“A child’s smile is one of life’s greatest blessings”
How important is it to see a huge smile on the face of a child you just met for the first time? How about getting a hug or a high five? Ask any of the members of the Georgia State men’s basketball team and they’ll tell you it’s the most important thing that happened to them during their recent international tour in Costa Rica.
“That trip has made me evaluate every personal possession I want against everything I need,” Ryann Green said. “It was so much more than just shoes. I hope that it was something life-changing for the children we helped as I know it was life-changing for me.”
Junior R.J. Hunter echoed those statements. “We might have only had a few minutes with each child, but hopefully it changed a lot for them. We were able to make them smile, maybe give them a hug or high-five and leave them with hope. Hope is a very powerful thing.”
When Ron Hunter took his Sun Belt Regular Season Defending Champion Georgia State team to Costa Rica in August, basketball was not their number 1 priority. For the last six years, Coach Hunter has been an Ambassador for Samaritan’s Feet, an International Charitable Organization dedicated to improving children’s lives around the world, one pair of shoes at a time. Their immediate goal is to provide shoes to 10 million children in the next 10 years.
When planning the team trip to Costa Rica with Sport Tours International, Coach Hunter knew he wanted to bring shoes with him so his players could participate in a distribution activity. With the assistance of Samaritan’s Feet and charitable and faith based groups in Costa Rica, he was able to find children in areas where there was both a great need and an excitement to have Georgia State visit.
Shoes were not the only thing the team brought with them; they brought intangible gifts, as well. In the process of providing the children they met with a new pair of shoes, the Panther players and staff washed each child’s feet and shared love and hope for their future. And that’s where the smiles, hugs and high fives came in. Both the kids and the players were getting them and giving them. It was a special time.
Altogether, over 500 children received new shoes during the two distributions Georgia State organized in the Los Cuadros and Guarari areas of San Jose. But the goodwill they left behind and the smiles and memories they took with them were even more significant.
“I have been blessed to work with Samaritan’s Feet since 2008,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “The smile on a child’s face brings me joy that no championship could ever match. We were able to bring shoes and hope to so many children on this trip and it is one that I am sure has changed the lives of my players and staff forever.”
Besides their two special community service activities, Georgia State found time to play some ball and experience Costa Rica during their 8 night stay in this beautiful and unique Central American country. Their Sport Tours itinerary included playing 4 games (won them all), zip lining in a cloud forest, touring downtown San Jose, enjoying the hospitality of four star hotels and beach resorts, swimming in the Pacific Ocean at Jaco Beach, plus the opportunity to go surfing, drive ATVs in the mountains and taste true Tico cuisine.
“There is no doubt in my mind this was one of the best trips I have ever been on for so many reasons,” Hunter said. “The group with Sports Tours International was able to make the trip smooth from our arrival to departure and that is huge when you are in a foreign country. Our players got to experience things that they will most likely never experience again; from Costa Rican cuisine to the beautiful mountains that we were able to go zip lining through.”
On November 17th, when the Panthers and Coach Hunter play their first road game of the 2014-15 campaign at Iowa State in Ames, they will be better prepared as a result of the practices and games their International Tour allowed them to have. More importantly, however, it will be the experiences they shared with each other and those 500 children from Costa Rica whose hugs, high fives and smiles they’ll never forget.