BY CHRISTINA STEIGERWALD  — Every summer a talented group of young adults (ages 14–19) from the DC area travel to Guatemala for a month with a program called Hoops Sagrado. According to their website, Hoops Sagrado is Spanish for “sacred hoops.” The website describes the program as a “youth leadership and development nonprofit organization that gives at-risk youth from the DC area a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend a month during the summer in the highlands of Guatemala learning another language and culture, teaching their Mayan indigenous peers basketball skills, developing their sense of self, and gaining a new perspective on life.” These students are selected both for their basketball skills and their passion to work with and mentor younger children through the game of basketball.

Carlos Jan Espinosa is a junior at Chelsea School in Hyattsville. He was selected to participate in the Hoops Sagrado program and has done so for several years. In an interview, Espinosa explained the selection process. He described the intense interviews and the need to fundraise. Espinosa said, “I was nervous during the first interview, and I couldn’t sleep well the following night. But I received a call back a few days later saying that I had been accepted.”

For many of the volunteers, having the opportunity and financial help to travel outside the U.S. is a first. Espinosa said that the founder and executive director of Hoops Sagrado, Bryan Weaver, works year-round raising money, receiving donations, and setting up sponsorships in order to pay for the plane tickets for each and every volunteer. Student volunteers bring school supplies to distribute to the schools and usually bring spending money to buy treats, including ice cream and prizes, for the children.

Espinosa left for Guatemala in early July and spent a month there. He was just one of a group of volunteers that share one passion: basketball. According to the Hoops Sagrado website, 15 to 20 low-income young adults spend their time working to build friendships and mentorships with younger children in Guatemala, who are also basketball fans and players.

While in Guatemala, the volunteers stay with host families, and attend Spanish immersion classes at Centro Maya de Idiomas, a Spanish-language school, for five hours each weekday morning. As part of their studies, they take oral and written tests to help them master material.

Hoops Sagrado runs basketball clinics at five different economically poor schools in Guatemala. The clinics are held after school, and activities include scrimmaging, running laps, one-on-one training, laughing and telling jokes together, going on adventures, and — at the end of the trip — competing with the other schools. This “Tournament Day” is an especially positive way to connect and unite all the students and volunteers through basketball.

Espinosa discussed the mutual enthusiasm and happiness that developed among the volunteers and children. Espinosa said, “I love the children I work with. For the past three years I’ve worked with the same school, and each time have been welcomed back with a mini-parade for the counselors and coaches from our program. They hold up welcome signs and scream with happiness when they see us. We also get attacked with hugs and jokes.”

Christina Steigerwald is a senior at Chelsea School.