Knights Without Borders


GO KNIGHTS The UCF group traveling to Panama plans to build a court similar to this one at an Aldeas facility.
GO KNIGHTS
The UCF group traveling to Panama plans to build a court similar to this one at an Aldeas facility.
GO KNIGHTS

Feb. 28, 2013

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By Andy Seeley
UCFAthletics.com

 Knights Without Borders - Panama Trip Photo Gallery

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) -- UCF Athletics administrators Kimya Massey and Jessica Reo traveled to Panama for four days back in January. If the duo has their way, that trip will be the first of many.

Massey, who serves as UCF’s Associate Athletics Director for Academic Services, and Reo, the Knights’ Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Student Services, are heading up a program called Knights Without Borders. Their January jaunt to Panama was to lay the groundwork for a May service-learning trip with many UCF student-athletes.

After UCF Vice President and Director of Athletics Todd Stansbury asked Reo and Massey to come up with an international service-learning trip, they reached out to Angel Cardec, who heads up the UCF Office of International Studies.

“Angel needs to get a lot of credit,” Reo said. “After about six months of meetings, we determined the best place for our students to go would be Panama City. We worked through Angel, and he said ‘let’s go on an exploratory, figure-this-out trip.’”

It was four days well-spent, according to Massey and Reo. The UCF contingent met with administrators at Universidad Tecnologica de Panama (Technological University of Panama). They also became familiar with Aldeas Infantiles SOS, a program that “builds families for children in need.” The Aldeas program houses and cares for children who are at risk because their basic needs are neglected, they may have been abused, lost their parents, have never known them or have been removed from the home because their parents do not have the resources or skills to properly care for them.

The relationship the UCF representatives built with the local university is likely going to blossom into a partnership where both institutions can help out with the Aldeas program. Students from both schools will most likely be building a recreational court at a nearby Aldeas home.

“We determined that (Technological University of Panama) has a service-leadership program within their university as well,” Reo said. “So, our student-athletes will be partnering with students from that institution and we will be going together to work at a children’s home.”

Massey said the UCF student-athletes working hand-in-hand with the Panamanian students will be just as beneficial as the experience working on the project they are going to be completing.

“Another big piece is for our kids to develop leadership skills and to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations,” Massey said. “We’re allowing them to be exposed to another culture, another environment, a different language and to navigate through that. We have another group of students of the same age that we will be working with and they are going to have to figure out how to work together with a language barrier. That’s going to be pretty cool.”

As for the actual project, the UCF student-athletes who end up making the trip in May will have plenty of opportunity to get their hands dirty.

“Aldeas has five locations throughout Panama and they don’t have a play area at this particular location near Colon,” Massey said. “So, we would literally be clearing the land and building the court. It’s a multi-purpose court that has basketball, volleyball, soccer, kickball lines. Essentially, it’s a place for all kinds of recreation.”

While working with the other students and building the recreation area will be a learning experience, there will be plenty of other opportunities for the Knights who will be participating in the trip to gain knowledge. Panama has a great breadth of cultural diversity and lots of historical significance.

“There was an unbelievable mixture of culture there,” Massey said. “There were Argentine areas, a lot of French, a lot of Colombian, Brazilian areas, there was a heavy Chinese population. It’s a lot of cultures and languages because of the Panama Canal. The history of the canal is a big piece of this. I think that’s a really big component that we’re excited to help teach our students about.”

A pair of organizational meetings have already been held on campus, with several current and former UCF student-athletes showing an interest in taking part in the trip. But before they can take part, they must become invested, according to Reo.

“The way they become invested in it is by helping pay for it. This isn’t something that Athletics is saying we’re just going to write a check,” Reo said. “That’s not what this is about. In order for us to teach them to lead, they have to go out and ask people for help. They have to be invested in this before they even step on a plane to go down there. This is why we think this is something from a leadership standpoint that will take them much further than just a trip to Panama. It’s supposed to be something that stays with them forever.”

While the lessons learned from this trip are intended to remain with the student-athletes long-term, the hope is that the relationships between UCF, Technical University of Panama and the Aldeas program are long-term as well.

“Hopefully this becomes a lasting relationship and it’s not just a one-and-done, we’re going in for a week and we leave,” Massey said. “We think there are some opportunities because of Angel’s connections that this could become a university program. For us, because Aldeas is around the world, perhaps this becomes a situation where we go to Panama once a year and go to the same organization in another location in another part of the year. We want to (eventually) do two trips a year. This could very well become our home base. Hopefully we can go back every year, bring new students and help develop the project and impact lives in a positive way.”

For more information or to inquire about supporting the Knights Without Borders program, contact Reo at 407.823.1352 or send an email to KnightsWOB@athletics.ucf.edu.

 

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