who has family in Puerto Rico. “The act of giving of one’s time is one of the greatest gifts one can give. This trip shows how special our student-athletes are and the commitment they have to making the world a better place. It’s a great show of servant-leadership.”

“Part of me is disappointed that I am unable to participate, however this trip is not about me,” added Morales, whose team is wrapping up its regular season at Boston College this weekend and hosts the ACC Tournament at Mewborn Field next week. “The fact that we have so many members of the GTAA (Georgia Tech Athletic Association) volunteering their time to this cause is very humbling. This is about using our platform as an opportunity to make a small impact, so I am overjoyed to be associated with an athletic department that is taking action with this trip.”

The participating student-athletes are taking pride in their mission as well.

“I’ve never been on a mission trip because I’ve always been too busy with sports and caught up with everything in my life,” said Stewart, who finished finals following his 16-hour spring semester on Thursday. “I felt like I had this one week off where I could either go back home and relax or go to San Juan and help with hurricane relief efforts. It was an easy decision for me to want to do that before I graduate college.”

“It’s really great to have these experiences with people you’re close with. I wish more of my teammates could come but people want to go home, especially the foreign students,” said Fortune, who also wrapped up her final exams on Thursday. “It’s going to be nice because sometimes traveling is a bit hard when you’re in a new place. So we’re going through this together. It’s not just me kind of stepping into a new culture, plus having to get familiar with people that I don’t interact with every day.”

Both Stewart and Fortune also are cognizant of being role models, as they’re the only upperclassmen on the trip — all but Stewart, Fortune, Scott, Doi, McAtee and Jung are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen.

“I’ll be one of the older guys there,” said Stewart. “Maureen was telling me that she was excited for me to go to have an older face there and be able to help her out and lead people around.”

“The way I like to mentor is leading by example,” said Fortune. “Be open to the experience and learn about the culture when we’re there. I’m planning on talking to people, getting to know people, not shying away from things like new foods, learning about what we see and what we do.”

As with the trip to Costa Rica, Jackets Without Borders plans to chronicle the trip, ultimately creating a documentary.

“One of the goals of the trip is to capture the experience of our student-athletes to be able to share once we return,” said Malone. “That will be done through a mix of video and photography and shared on social media, ramblinwreck.com and in print materials. I’m traveling as both a participant and as the `media coordinator’ to make sure we capture what we need.”

“Last year, we tried to get a videographer but it didn’t work out so it ended up just the staff and students contributed video that we compiled,” said Tremblay. “This year, Brad is going. He knows a lot about telling stories and how to tell the message of what we’re doing. He’ll be getting a lot of video and the experience that our student-athletes are going through and the impact the trip has throughout the whole week. I look forward to seeing what he’s able to produce with that.”

As with last year’s trip, the goal is not only to improve the quality of the lives of the people of Puerto Rico but to provide lifelong memories once returning to Atlanta.

“For me personally, I’m thrilled that Todd has made service trips a part of the Total Person Program for our student-athletes,” said Malone. “In my personal life, I volunteer with Key Club International and work with student-leaders in the state of Georgia. I’ve seen first-hand the impact of servant-leadership and a trip like this is going to stay with our student-athletes for the rest of their lives.”

The student-athletes couldn’t wait to get started.

“I feel like at the end of the day, it’s going to be a very eye-opening experience for me and I think I’ll benefit greatly from it,” Stewart said.

“I feel like it gives you a better sense of how, every person — no matter how different their culture is, if they speak a different language — everybody deserves a helping hand,” said Fortune. “Everybody is like you at the end of the day. This is a good way to build a sense of global community and a sense of caring globally.”

To learn more about the Total Person Program, visit Georgia Tech’s Everyday Champions website — .

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