Oct. 10, 2008
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
Rock-Haitian partnership scores goals
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Ruben Merisier negotiates Egli Soccer Field on the campus of Slippery Rock University like he owns the place, snapping pictures, smiling broadly and shouting "good play" as the SRU men's soccer team plays a match against Wheeling Jesuit.
The Haitian orphanage worker knows several players because they were among a group of SRU student-athletes who traveled to Haiti in August on a humanitarian mission to help the "forgotten angels" at the Cap Haitian orphanage where Merisier works.
The student-athletes, who raised $18,000 to cover expenses and buy hygiene and school supplies for the children, were so taken with Merisier they invited him to visit The Rock if he ever came to the U.S. Last week, Merisier took them up on their offer.
"We thought it would be nice for him to see where we go to school because we saw his environment," said Patrick Cormac, a member of the men's soccer team from England.
"I had a good time," Merisier said. "They [Rock student-athletes] are very nice people."
Merisier, who stayed with Cormac, was greeted as a "family member" home for a visit. He wore a Rock windbreaker, prayed with the men's soccer players before the game and gave them high fives as they left the sidelines to begin their match against Wheeling Jesuit. The men's team won 2-0, followed by a 2-1 victory by the women's team over Clarion.
"I first met Ruben in August with the other student-athletes where he acted as an interpreter for the Haiti trip," Cormac said. "He is a very impressive human being with a massive heart. He's basically devoted his life to helping fellow orphans grow up in Haiti. He works tirelessly trying to raise funds to build a new orphanage, one where kids have better facilities, food and brighter prospects for the future and some form of employment. You cannot help but be impressed by his character."
Merisier, who was in the U.S. raising support for the Cap Haitian orphanage, learned English by studying in school and practicing with missionary teams that played soccer with him during his childhood.
"I grew up at the orphanage from five years old," he said. "The orphanage was owned by the American people. The missionary teams came down and played with us. I practiced my English with them."
His first trip to the U.S. included several firsts, including fall foliage and snow - from a distance. "When I was in Seattle, I saw a mountain with snow on it," he said.
SRU students formed SRU Athletes For Forgotten Angels for the trip. Noreen Herlihy, SRU head women's soccer coach, and Matt Thompson, SRU head men's coach, oversaw the goodwill trip to Haiti. Julie Manfred, an SRU alumna and a leader of the campus chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, assisted. The Rock student-athletes also played soccer with the children, read to them and taught them some algebra.
The nine students who went on the trip were Lisa Belcastro, field hockey/Doylestown; Andrea Campbell, women's volleyball/Felton; Cormac, men's soccer/Plymouth, England; Jeremy Deighton, men's soccer/Broadview Heights, Ohio; Steffani Gravely, women's soccer/Philadelphia; Courtney Hoover, women's soccer/Warwick Valley, N.Y.; Jackie Palus, women's basketball/Independence, Ohio; Lara Rizzi, women's tennis/Irwin); and Linda Schirmeister, women's soccer/London, England.
An article about the trip will appear in the fall edition of The ROCK alumni magazine.
"What we learned from this trip is simple," Herlihy said. "The most empowering things in the world don't cost us anything - time spent with others less fortunate, whether in Haiti or in your own neighborhood, time spent with a child, compassion, respect and, most important of all, love."
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.