Usually a contingent of 35 visitors arriving in Milwaukee during the summer isn't that big of a deal. However, when they happen to be from a foreign country and include 14 scholar athletes, their parents, two internationally known baseball writers, plus a high-ranking representative from the "Puerto Rican Sister Community" visiting Milwaukee's near South Side, it’s clear organization is behind it. And that organization? The nonprofit powerhouse named Journey House.
Once again, the dynamic team of Journey House CEO Dr. Michele Bria has hit a home run. As part of the Felix Mantilla Little League's second annual Cultural and Education Exchange Program, 14 children ages 10 and 11, along with the other travelers from Isabela, Puerto Rico, will spend five whirlwind days, Aug. 10-14, in Milwaukee. Operated by Journey House, the little league was founded in 1972 by baseball legend Felix "El Gato" Mantilla and is the longest standing little league in the U.S. to consecutively bear the name of an MLB player.
"Last year, we raised funds to take our student scholars to Puerto Rico, a trip that opened the eyes of the little leaguers to the world and made them more aware of the importance of hitting the books and giving their best effort if they want to succeed in life," noted Bria who heads the social service agency that focuses on developing empowerment skills for the community it has served since 1969.
"That message mirrors the values encouraged by baseball legend Felix Mantilla, who now resides in Milwaukee after a successful career with teams such as the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox, in addition to honors as a 1965 MLB All-Star and a clutch player alongside Milwaukee Braves greats Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn to secure the 1957 World Series Championship."
Many supporters gave generously last year to fund the trips, and this year Journey House rolled up its sleeves to secure the last necessary donations from partners such as Thomson Companies, Luke Homan Foundation, Schoenleber Foundation, Marcus Hotels and Resorts, and Ellenbecker Investment Group. "Their support allowed us to bring 14 scholar athletes and one parent per child to Milwaukee," said Gene Manzanet, Journey House chairman adding that the Milwaukee Brewers Community Foundation is a long-time donor to the league.
The tour begins with a private welcome party at the Journey House-operated Packers Stadium in Mitchell Park on Thursday, August 10 at 5:30 pm. Latin music, BBQ, youth-team building activities by Nike, and even a few surprises are in store including a birthday tribute to Mr. Mantilla who turned 83 just weeks ago.
Legendary sportscaster Luis Mayoral, a noted Latin baseball historian and long-time friend of Mantilla will attend along with Mantilla’s sons who conceived the exchange program to honor their father. As one of the first Latino players in the MLB, Mantilla endured racial tensions during his career. Today the league’s Latino players number one in four.
"He stayed focused on the game and helped blaze a solid trail for the Latinos who followed him," according to his son Tony. "And he never lost focus on the bigger goal of giving to his community and ensuring a solid education for his children."
Additional Milwaukee cultural experiences include a Brewers game, visits to Discovery World, Pettit National Ice Center for skating, Harley-Davidson Museum, Milwaukee County Zoo, a community service project, and two little league baseball games slated between the hosting and visiting teams (at Milwaukee County Baran Park and Miller Park-co-located Helfaer Field).