I was in my apartment in San Francisco watching on television and feeling a little helpless as the whole Hurricane Katrina catastrophe unraveled on the Gulf Coast last year. So I called Melissa Persaud, who oversees the Players Trust, and asked her what we could do to help through our charity.
I told Melissa, "It's easy for us to write checks. A lot of guys are writing checks. But I want to get a group of guys to go down there and actually help."
That's where our partnership with Volunteers of America came into the picture. VOA has a pretty strong presence down in the Mobile and Gulfport, Miss., areas, so our involvement began a year ago.
Last year, J.C. Romero and I went down there and gutted some houses that were going to be restored rather than torn down. We spent out time removing damaged junk and pulling down sheetrock.
Then I went over to Gulfport where VOA had set up a trailer as a make-shift hospital. They gave me a clipboard and I met with the people coming in to take down their information and find out what their symptoms were. I even diagnosed a few, so I felt like I was doing a little triage work.
Last year's visit to the area brought about this year's visit. Now, I'm just an outsider coming into the area for a couple days the past two years. But while some businesses are beginning to reopen and you're seeing some things return to normal, a lot of average people are still hurting and struggling to satisfy their basic needs.
We thought it was important to go back down there again this year. People tend to forget when something is no longer dominating the news coverage like Katrina did last year. So those of us involved in the partnership between the Trust and Volunteers of America made a conscious decision not to forget.
There are still a lot of people who need a lot of help, so we want to keep up our efforts until everyone who needs help gets it. Melissa and the rest of us -- Jacque Jones, Chad Gaudin, David Dellucci, Matt Lawton and myself -- brainstormed to find a time to return this year and provide some assistance.
That time was last week. We spent time at the VOA's Lighthouse Program in the Ninth Ward, which is an after-school program for kids from kindergarten through the eighth grade. It had just been opened for about 10 days when we were down there. We spoke to the kids and presented an $80,000 check to help keep the program going.
It was pretty gratifying to show the kids and teachers there that we hadn't forgotten them, and they all seemed genuinely thankful that we got back down there again. I just told them that we wanted to demonstrate that as ballplayers, we do care. It was well worth the effort.
The next day, we drove over to Gulfport and met up with Lawton and went back to the same VOA medical trailer that I worked from last November.
It's come a long way. They now have three trailers and a pharmacy. They also have a mobile home that's like a doctor's office. That way, they can get out to the rural areas of Mississippi where some people don't have cars or a way to get into a city to take care of their medical needs. The medical care can go to them rather than them having to find a way to get to the medical care.
The money that we donated to that VOA program should keep the medical trailers operating uninterrupted for another year.
Overall, it makes me pleased that our partnership with Volunteers of America is working. They're providing an infrastructure in which we can make our presence felt in situations where we can really make a difference.
Volunteers of America, above all, is about volunteering in the community, and part of our mission in the Players Trust is to make sure players are out there in the community volunteering their time and service.
All of those doctors, nurses and pharmacists who work in the medical trailers were donating their time and services, too. They weren't getting a dime, just rotating in for a week or so to help. That's true volunteerism -- the essence of the message we're trying to get across with Volunteers of America.
LaTroy Hawkins, who recently signed with the Colorado Rockies, is an 11-year veteran who has been on the Players Trust committee for five years.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.