Local student helps build ballfield in Texas

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 27, 2012

 Brooke Heisler, a sophomore at Lamphere High, left, spent her spring break building a ballfield in Mercedes, Texas, and helping kids such as this 3-year-old boy in the border town of Brownsville, Texas.

Brooke Heisler, a sophomore at Lamphere High, left, spent her spring break building a ballfield in Mercedes, Texas, and helping kids such as this 3-year-old boy in the border town of Brownsville, Texas.

Photo provided by Kimberly Heisler

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MADISON HEIGHTS — When spring break rolled around in early April, many of Brooke Heisler’s friends were looking forward to getting away from the rigors of life.

Some were eager to hit the beach in warmer climes like Florida and Cancun, Mexico.

Others were planning to stay at home, sleep in late and enjoy their leisure time.

But for Heisler, a sophomore at Lamphere High School, spring break meant leaving one routine to pick up another, waking up at the break of dawn each day to serve unfamiliar people in a faraway place.

She and fellow members of her church, Faith Lutheran in Troy, traveled by plane to Mercedes, Texas, where they spent the bulk of each day toiling in upper 90-degree heat, the air still and no shade in sight.

They were donating their time and hard work to make a community ballfield for the 2,000-plus Little Leaguers in the area and to minister Vacation Bible School (VBS) to neighboring towns in southern Texas.

Heisler began each day getting out of bed at 6:30 a.m. Her group was staying at a church called Mission Emmanuel, and across the street was the barren, pockmarked, litter-strewn lot they were to transform into a ballfield for the kids.

By 7 a.m., Heisler and her friends were out in the field. The grass had already been cut, so their primary task was to move dirt, fill the holes, set up the poles and fencing, form the dugout and build the concession stand, which had two bathrooms attached to it.

The first weekend, they would have lunch around noon and then head off to teach VBS, which for Heisler meant traveling 45 minutes to the border town of Brownsville, from which one can see a water tower marking the line between the U.S. and Mexico.

In years past, mission trips from Faith Lutheran had crossed the border, heading south to help people in need in Mexico. But recent spikes in violence meant they would be staying stateside this year.

In Brownsville, they met with local children, anywhere from age 3 to 15, helping them with homework and having fun, with skits, crafts, singing and dancing. Heisler and her friends can speak some Spanish, which came in handy, as most of the children don’t speak English.

During the weekdays when the students were in school, Heisler’s group wouldn’t visit them until later in the afternoon. In the meantime, they worked on the ballfield. Built on city property, it was the first construction project a Faith Lutheran mission trip had ever undertaken. It was a lot of work, and hardly glamorous, with the girls washing their hair in sinks and taking “showers” with baby wipes. But Heisler didn’t mind.

“It didn’t bother me because you don’t do it for yourself, but for the greater good,” Heisler said. “And everyone who went wanted to go, so no one was negative, and it was cool to see everyone working together and getting things done.

“I had friends there, so you’re hanging out with them, and you never think, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’” she said. “You just kind of enjoy yourself, whether you’re moving dirt or making sandwiches for everyone or hammering nails in the house or putting up fencing. You just did it, no matter what.”

That’s not to say everything went off without a hitch. They didn’t get to complete the infield and set the bases because the dirt trucks didn’t arrive on time. A pole for the fencing hit one person in the arm, causing them to need five stitches, and hit another person in the head. Then someone in their group suffered an allergic reaction at dinner, followed by an asthma attack, and then an anxiety attack. The group’s leaders were so busy tending to this string of incidents that they had to call off a planned trip to the beach.

The trouble didn’t end there. On their way back, severe storms grounded two of the four flights they were taking. The planes had to be inspected for damage, so they spent the night in Dallas. Then, instead of going straight back to Michigan as originally planned, they had a layover in Chicago. Faith Lutheran sent a bus to pick them up.

“It was hectic,” Heisler laughed.

Ed Okuniewski, principal at Lamphere High, said he’s proud of Heisler, who is also on the varsity cheer team, captain of the junior varsity softball team, a SADD member and elected official of the major events team, and enrolled in three honors classes.

“She’s a helper; she’s a doer. She’s a person accepting of everybody,” Okuniewski said. “She’s just a great, genuine kid when it comes to athletics and academics and just being social with her friends and other people. It’s just part of her fabric, and who she is.”

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