Gig Harbor High School football senior football players Adrian Valona, Bailey Weir, Andrew Johnson and Alex Bouterse recently returned from a mission trip in inner city Chicago. The four were part of a church group that went to Chicago to do charity work and community outreach, through the group LeaderTreks.
Over the week of July 5 through 11, the group worked on building a fence and deck for a single mother in the area.
“The goal was to engage the community through Jesus,” Valona said. “Over the week, we gave her a brand new backyard.”
The work days throughout the week went from about 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. After that, the group engaged various youth members of the community with sports such as soccer and basketball.
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“We held a sports night at the church and a lot more people came than we anticipated,” Valona said. “It was pretty fun.”
There were barbeque meals as well for the community, as well as time for prayer, sharing and reflection. Seeing four of his football players so willing to help people in various communities made Gig Harbor football coach Aaron Chantler proud.
“That’s a big thing we preach in our program — giving back to our community,” Chantler said. “We want to build better men and not just better football players. We do team charity functions, but it’s nice to see them do it on their own accord, as just something that’s in their hearts. As a coach, it makes you really proud. We’re proud of the wins and losses, but it makes us way more proud to see our guys representing the community.”
The leadership from the upperclassmen has a trickle-down effect to the underclassmen in the program.
“This group in particular has really taken it and run with it,” Chantler said. “They’ve done multiple things on their own; it rubs off on the younger guys. The expectation is to come in in August and be part of a family that reaches out and helps other people. The football team is one of the largest groups in the school — we can do a lot of things. They’re started to embrace that kind of power which can be so strong. They can help so many people.”
Valona said enjoyed getting out of his comfort zone in inner city Chicago, and was happy and surprised about the community’s response to the group.
“I was surprised at how well we were able to engage the community,” Valona said. “When we did our outreach, I don’t think we were expecting 50, 75 people. They were super welcoming and really engaged. It was a really cool thing to see that.”
Valona became a devoted Christian around his sophomore year in high school, when he started attending the Fox Island Alliance Church. He’s been to Costa Rica previously on a mission, and now Chicago.
“I’m just continuing to just get involved and be active with the church,” Valona said. “Just going to church and accepting God in my life inspired me.”
Going with four of his Tides teammates was an added bonus.
“It was great,” Valona said. “We were never really close — we definitely got a lot closer. It’s going to help with the chemistry on the field, just knowing each other. Even though it was different sports and experiences, just working together, we know how each person is going to react to a certain thing. I wish more guys went, to be honest.”
Representing the Gig Harbor football program in a positive way is important for Valona, Weir, Johnson and Bouterse.
“We’re just trying to show that we’re not just a football team that is trying to be great on the field,” Valona said. “We’ve shown we’re pretty good on the field, but the program is also producing great men. We’re more than just football players. Being disciplined on the field also carries off the field and vice versa. We’re just trying to represent our program in a positive way.”