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Beavers Without Borders: OSU athletes build something unforgettable in Guatemala
CORVALLIS - To a man, they say they were moved by the trip.
'Eye-opening,' Oregon State receiver Markus Wheaton says.
Former OSU tailback Yvenson Bernard calls it 'inspirational.'
Safety Lance Mitchell: 'Life-changing.'
Cornerback Rashaad Reynolds: 'Best thing I've done in my life. It's something I'll never forget.'
It was the 'Beavers Without Borders' excursion that took a group of 17 people - including seven current and seven graduated OSU student-athletes - to Guatemala for a spring-break service trip none of them will ever forget.
The event was arranged by Taylor Kavanaugh, the former Lincoln High and Oregon State player now working for Turner Construction in Seattle.
As an OSU undergrad, Kavenaugh had made a similar trip to Guatemala with a group of engineering students. It motivated him to create such an opportunity for those in his alma mater's athletic department.
'It changed my outlook on a few things,' Kavanaugh says. 'I came back a different person, for the better. It's something everyone should experience. I decided to provide that opportunity for our own student-athletes.'
Mitchell, Reynolds, Wheaton, punter Johnny Hekker, Bernard and ex-football players Bryant Cornell and Aaron Nichols were among the group Kavanaugh lined up to build a house for a needy family in the small town of Alotenango, Guatemala.
None of the group had construction experience. Few spoke more than a few words of Spanish. It didn't matter.
The OSU athletic department contributed funds to the cause. Everyone had to fund-raise the remainder of the $1,200 necessary for the flight to Central America and expenses while there. Each of them stayed in the home of a Guatemalan family.
'The family we were staying with fed us breakfast,' Wheaton says. 'We got lunch from the family we were building the house for, and dinner was on us.'
In six days, the 17 contributors built a 300-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom house for a family of 10 that had been living off of $3 a day in a one-room shack with two beds.
'What they were living in is almost beyond comprehension,' Kavanaugh says.
'You can't really call what they were living in a house,' Mitchell says. 'It was sheet metal and sticks and stuff like that.'
'It was just some walls, really,' Wheaton says. 'They were pretty much living outside.'
Materials were purchased or donated by Turner. Instruction was provided by Kavanaugh. The workers learned on the fly.
'We built it from the ground up,' Kavanaugh says. 'Wheaton and Hekker were digging the foundation. Lance was laying bricks. Everybody had his duties. Nobody on the team had any (construction) experience, but they did really good.'
'The house isn't big, but it's on a concrete foundation, with a roof, electricity and a bathroom,' Mitchell says. 'Before, they really had nothing.'
Though most of the residents spoke no or little English, the eager Beavers learned much about the other side of life in the impoverished community.
'It was shocking to see how they were living, how little money they were living off of,' Wheaton says.
'We'd never really seen anything like that,' Mitchell says. 'I grew up in a residential neighborhood (in Pasadena, Calif.). Yeah, there were some hardships, but life is a real struggle for these people. They have to worry about water, the next meal - stuff we don't think twice about in America.'
'The people there were living in real poverty,' Reynolds says. 'You see kids walking around with old church shoes, or not shoes at all. The clothes were dirty.
'But the kids in that community, they were the happiest I've been around. It was an amazing thing to see. Life is so difficult for them, but how they embraced us as outsiders, it shows how great people can be.'
The family members who were recipients of the new house 'were there the whole time,' Mitchell says. 'The father worked a job, but the last two or three days he was there and helped us build the house.
'The kids were helping, too. The mother and neighbors made lunch for us. There was a lot of interaction between us and them, despite the language barrier. That was one of the best things about the trip.'
'They were so appreciative,' Bernard says. 'Toward the middle of the trip, they became like family. They always knew we were going to be there 7, 7:30 in the morning. They were excited when we got there.'
Wheaton and Reynolds are roommates in Corvallis.
'But this trip made us closer,' Reynolds says. 'It made all of us closer. I'll always have a special bond with everyone who went on the trip.'
'Everyone got something out of it,' says Bernard, who will play for the Canadian Football League Montreal Alouettes next season. 'We live in such a small world and don't get outside of it. It was a really neat experience.'
For the 'Beavers Without Borders' group, it was just a beginning.
Bernard, a native of Haiti who had been involved in fundraising efforts a year ago to help his country through its devastating earthquake, is now planning a 'Haiti Festival' in Corvallis on May 14. Proceeds will go toward construction of an elementary school in Haiti.
The festival will include an auction, sale of Haitian art, live music, a beer garden, a football camp for children and the appearance of former Beaver greats as Sabby Piscitelli and Sammie Stroughter.
Kavnaugh is arranging four more visits over the next year, which will include not only construction work but projects involving the medical field.
'We're going to Macedonia in June, Cambodia in December, Honduras next spring break and Guatemala again in the summer of 2012,' he says. 'We're signing student-athletes up for all of those trips.'
A video trailer with highlights of the trip is available on YouTube, via user name 'beaverswoborders.' Kavanaugh and videographer Matt Wilcox are also putting together a 45-minute mini-documentary that will be shown in Portland, Corvallis and Bend in August.
'We'll use that as a fundraising opportunity, so Beaver Nation can see these student-athletes in a different light,' Kavanaugh says. 'This is really just the start of something bigger.'