CHICAGO – Joe Hanel was inspired to do something a little on the unique side for a Division I student-athlete.
The starting center on last season’s basketball team has organized a service trip to Guatemala accompanied by eight other Blue Demons who will volunteer their time and effort helping out at an orphanage for abandoned and at-risk children.
They leave on Saturday for Casa San Andres in Parramos which is 16 miles from Antigua and one hour northwest of the capital of Guatemala City.
Joining Hanel are Kelly Campbell of women’s basketball, Sebastian Feyersinger of men’s track and field, Ronnie Griggs of men’s golf, Amani Hardrict of women’s track and field, Anton Sell of men’s soccer and Sonia Johnson, Vanessa Nigg and Elizabeth Parilli of women’s soccer. The group’s chaperones are Ben Gutman of Athletics Academic Advising and Tom Judge of University Ministry.
Coordinating the trip is NPH USA (Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos) which is Spanish for “Our Little Brothers and Sisters.” NPH is raising more than 3,200 orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.
Hanel and his fellow volunteers will spend the next week on a 25-acre home for at-risk and abandoned children located in Guatemala’s highlands 4,900 feet above sea level. Casa San Andres includes homes, dormitories, a school (grades K-9), a clinic, a farm, library, computer room and greenhouse while also providing vocational workshops in baking, cooking, carpentry, metalwork and sewing.
There is also staff and volunteer housing along with Castillo Magico, a home for children with specials needs inside the NPH grounds that provides 24-hour care for over 20 children with severe disabilities and neurological issues.
“We’re going to an orphanage with a big kitchen, a soccer field and dorms,” Hanel said. “We’re going to work at Casa San Andres, plant and harvest crops and help prepare meals for more than 300 children. We’ll do some painting and construction work. All the children have chores to perform, and we’ll also help take care of the younger children.
“Beginning around 7 a.m., we’ll work with the kids on their chores. They attend school from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., break for lunch and resume classes until 4 p.m. While they’re in school, we’ll continue working around the orphanage.”
As a high school student-athlete, Hanel went on a similar trip to the Honduras. He approached DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto about a Blue Demon service project.
“My first time was unbelievable, a life-changing experience in another part of the world,” Hanel said. “It changes your view on life, and I came back with a different perspective.
These people have to work every day, and if you don’t work—you don’t eat. It opened my eyes to be more aware of helping the people around you.
“I wanted my fellow student-athletes to have an experience like that.”
Hanel was fully prepared to engage in a fundraising effort to cover the trip’s expenses. Guatemala, which has been devastated by 35 years of civil war, has more than half the population living below the poverty line.
“I went to Jeanne to see if we could use DePaul events for the fundraising,” Hanel said. “Jeanne went out of her way and found a donor for us. It was unbelievable on her part to do that for us.”
Candidates for the trip filled out an application, and there were more than twice as many applicants as spaces available.
“The worst part of this whole process was cutting down the list because they were all great candidates,” Hanel said. “That’s a testament to DePaul athletics and the emphasis on values and service that so many people signed up.”
Gutman nodded his head in agreement.
“Having an overflow of candidates for this trip speaks to the quality of the student-athletes that coaches at DePaul recruit,” Gutman said. “Sports, academics and character are flowing through this program at every turn.
“Joe has made the most of this leadership opportunity. He started from scratch with this idea and engaged Tom Judge and myself in this project.
“Joe realizes what athletics have brought him, and now he wants to give back and share some of those privileges that he enjoys.”
What Hanel remembers most of all from his first NPH trip was the reaction of the children.
“After school, we can hang out with the kids, play soccer and other games and form relationships,” Hanel said. “They are so clever and fun-loving in the games they make up. Despite having so little, they find ways to play games. They have virtually nothing, and yet they have so much energy and joy.
“They are so clever. We’re the newcomers, and they have fun playing little jokes on us.”