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OC Register: JSerra Baseball Players Use Their Time off During Pandemic to Ptich in with Homeless Assistance Program

Reporter Steve Fryer of the OC Register wrote a story about a group of JSerra Baseball players who, after being unable to play baseball for several months during the COVID-19 pandemic, decided to "step up to the plate" and be of service to others.

They have been unable to play baseball for several months. So some JSerra High baseball players stepped up to the plate in a very different way.

JSerra sophomores Andrew Lamb, Dominic Smaldino and Ben Reimers for close to a year have provided food and other necessities to Isaiah House, a homeless assistance building in Santa Ana. Isaiah House is part of the Orange County Catholic Worker outreach organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic put an early end to their high school baseball season this past spring.

"So we were thinking, 'Hmm, what can we do that's really good?' " said Smaldino, who took a leadership role in the plan. He earlier had assisted Isaiah House as a middle-school student at Serra Catholic in Rancho Santa Margarita.

Their initial involvement, before the coronavirus pandemic created so much change, had Lamb, Reimers and Smaldino making and delivering carne asada for 20 people.

"We sat and ate with those people and it was great talking to them," Smaldino said. "It made these people really happy. Their faces lit up like their lives had been changed."

The early end of their baseball season in the spring created more opportunities to help.

"Over the summer we had a ton of time for it because baseball and everything else got canceled," Smaldino said.

Soon they were getting food and other items donated by other JSerra families.

"A lot of Lysol and bleach," Smaldino said. "Many people are sleeping outdoors."

Smaldino also recruited JSerra baseball players Owen Fuller, a junor, and senior Colin Blanchard to join in the group's efforts because Lamb, Reimers and Smaldino needed someone who could drive them to Isaiah House.

"It wasn't that hard," Smaldino said of getting Blanchard and Fuller on board. "They've been great."

JSerra students are required to perform 80 hours of community service before they graduate high school. The JSerra baseball players filled that commitment with purpose and pride.

"It's been very satisfying helping people out," said Reimers, who pitches and plays third base and in the outfield. "It's a very humbling experience. Sometimes we take for granted where we live and where we can go to school."

There were plenty of sad moments for them, working with struggling people. There was joy in their philanthropy, too.

"It's encouraging to find ways we can change other people's lives for the better," said Lamb, a catcher and third baseman who has become a fan of Isaiah House. "A lot of people need help and the people at Isaiah House do a great job of that."

Leia Smith runs Isaiah House with her husband Dwight. She said high school-aged boys can get a lot out of performing the type of work that is done at Isaiah House.

"Sometimes it's hard for people to get into the shoes of other people who live on the margins," she said. "One of the benefits to come here is to have to come face to face with the people here. It's not just doing something useful for somebody else, but also to think deeply about what their lives are like."

Being part of a sports team or any other extracurricular school group often creates lifetime friendships. The friendships were enhanced and strengthened for the players who worked together on their Isaiah House project.

"This definitely deepened those bonds we already had," Reimers said.

The players approached JSerra baseball coach Brett Kay to see if helping Isaiah House could be a program-wide project. Kay said the program would offer as much support as could be mustered.

"These guys spearheaded it and our program's family stepped up in a big way," Kay said. "These are great kids who wanted to do something extra for people in need."

The players through their Isaiah House work might be getting the most important education of their high school years.

"We have a lot of homeless people right here," Smaldino said. "I can do something great for these people. I've come to realize how blessed I am."

Five JSerra Baseball players wearing masks holding up a sign that says: "JSerra Supports Isaiah's House."