LAKELAND, Fla. — We met 17-year-old Wilfredo Rodriguez Ortiz from Puerto Rico, playing hard at his new school, Victory Christian Academy gym in Polk County.
- Wilfredo Rodriguez Ortiz lives in Lakeland with host family
- A top student basketball player in Coamo, Puerto Rico
- Family sent him to Florida after Hurricane Maria
Sitting in his new church, the 11th grader explains how Hurricane Maria shattered his hoop dreams.
"Because, after hu -- the hurricane -- my basketball team in Puerto Rico, no play," Wilfredo said.
Six months ago in Coamo, Puerto Rico, his mom and dad made the difficult decision to let him go to the states.
"I heard the opportunity to go to Lakeland," said Freddy Ortiz.
In Polk County, the teen now lives with Robin Arnold Ecklberger, her two children, also teenagers, and her husband.
"I read about Wilfredo in a church bulletin, that there was a child who needed a family to stay with so he could continue his education," said Robin.
To better understand Wilfredo’s journey, we explored the teen’s home in Coamo.
In Spanish, Noalin, Wilfredo's mom said, “Casi todos so de MVP."
Almost all of his trophies are for MVP.
She proudly shows us his room, still intact. Photos everywhere.
As we sit outside, she begins to weep. Tears of joy, she says and both her and her husband Freddy reflect.
"Saber que esta en un hogar donde le abrieron las puertas de su curazon," she said, in other words, she is happy he is in a Christian home, where they have opened up their hearts to her son.
The basketball court where he played was battered during Maria. The roof is peeling back, almost like a can opener did its thing along the edge.
We stopped by his school in the heart of Coamo, which just reopened two weeks ago. It has been closed for an extended period.
Businesses nearby boarded up. It’s easy to see why his family made the tough decision to let him go.
Wilfredo is thriving in Florida. His grades are good and he is playing well. He's hoping for a scholarship to college.
"His whole life has just been changed," said robin, Wilfredo's Polk County mom.
It’s also a change for Robin and her family. No one speaks fluent Spanish, but they are working on that communication gap.
They all use Google Translation to speak in broken English/Spanish just about every day.
From Puerto Rico to Polk County with love. Two families with one common goal: making sure Wilfredo is winning on the court and in life.