Lauren Maxey’s heart begins to melt every time she shares her story.
It’s a story of dedication, acceptance, respect and, most importantly, happiness.
Sitting on the volleyball court alongside three of her closest friends, The Out-of-Door Academy senior can’t help but smile as she fondly recalls the day 32 Guatemalan children stepped into her life for the first time.
Each child had his own story to tell, and, as the children reached their tiny hands out toward Maxey’s outstretched palm, the Lady Thunder outside hitter garnered a new appreciation for life.
Maxey was one of four local volleyball players who traveled June 15 through June 21 to Guatemala to volunteer with Orphan’s Heart, an international child-care program that helps meet the needs of orphaned and disadvantaged children in the developing world.
Maxey first learned about Orphan’s Heart from her mother, Tonya. Maxey’s church, First Baptist Church of Sarasota, had planned to send a team to work with Orphan’s Heart in September, when Maxey would already be in school.
“I just thought it would be a cool experience,” Maxey says. “I love babies, so I thought it would be something nice to do.”
Still wanting to get involved, Maxey discussed the idea with Cardinal Mooney volleyball players Lauren DelFabro and Kelly Firek and Riverview High volleyball player Janie Hritz.
The girls immediately jumped at the idea, and soon the girls were searching for opportunities that would best fit into their schedules.
“I thought it would be cool to go on a trip that actually meant something,” DelFabro says. “We started talking about it, and I got so excited as soon as I heard about it because it was something different than anything I had ever done.”
“All four of us are really close, so, for us to be able to do this together and share the experience and memories was really important,” Firek says.
The players arrived June 15 in Guatemala, and the following day they met the babies for the first time.
The girls instantly fell in love.
Separated into two groups based on the children’s developmental needs, the girls spent the next four days taking care of the children; they did everything from feeding the children to changing their diapers to playing with them.
“It felt good to put a smile on their faces,” Hritz says.
During their time in Guatemala, the girls watched the children learn and develop and formed unique bonds with each of them.
“We were there for four days with the kids, so we knew their personalities and saw what they liked,” Firek says. “We had a connection with them, so it was hard to leave them.
“They get excited to see you and the kids really trust you,” Firek says. “We were all so sad that last day. But the kids didn’t realize that we wouldn’t be there the next day.”
Before the four players had even set foot back home, they immediately began discussing plans to volunteer with Orphan’s Heart again.
The girls want to return to Guatemala during their winter break to see how the children have progressed. In addition, the girls have been saving a portion of their paychecks to donate to Orphan’s Heart.
But, for now, the girls are using the power of technology to keep tabs on how the children are doing while sharing their story with their friends and teammates.
The four girls returned to the volleyball court for their season openers earlier this week.
And, in doing so, they’re hoping to share those same values and ideals, including an appreciation for life and respect for one another, with their teammates.
“The goal was to make the children better and stronger,” Hritz says. “How we cared for the kids to make them stronger is how we need to go about helping build our teams up to win.”
And, although the girls may attend rival schools, they have a newfound mutual respect for one another — a respect that continues both on and off the court.
“We all met through volleyball,” DelFabro says. “Being on the court with each other, it’s not so serious. It shows how good of friends we are even though we are on different teams.”
For more information on Orphan’s Heart visit www.orphansheart.org.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
By the numbers
3 — The number of nannies who typically take care of the 32 children.
32 — The number of children the girls were responsible for in Guatemala.
5,000 — The approximate number of homeless children living on the streets of Guatemala City.