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Recent News And Events From Play Ball Puerto Rico

Play Ball Puerto Rico Acknowledged as a Driving Force in Bringing Puerto Rico Back from Hurricane Devastation

November 15, 2021

In the aftermath of two hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico, UNA-USA Puerto Rico chapter Founder and Executive Director Ricardo Arzuaga Chaves saw an opportunity to bring people on the island together around a common goal: resilience against climate change and sustainable development for a more secure future.

“It was such a turning point for everybody in Puerto Rico,” says Ricardo Arzuaga Chaves, the Founder and Executive Director of the island’s chapter of the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA PR).

In 2017, two major hurricanes, Irma and Maria, struck the Caribbean island within less than two weeks, giving its people no choice but to confront climate change head-on.

The hurricanes, which killed close to 3,000 people, knocked out power and cellphone service, disrupted access to fresh food and drinking water, and devastated crops. Hurricane Maria, which was the worst storm to hit the island in more than eight decades, took the heaviest toll on rural and vulnerable communities. Many areas remain uninhabitable to this day.

“Now we must rise up and show the world that we need to work faster to address climate change. We are facing the direct hits of it, and it’s going to continue,” Ricardo says.

For years, studies had warned that the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, like many other islands, is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and unprepared for the potential devastation it could incur as a result. However, in a territory that was facing a crippling debt of $70 billion long before the 2017 hurricanes, weak infrastructure, and the highest poverty rate of any U.S. state or territory, climate change and sustainable development were not on the top of people’s daily concerns.

Ricardo’s own passion for sustainable development and the UN started 25 years ago when he founded the local UNA-USA chapter after falling in love with Model United Nations during his college years in Massachusetts. With emotions still running high on the island, Ricardo and his UNA-USA chapter took the opportunity to really bring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate awareness home in a way that would resonate locally.

“We used that as a perfect turning point to start reaching people and try to get them to work in one direction towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” he says.

One of the main priorities was to educate people about what the SDGs are, how they’re interconnected, and how they affect everyone on a daily basis. Ricardo says that because Puerto Rico is not a member state of the UN, its people have vague knowledge about the institution and what it does. He is working with local partners and an agency on a large-scale communications campaign to spread the words about the SDGs on the island, with a focus on climate change.

Another step was to connect like-minded civil society organizations, companies, academic institutions, and other partners that are interested in promoting the SDGs and climate awareness in Puerto Rico. With the UNA-USA Puerto Rico chapter as a convener — and bringing to life SDG17, partnership for the goals — people quickly began to show interest. They put together an SDG working group that centralized SDG activities on the island into one place, creating a unique stakeholder network that keeps track of local progress and indicators. Importantly, it also gave members a sense of community and a feeling that they were giving back to the island at a time of utter devastation.

“There was a sentiment of impotence to be surrounded by such destruction and not have the collaborative networks that are needed for resilience in this era,” said Ricardo.

After hearing about what happened on the island, others far away were also inspired to help. One eighth grader from Kentucky, Lawson Strenecky, turned his love for baseball into a community service project that raised funds to refurbish fields and buy equipment for boys’ and girls’ teams in a Puerto Rican community deeply damaged by the hurricanes. Ricardo also worked with Lawson and other volunteers on a local beach beautification project to help young people understand how climate change directly affects the places where they love to play. Hurricane Maria, for example, caused erosion along 35% of the coast in Puerto Rico, making the island prone to habitat loss and to further damage from future storms.

Because of its work connecting people around the SDGs, the Puerto Rico chapter of UNA-USA became the natural liaison when the island’s government joined the Local2030 Islands Network, a platform for island-led solutions to global sustainability challenges, in April 2021. Coming from an island, Ricardo says it’s heartening to see the strides that Hawaii and the U.S. territory of Guam have made in terms of tracking SDG indicators, and he hopes that Puerto Rico can make similar progress in gathering data and statistics, a key hurdle. He is acutely aware that this work will take time to get right — particularly in a way that honors the island’s culture and way of life — but is confident that his UNA-USA chapter is uniquely positioned to get it off the ground.

Roberto Clemente Celebration

August 18, 2021

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Bernie and Clemente with Luis and Roberto Jr.  Picture credit to ALTON STRUPP CJ newspaper
Rotary and others at Sam Clemente presentation1.jpg

Life was good for local supporters of Play Ball Puerto Rico as they helped Louisville Slugger celebrate the unveiling of a statue of Roberto Clemente to become a permanent part of the Slugger Museum!

The group came to downtown Louisville on a beautifully sunny morning August 18th.  Visitors of the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum included local news crews and a contingent of the  Puerto Rican community in Kentucky.  Roberto Clemente is remembered as a humanitarian as much as he was a baseball player.

