Women’s Sevens Make an Impact in Mexico

This February, 15 athletes and three staff members from USA Rugby's Women's Sevens program traveled by bus to Mexico to help a family in need. Generously funded by Golden Eagle Tom Pirelli, the team spent two days in Tijuana, Mexico, with Hope Sports building a new home for a disadvantaged family of five.

Pirelli has experienced the power of giving back to underprivileged families firsthand with his own family and felt that such an experience would be immeasurably beneficial to the team. He and his family have taken groups of high school students to Mexico with the Homes of Hope program over the span of several years, ultimately building more than 65 homes for impoverished families there. Recognizing the immense impact humanitarian trips can make, Pirelli was more than happy to work with Women's Eagles Sevens Head Coach Richie Walker and High Performance General Manager Alex Magleby to facilitate a trip for the women. "We sent the Men's Sevens on a Hope Sports home-building trip last November and it turned out to be a great experience for the guys. I realized then that it would be an equally beneficial team building experience for the Women's Eagles Sevens. I told Magleby that I would finance the house, the furniture and the travel so the women could go on similar trip," Pirelli says. "I also have a personal connection with Eagle Alev Kelter because she played hockey in high school with my son-in-law, and I knew Alev was keen to do this project."

"It was an eye-opening experience," recalls Eagles Analyst Liz Strohecker, one of three staff members who completed the build with the team. "I don't know if many of the athletes had seen that kind of poverty before, and so close to our home. Overall, it brought them closer together. They took on different roles during the build than they normally take on the field. People were fluidly jumping in and helping one another with projects - everyone was willing to do whatever it took to finish the job."

Throughout the trip, the team bonded not only with one another, but also with the family for whom they were building the home. Strohecker explains, "The most memorable part for most of the athletes was probably being able to spend time with the family. They had three kids and the players were able to speak to them through a translator or directly if they spoke Spanish. The family moved from southern Mexico because their oldest son had been killed by a gang for refusing to join. Instead of staying and risking the lives of their other children to gang violence, they moved to Tijuana. The family was there helping the whole time. It really put meaning behind what we were doing."

Eagle Hope Rogers says she formed an especially close bond with one of the children. "One moment I'll never forget is building my friendship with the family's 10-year-old daughter," Rogers says. "We painted, had paintbrush 'sword fights' and went shopping (for groceries, clothing and household items). While we were clothes shopping and I asked her what color pants she wanted, she replied, 'all three.' It was in that moment I realized that she was a normal kid like everyone else, wanting fun, nice clothes, but she never asked for anything the entire time we were shopping. She was very grateful for what she had."

Cheta Emba also shared the impact the experience made on her: "This trip provided me with an opportunity to step outside of my daily life as a rugby player and give time and service to something beyond sports. The discussions, reflections and experiences came full circle as I was able to relate so much of the trip to my life back home--both on and off the field. I am so thankful to have gone on this trip and am eager to continue finding ways to give back and fulfill my self-purpose."

When the home was completed, the team presented the family with the keys to the house, along with a signed jersey and a Bible. "For me, it was giving the family something to remind them daily that there are a group of us who love and care about them and that God is always there loving and watching over them," shares Rogers. "It was truly and honor to present both to them."

Donors like Tom Pirelli make our Sevens programs possible, supporting everything from team building events and training to competition travel and beyond. Join the team and show your support by making a donation to the Women's Sevens or Men's Sevens program today.