Thursday, May 31, 2012

Trip to Haiti brings rush of emotion to college linebacker

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TIME FOR WORK, TIME FOR PLAY—Westlake High School graduate Luke Freeman accompanied 15 of his USC football teammates to Haiti this spring as part of Hope Force International’s House for Hope project. They built homes, gave gifts to local children and brought supplies to schools and orphanages. “It was mentally . . . and physically draining,” he said of the trip. TIME FOR WORK, TIME FOR PLAY—Westlake High School graduate Luke Freeman accompanied 15 of his USC football teammates to Haiti this spring as part of Hope Force International’s House for Hope project. They built homes, gave gifts to local children and brought supplies to schools and orphanages. “It was mentally . . . and physically draining,” he said of the trip.By Dashiell Young-Saver

Westlake High School graduate and USC linebacker Luke Freeman stepped onto a bus three weeks ago with 15 of his teammates and headed for the small Haitian village of Sous Savanne.
Nothing had prepared him for what he was about to see beyond the bus windows.
“The bus ride to Sous Savanne was quiet. Nobody was talking. People were just soaking everything in because there was trash in the street, tents . . . well, not even tents . . . just sheets held up with sticks, and that’s what they live under. And it rains every day there, so they have to rebuild their house every day. It’s really sad,” Freeman said.

Photos courtesy of Luke Freeman Photos courtesy of Luke FreemanOn May 11, more than two years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit the island nation of Haiti, members of the Trojan football team, together with other USC students and families, traveled to Haiti. They’d volunteered to work on the Houses for Hope project for the Christian nonprofit Hope Force International.

Over the course of six days, they built four homes, distributed gifts to local children and delivered more than 2,500 pounds of supplies to schools and orphanages.
“It was mentally draining and physically draining,” Freeman said. “But when you look and see the little kids, it pushes you that much further to keep building the houses.”
Freeman grew up in Westlake and played for the WHS football team from 2005 to 2009. He’ll be a senior at USC in the fall, majoring in human biology.
Freeman was invited to participate in the trip by USC star quarterback Matt Barkley, whose father, Les, led the Haiti team and was one of the first responders that gave logistical support and oversight to a medical team of 19 in Haiti after the earthquake hit.
After raising funds on campus to pay for their travel and building materials, the USC team worked in Sous Savanne, a village on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
Of the 300 families who live in the village, around 270 lost their homes during the earthquake.
Hope Force International has led recovery efforts in Sous Savanne for the past two years.
“From day one, (the football players) were all gentlemen,” said Cherie Minton, co-founder and executive vice president of Hope Force International. “They were appropriate, kind and compassionate. And not only did they work hard . . . but they would also stop and play with the kids. It touched the kids so deeply that they are still asking about the players by name.”
For Freeman, the most memorable experience of the service mission was interacting with the Haitian children.
“The kids are awesome. . . . I mean, they have no worldly possessions at all. It just makes you realize how good we have it here,” Freeman said.
Building homes for eight hours a day in the humidity was grueling work, but, according to Freeman, the team grew closer as a result.
“You have to come together as a group and team when building houses, because if you have all individuals working, nothing will get done. We are going to take that back to SC and form a stronger group,” Freeman said.
USC defensive end Kevin Greene marveled at his teammate’s work ethic in a setting outside the classroom and stadium lights.
“With Luke, he’s a hard worker in the classroom and he’s a hard worker on the football field. But seeing how hard he worked that week just to finish the houses and get things done was tremendous. That was the closest we have been together besides football, and there was definitely a strong friendship that was bonded.”
For the USC team, the trip is something they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Some members plan to volunteer in Haiti again.
“I feel like that experience was something nobody can ever take away from us. The memories that we made out there, we will hold on to for rest of our lives,” Greene said.

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