Joshua Ho-Sang has become a fan favorite during his short time with the New York Islanders. The Barclays Center crowd chanted his name as he dangled at the Islanders Blue and White Scrimmage on Wednesday, but some of his biggest fans reside in Montpelier, St. James, Jamaica and have never seen him play.
This summer, Ho-Sang was part of a group that helped build a schoolhouse in a community outside of Montego Bay in Jamaica. Ho-Sang joined Helping Hands Jamaica, a foundation of expats – his father is Jamaican-born – who build schools on the Caribbean island.
The Islanders’ prospect spent five days painting the exterior of the school, as well as helping move construction materials around the worksite.
“I wanted to try to find a way to give back,” Ho-Sang said. “It’s not like a charity thing, it’s more of a helping thing. I met an older man who was telling me about how he built schools and I said, ‘oh, I have to get in on that,’ and it was something I’d encourage everyone to do.”
Ho-Sang was inspired before he arrived in Jamaica, but seeing the state of the current school – which was 65 years old and based out of a local church – fueled his desire.
He likened the section of the old school where kindergarten through fifth grade was taught (approximately 75 students by his estimate) to the size of an NHL locker room. A blackboard split the class, with multiple grades all being taught in the same room. The teachers had to pack up the classrooms at night, so the church and community could use the space.
Ho-Sang, who grew up in Thornhill, ON, part of Greater Toronto, said he felt shell-shocked.
“It’s pretty surreal to see 75 kids in an NHL dressing room that can barely fit 20 guys,” Ho-Sang said. “You take a look at that and it was almost sad.”
With Ho-Sang’s help, the beautiful new blue, yellow and white school has six classrooms for those six grades, a first-aid facility, a new kitchen and new restrooms. Helping Hands stresses the importance of education in the developing world and now, these kids will be in an environment to foster learning.
“Education is the most important thing because you’re helping create minds,” Ho-Sang said. “It’s obviously difficult when you’re born into poverty, you’re born into a struggle. To make that transition to another country or a better life is difficult without schooling. Anything I can do to help those kids reach their goals, just like I’ve had help to reach mine, I think that’s kind of my job.”
Ho-Sang felt love and appreciation from the kids and local community every day he was in St. James. They were all-around him at the jobsite, mingling with the foreign volunteers.
“Everyday you’re doing something good, something positive,” Ho-Sang said. “At the final ceremony, the kids sang a thank you song and a song about God. Basically how grateful they were for everything we did.”
That feeling will last a long time because Ho-Sang knows that helping build the school will help more than just the current students. The old school stood for 65 years. If his does too, he’ll have made an impact on many lives.
“All the kids that are going to come through there, I know that at least a piece of me will touch them,” Ho-Sand said. “That’s something that’s really special at the end of the day.”
The trip to Jamaica provided a reality check for Ho-Sang, to take stock of how fortunate he is. It’s also a chance to step away from the game and away from the demands of being a blossoming, sought-after hockey prospect.
Here, he’s cheered for being Joshua Ho-Sang, dancing through defenses on end-to-end rushes. There, he’s cheered just for being Josh, a 19-year-old kid who just wants to help.