HELENA — For centuries, sport has brought people together from all walks of life, and on Saturday at Plymouth Congregational Church table tennis, or Ping-Pong, was that sport with many gathering to raise funds for Afghan refugees settling in Helena.
"The Plymouth [Congregational] Church's social justice committee and 18 other co-sponsors are holding a ping pong party to welcome our Afghan refugee families and children. And we're hoping people who love to play ping pong will come out ... and donate their time and have some fun with us, but also donate to the fund that we're setting up for these — well, it's going to be 10 Afghan children next week, because we have four more coming in," said Helena Table Tennis Club member Frank Kromkowski.
Prior to the event, Kromkowski said benefits held by the church and club usually raise approximately between $500 and $600, but noted the fundraiser already had that pledged before the party even started.
"We have done these kinds of benefits in the past, and then made $500, $600, but I think we probably have that already from people who have pledged that can't even come," said Kromkowski.
In total, the event on Saturday alone raised $4,000 and Kromkowski told MTN on Monday that donations are still coming in, well after the event.
While the event was billed as a fundraiser, it was also a community gathering where table tennis state champions like Lena Conlan and Anders Truelson and Helena community figures like Mayor Wilmot Collins, State Representative Mary Ann Dunwell, and myself came together to play for a good cause. Even if it meant getting whooped by a state champion, 21-2.
Or getting beat by a sitting Mayor.
"Mayor Wilmot Collins, my friend, is going to be playing me, so he hasn't got a ghost of a chance," said Kromkowski with a hearty chuckle before the two squared off.
The match was one of the more competitive ones with Collins holding a lead through most of it and pulling away victorious, 21-17.
"I remember playing Frank before and Frank, he spanked me," said Collins with a smile. "And this time I came with the intention of repeating — I mean, giving him back some of his medicine. And so I was happy and fortunate to have done that."
While all smiles through the event, Collins was candid about his own experience while addressing the crowd on Saturday. As a Liberian refugee that fled the First Liberian Civil War, Collins said it was exciting to see the community of Helena step up to welcome and help the Afghan refugee families and children that are relocating to Helena.
"When I see you getting out of your beds in the morning, especially a Saturday morning to come and support this, it warms me," said Collins as he addressed event-goers.
After his match against Kromkowski, Collins said seeing the turnout of the event reminded him of when he received similar community support when he and his family sought refuge in the United States over two decades ago.
"When you come into an environment, into a community that you're not familiar with, there's always that apprehension," said Collins. "When the community can rally around you. I mean, it warms people up and I know that's what happened to me."
While the Ping-Pong party is over, donations towards Afghan refugees relocating to Helena are still being accepted by Plymouth Congregational Church.