By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
When the Goshen College baseball team went to Florida for its annual Spring Break trip, there was more than baseball on the agenda for the Maple Leafs.
Goshen’s players had one day off during the trip. Instead of going to the beach or lounging around the pool, they used it helping others.
The Maple Leafs spent that day of service helping out the Sunshine Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with children ages 3-18 who are chronically ill, seriously ill, physically challenged, or abused.
The Davenport, Florida-based organization, which has been in existence since 1976, has, over the years, worked with more than 35,000 children, putting together special wishes from the children. The centerpiece of the organization is a 22-acre “dream village,” intended to be an oasis from the real world for the children and their families. The village includes access to miniature golf, a swimming pool, and area amusement parks.
Wanda Curtis, a family manager and property coordinator with the Sunshine Foundation, said the organization cannot do what it does without the help of volunteers.
“The Sunshine Foundation’s special children have a few days when the pain does not take the joy from their young lives,” Curtis said. “Thank you to the Goshen College baseball team for helping Sunshine to offer these children, if only for a few days, the joy of seeing their dreams come true and lessening the burden of their illness. We may not understand why these illnesses have to happen to innocent children, but everyone at the Sunshine Foundation knows that it is volunteers who truly are the children’s Guardian Angels.”
For Maple Leafs coach Eric Screeton, the volunteer day was in keeping with the spirit of service that is at the heart of Goshen College’s mission.
“It is important for our young men to realize how fortunate and privileged we are,” Screeton said. “It is important as members of this baseball team that we live and act according to our college creed of servant leadership and global citizenship. It is important that we assist those that are in need and find time in our lives to make a difference.”
The experience was an eye-opening and rewarding one for the Maple Leaf players.
Sophomore infielder Arick Armington volunteered for some especially hazardous duty: Knocking down a beehive on the Sunshine Foundation property.
Without any protective gear.
“Nobody else wanted to do it, so I figured I would take care of it,” Armington said with a smile.
The experience was just as rewarding as the baseball the Maple Leafs played on their trip, Armington said.
“It was great for us to bond as a team, and to do something to help others,” Armington said.
Freshman pitcher Matt Austin, meanwhile, was part of a group of Maple Leafs who did some landscaping work around the dream village.
Not as hazardous as Armington’s bee-clearing adventure, but just as rewarding, Austin said.
“We raked some leaves, helped clean up the property,” Austin said.
It was a good way for the Maple Leaf players to reflect on the blessings in their lives, Austin said.
“We get to play baseball, and there are children battling serious illnesses,” Austin said. “It was neat to help out, and it was good for us to get to do something besides baseball.”
The team did a variety of landscaping jobs all day to prepare for guests of the dream village to arrive. They also got a chance to hear a presentation from Curtis, who explained the organization and showed a video about the thousands of children who have visited the foundation from all over the world.
The Maple Leafs went 2-4 on their Florida trip, playing six games in six days.