Clemente’s two sons, Luis and Roberto Jr. were taken aback by the statue’s unveiling which happened on the day that would have been their father’s 87th birthday.

“To see the details in this was amazing,” said Luis Clemente. “His stare, he was very intense, and they captured that.” Both sons offered tribute and thanks to Slugger Museum as well as their mother would supported and nurtured them during their lives. It was an emotional and Luis said “heartfelt thanks”.

Clemente was a native of Puerto Rico. In Major League Baseball he is respected as becoming the first Latin American player to accomplish a variety of feats: including win a 1971 World Series as a starter, earn a league MVP, Golden Glove awards and be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

 

Clemente also is certainly known, however, for his legacy as a humanitarian. In the offseason, he’d often fly needed supplies to Puerto Rico.

On Dec. 31, 1972, Clemente accompanied a small delegation with a plane full of supplies to the country. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed, which killed Clemente and four others.

United Nations Association

 Hits Home Run With Play Ball Puerto Rico

July 16, 2021

Ever wonder what happens when a dedicated middle school student decides to enrich the world through community service?

This is exactly what Lawson Strenecky did by building a single project into a successful non-profit organization called Play Ball Puerto Rico (PBPR).

Lawson was motivated to help the people of Puerto Rico after the Island was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. At the time, he was an 8th grade student with a passion for baseball and helping others. Lawson, who lives and attends school in Bardstown, Kentucky, discovered that baseball was the heart and soul of life in Puerto Rico.

With the help of his grandparents, Bernie and Eileen Strenecky, he led the effort to gather equipment to outfit a boys and girls team in the Hurricane-ravaged community of Guanica, located in the southeast corner of Puerto Rico.

Out of this successful project grew Play Ball Puerto Rico (PBPR) which was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2020. The mission of PBPR is to build citizens through baseball. It is made up of all volunteers who serve as Executive Staff and as members of the Board of Directors. PBPR has raised funds and other resources from community and corporate partners, including the Prospect Goshen Rotary Club of Louisville, Kentucky; Louisville Slugger (the corporate icon that supplies Major League Baseball with bats, gloves, and other equipment); and the UNA Puerto Rico and Scranton chapters. Private individuals also generously donated money, equipment, and other resources towards this noble endeavor.

Teena Halbig, Vice President of the UNA Kentucky Division, was a driving force in getting other partners interested in Play Ball Puerto Rico, including the UNA Frankfort, Bluegrass/Lexington, Louisville, and Puerto Rico chapters, and the Louisville Mayor’s Office of Globalization. She did an excellent job linking the vision of Play Ball Puerto Rico to several of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Her dedicated service made all the difference in the success of PBPR’s first project.

To date, PBPR has raised funding to support the renovation of three youth baseball fields on the Island. Our first project occurred in the community of Aquadilla, in the northwest region of Puerto Rico.  Officials from Aquadilla’s baseball league submitted a proposal to PBPR that included a Project Narrative (mission and goals statement, scope of work, timeline and methods for evaluation) along with a detailed budget with itemized costs. There was strict accountability and transparency throughout the whole project, which will also occur for all future projects.

As part of its effort to develop good citizens through baseball, PBPR, under the direction of Ricardo Arzuaga Chaves, Executive Director of the UNA Puerto Rico Chapter, worked with the young players, their coaches, and their parents to organize and implement a service-learning project in the community. The young players worked hard to identify a project that would have both positive impact and high visibility.

They decided to undertake a beach beautification project that brought together local businesses, nonprofit organizations and government officials who worked with the young players to accomplish a very successful one day project. Several baseball players from the University of Puerto Rico also pitched in their time which made a powerful impression on the young players. This will be an annual event!

 

These pictures are of the completely renovated ball field and of the beach beautification project attest to the success of our project in Aquadilla.  We invite more UNA-USA chapters and divisions and interested parties who want to participate in these efforts to help young people and this humanitarian project. Learn how you can support PBPR here. View the television story where you can meet Lawson, Bernie and youths you can help. You can also donate, and consider a chapter fundraiser, too.

And we are nowhere near finished! With its current funding, PBPR plans to support field renovations in two more communities on the Island, accompanied by service-learning projects that involve the young baseball players along with community and corporate partners. However, funds are needed for t-shirts or uniforms, baseball hats, and other items, so please consider financial assistance. Let us know if you want to be a sponsor.

This entire set of projects is summarized wonderfully by Jaime Torres, President of our partner organization (ACOPAR) in Puerto Rico: The goal of The American Congress of Puerto Rico (ACOPUR) baseball program is to develop not only good baseball players but also good citizens.