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Former IPFW volleyball players striving to help Puerto Rico

They want to hand-deliver supplies to key areas

Former IPFW volleyball players Jeff Ptak, left, and Jorge Ralat are hoping to raise money to deliver supplies to Puerto Rico in the near future. (By Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel.com)

Former IPFW men’s volleyball player Ivan Matos returned from his Puerto Rican home on Friday. He really didn’t want to leave, but the Puerto Rican league he was playing in canceled its season and he needed to work so he could send money home.

“From what I saw the day after the hurricane in the metro area, it looks like a war zone,” Matos said of the area around Guaynabo in the northeast part of the island. “All these trees were down, roofs were ripped off, electric cement posts were knocked down. My mom went out the day of the hurricane to see if her parents were OK… and when she came back, she was terrified because of how much destruction there was.”

His family’s house was built to withstand hurricane winds, they now have running water and a generator to provide electricity, but many on the island are still lack necessities.

“They say that the destruction took Puerto Rico back to the 1940s in that regard,” Matos said. “People are going to be desperate and they are going to start dying. Hospitals don’t have any electricity to take care of people. People are so desperate for water, they aren’t boiling it before drinking it. There is a large portion of the population down there that is really, really struggling, and they don’t know what is going to happen. They have no assurance that they are going to be OK.”

A trio of former IPFW volleyball players — brothers Felipe and Jorge Ralat and Jeff Ptak — are trying to do something to help. As the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, friends started asking Ralat and his wife Molly in Fort Wayne what they could do to help. With guidance from their sister Maricarmen who lives near San Juan, Felipe (who lives in Weston, Fla.) and Jorge came up with a fundraising idea, and Ptak knew he had to be a part of it after playing professionally in Puerto Rico for six years. Maricarmen works for a distribution center, and the friends decided they would do even better by personally buying the supplies, renting the delivery trucks and helping distribute them.

They started a fundraising page at https://www.gofundme.com/helping-puerto-rico-rise, and so far have raised almost $7,600 during the first week. There is also going to be a fundraiser for Puerto Rico on Oct. 30 at Hotel Tango 2, 10212 Chestnut Plaza with the proceeds going to the Ralats and Ptak’s mission.

“What’s cool about it, people know us down there, and when they see us going down to help out, it gives them a sense of hope that there are people who want to help and are going to help,” Ptak said. “I don’t care what you read on social media, Puerto Rico is not doing fine. It’s like the apocalypse down there. They are going to the mountain to drink water that is coming out of a hose.”

The brothers and Ptak are staking their reputations and credibility on their actions, which is partly how they’ve been able to raise the money so far.

“We love the idea, because we know where our money is going,” Jorge Ralat said. “We also love that with or campaign, we are giving other people the opportunity to help and be at peace knowing that their money is having a direct impact. We are going on a journey and we are planning to videotape and take pictures and show you how your money is being used.

“Just the fact that we can help somebody is huge to us. Somebody is going to benefit from this. You never know when somebody is down, but we want to be here for them. Whatever little we can do, we’re going to do it.”

There is currently no deadline or target date because they are paying for their own plane tickets, paid for by Jorge Ralat and Ptak through teaching extra lessons at Empowered Sports Club. Ptak, who recently retired as a player, is attending Impact Cosmetology Academy and working at The Golden, while Ralat is a salesperson at Pfizer Pharmaceutical.

So why not just donate the money to the Red Cross or some other charity organization?

“We won’t know where the money is going or if it is getting the the places that need it so desperately,” Ptak said. “There are a lot of areas down there that haven’t even been touched yet. I owe Puerto Rico everything, and this saddens me, to see all of our friends and people we love down there just be devastated, and then have people say it wasn’t a true disaster just hurts. I feel like I owe it to the people down there for what they have given me.”

Jorge Ralat said his aunt lives in a small town called Panuelas that no one has reached to help yet. Matos said the lack of communication infrastructure is a huge problem, especially with directing rescue workers. He said the weather destroyed many roads and bridges, preventing travel to some areas. That just makes Jorge Ralat and Ptak hungrier to get going.

“Whatever we can take down, whatever we can do, we will know we have done our part and we will help someone,” Ralat said. “We will do what we can.”

For more on local sports, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.

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