MEQUON/TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS -- When you go on vacation, you go to relax and have a great time. One young man, a high school student in Mequon, says that's the way it went for him -- but what he experienced has changed his life.
"I really love basketball. That's what I spend most of my time on," Garrett Mitman, a junior at Homestead High School in Mequon said.
You might call Mitman a basketball junkie -- almost from day one!
Now in high school, Mitman eats, sleeps and drinks the game -- even when he and his family went on vacation in March 2014 to the stunning islands of Turks and Caicos -- south of the Bahamas and north of Haiti.
"I was doing dribbling drills and a guy who worked at the resort told me I should go off-site to play with his nephew. It was kind of an adventure to go off-site and venture into the town," Mitman said.
The now 16-year-old didn't know then that his decision would lead to a life-changing experience.
"I walked up tot his court, and I was really clearly an outsider. I was getting a lot of looks because I think I was one of the first tourists to ever play with these student-athletes -- but I started to play, and I went from being an outsider to just another one of the guys playing basketball," Mitman said.
The kindness of the native islanders touched Mitman's heart.
"I got invited back night after night. The biggest thing that struck me is that for all the different reasons you hear people fighting over whatever it's going to be, basketball has the power to bring people together," Mitman said.
When Mitman returned home with his family, a piece of him remained with his new found friends nearly 2,000 miles away.
"I really, really admired how much passion they had for the game. I was playing with kids that didn't have shoes. They didn't necessarily have the greatest basketballs -- but they loved the game so much, and it's what they wanted to be doing," Mitman said.
Mitman thought about how he could make a difference for his new friends -- and he took a ground level approach.
"The floor had a lot of cracks in it and about three or four inches off the baseline, there's a six-inch drop. I later found out that in the last year, two people have actually broken their legs on that court. I want to create kind of an accessible way to play the game without having to worry about breaking their legs or without having to worry about getting injured," Mitman said.
Thus, the Island Hoops Project was born.
"What I'm fundraising money for is to first get the court resurfaced and then we're getting some new bleachers, because one thing about the court, it's a place to play basketball, but it's also kind of a community center, so I think it's really cool to have a place where people can come and watch and just kind of be safe and have fun," Mitman said.
Mitman has teamed up with a pastor on the islands to encourage his friend.
"It kind of goes just beyond the game in that it's going to teach the student-athletes down there leadership skills, community skills, business skills, and other skills that will transfer not only to basketball, but also to other areas of their lives," Mitman said.
In order to raise money in this effort, Mitman had to file as a corporation. His Island Hoops Project is an official non-profit organization.
Some of his friends here asked Mitman if filling his summer with that kind of work is worth it. For a young man who says service and helping others have always spoken to him, it was a slam dunk.
"I'm so passionate about this that it's kind of my down time to work on it. I will tell anybody and everybody that will listen about this story and it's kind of like my baby. I want to see this thing through until the end, and I'm really excited to see what we can do," Mitman said.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the Island Hoops Project.