Jordan Baltimore remembers the smiles. The joy. The enthusiasm.
A group of displaced Ukrainian orphans were able to enjoy something as simple as learning a new game and to forget about their troubles.
“You realize what good you can do with effort at something that you love,” said Baltimore, a Brooklyn native.
For four days in late June, Baltimore brought six players from his New York City-based New York Empire Baseball league and their parents to Warsaw, Poland, to teach baseball and offer their services for Ukrainian children displaced by the ongoing war in their native country. They donated clothes, aided by a GoFundMe account shared by parents in the city’s baseball league. They cooked meals and distributed clothing for the orphans. Wilson Baseball and Pitch in for Baseball and Softball provided a similar donation.
The plan was hatched in April, when Katia Roman-Trzaska — the president of the Polish SOK Foundation, which is providing support for Ukrainian refugee children now living in Poland — was in New York City for a fundraising event and met Baltimore. Jessica Seinfeld, a parent of children in his league, had come across the SOK Foundation’s work, and Baltimore wanted to add the group to his organization’s list of groups it donated to.
But as he learned more about what was going on, Baltimore and Roman-Trzaska agreed that in addition to a donation there was more that the team could do. Eventually, it became a multi-day trip.
“Kids who have any kind of trauma, they only begin to trust you once they’ve gotten used to you and once you’ve won their trust,” Roman-Trzaska said. “My goal in inviting them here was to show people in America that there is a real war, refugees are everywhere, and they need help.
“Sometimes, you think it’s just news. It was first-page news and now it’s sixth-page news. But people are still dying and losing their homes, and kids are being uprooted. I wanted Jordan and his team and their parents who came to really see that, to meet refugees, to really know what it means to every day [life], even if they have a little glimpse of it. If you see it, then you can tell stories. This is passed on now.”
The 47-year-old Baltimore, an entrepreneur who previously worked on Wall Street, has been involved with youth baseball for 15 years. He founded New York Empire Baseball, which now has 52 teams and up to 2,500 players. Three years ago the organization added a non-profit, Sharing Empire, intended to enable underprivileged kids to experience the sport of baseball.
At the American School of Warsaw, Baltimore and his team broke down the sport for 65 orphans. They started by running the bases, then went to fielding, catching and eventually hitting. By the end of the day, the children had gotten a full tutorial on baseball.
“Jordan brought the right people. They gave it their all and the kids loved it,” Roman-Trzaska said. “He was able to basically build a team in a couple of hours.”
It wasn’t hard for Baltimore to find kids in his program who wanted to go. Six of the eight he asked jumped at the opportunity. Their parents came along as well.
On the plane ride back, Baltimore was thrilled at the reaction it got from his players. Their two questions: When are we going back? What’s next? Already, there are loose plans in the works to return after the realization of what a positive impact the trip had on everyone involved. One of the players who made the trip, 17-year-old David Rosen, just launched a pen-pal program as a way of keeping in touch with the orphans there.
“All you had to do,” Baltimore said, “was show up.”
For more information on the SOK Foundation, visit https://samodzielnoscodkuchni.pl/en/strona-glowna-english.