As a native of Puerto Rico, FCA volunteer Ricky Ufret is all too familiar with the devastation that hurricanes can bring. But somehow, he has mostly avoided getting caught in one of its paths.
In 1989, for instance, Ricky was playing baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirate farm system when Hurricane Hugo hit his homeland. Then, in 1996, he was vacationing in the United States during Hurricane Hortense. Two years later, Ricky was actually living in the U.S., when Puerto Rico felt the impact of Hurricane Georges.
That string of good fortune ended in September of 2017 when Hurricane Maria infamously spilled its wrath across Puerto Rico. Although Ricky’s countryside home was left relatively unscathed, the island was hit hard to the tune of over billions in monetary damages. Still feeling the impact of Hurricane Irma a few weeks earlier, approximately one million Puerto Ricans were left without power for more than three months and even worse, clean water became scarce.
As a full-time civil engineer, Ricky spent the next several days working overtime hours to help with the recovery. Once he was able to regain Internet access, he saw even more of the devastation and began reading stories about the people that were dying due to contaminated water.
“I knew I had to do something to help,” Ricky says.
It started with a simple act of faith. Through his FCA connections back in the United States, Ricky reached out to Cathi Alford, Donor Relations Manager at SERV International — an Atlanta-based Christian relief organization that provides low cost meals and clean water for impoverished people around the world. Ricky knew about SERV because he had previously met some missionaries from the group while attending an FCA coach’s camp in the Dominican Republic.
To Ricky’s surprise, there was already an ongoing effort to get water filters to Puerto Rico thanks to SERV’s relationship with a Delta Airlines pilot who had flown a Cessna full of supplies into San Juan before FEMA had gained access to the island.
By the time Ricky called, however, SERV had sent all of its filters and didn’t have the means to acquire any more. That didn’t stop Ricky and Cathi from trying. They doubled back to FCA and told Jim Roquemore, Latin America Global Region Coordinator, about the need.
The request took Jim by surprise, but he quickly shifted gears into an area he had never expected—fundraising for humanitarian relief.
“Let’s see what we can do,” Jim relayed back to Ricky.
That was October 11th.
Jim spent the next week reaching out to his donor base. He also sent out a message through Facebook. SERV committed to match whatever FCA could raise. Astonishingly, by the end of the month, that number swelled to nearly $50,000, enough money to purchase 1,400 water filters. Adding to the miracle was manufacturer UZima’s and Peachtree Road United Methodist Church’s donation of 1,000 units and 3,000 buckets.
“The Lord was talking to my heart and all of these things started happening,” Ricky says.
As Ricky hit the ground running, he discovered another pressing matter. Not everyone had the two buckets needed for the system that allowed 15 gallons of water an hour to filter from one bucket to the other. Once again, FCA jumped into action and raised $6,000 to provide buckets and another $4,500 to buy more filters.
“When you hear God’s voice, you obey and do His will,” Ricky says. “I have never felt this way before. God’s will for me during this storm was to help people and He provided. That’s an amazing feeling.”
“Ricky has the biggest heart,” Cathi notes. “He’s an amazing human. It’s very impressive how hard he’s working to help the people in Puerto Rico.”
Even though the collective effort steps outside of FCA’s typical lane, Jim Roquemore explains that the situation in Puerto Rico is simply an extension of how the organization can impact communities locally and abroad.
“It was an opportunity to be responsive to a need,” he adds. “In reality, sports ministry isn’t going to get done when there is such a dire situation on the ground. This is just meeting immediate needs and we just happened to have someone there. I didn’t know I was going to find myself in the middle of a relief effort but it’s been really cool to see people’s lives restored.”
Although this isn’t the first time SERV and FCA have partnered in ministry, Cathi Alford agrees that what has happened in Puerto Rico is one of the most remarkable team efforts she has personally observed.
“We’re so proud of our partnership with FCA,” she says. “But more than anything, it was an amazing testimony of how God provided for His people and how He worked through SERV, FCA and UZima. The Holy Spirit made it happen. It was beautiful.”
To date, FCA and SERV have raised over $70,000 and sent roughly 2,000 filters to San Juan. There is still work to be done. It will take months, if not years, to get the Puerto Rican people back on their feet. No matter how long it takes, however, Ricky Ufret will continue to do his part as he shines the light of Christ under the banner of FCA.
“This goes beyond sports,” Ricky says. “It’s about being there for the families and the communities. I’m so blessed and honored by what FCA has done for the people of Puerto Rico.”