This Fall, the NCAA hosted its annual regional Student-Athlete Leadership Forum. The goal of this forum is to “engage a diverse and dynamic representation of student-athletes, coaches, faculty and administrators and provide pertinent and customized sessions that will enhance personal awareness and leadership skills needed to impact student-athlete development at the campus and conference level, and beyond the collegiate realm.” One facet of this forum was a community service project in which over three hundred NCAA student-athletes worked with 40 of Urban Initiatives' student-athletes to make hand-made blankets and audio cards to be donated to the Salvation Army for children in need. This community service project was known as the “Inspire Future Leaders – Blanket Give Away”.
Community Service Project: Inspire Future Leaders – Blanket Give Away
On the morning of November 5, two Urban Initiatives schools traveled to Rosemont to work with the NCAA on a community service project. For this event, the children from Bethune Elementary and Lloyd Elementary were picked up from their schools that Saturday morning at 6 a.m, and were brought to the Hyatt Regency in Rosemont at 7 a.m. Once both schools arrived, the children were served breakfast and individually placed with their own table of collegiate student-athletes. All of our kids were embraced and celebrated like superstars by the student-athletes. After a breakfast consisting of cereal and turkey bacon, we prepared to hear a speech from Diana Cutaia, the keynote speaker and Director of Athletics and Sports-based Initiatives at Wheelock College in Boston. At the end of her speech she asked for the help of one of our kids to help get the crowd excited, which sparked him dancing on stage. Once he got everyone on their feet and flooding to the front of the room to get a better view of him, five more kids made their way on stage.
After the dancing wrapped up, all of the Urban Initiatives participants were ushered down the center aisle to the applause and cheers of everyone present. We then headed downstairs to begin the actual community service project. Our kids took part in physical teamwork activities with the college students, the most fun being untieing the human knot. They then began making the blankets. They also made hand decorated cards in which they left voice recorded messages for the children who would be receiving the blankets. At the end of the event, all of our soccer players received blankets of their own in an official NCAA shoulder bag. Also, all of our parents received sweet NCAA cups and pens.
The impact of this event on our kids was immeasurable. It was great that they were made to feel valued by college-age role models, but more importantly, this event helped to show them that there are things in this world that are unfortunate, but if they're willing to put in a bit of work and have a big heart, that they can be a part of the solution.
One of the many touching stories from this event occurred during Lloyd's bus ride back to the school. While talking between bites of his banana, one of our little boys said, "It's really cool that people that cool and old and tall thought that I was cool!" He then said that going to college would be great because then he would be cool like them.
We at Urban Initiatives are extremely grateful to have been chosen by the NCAA for this wonderful opportunity. Our kids received an invaluable experience and we truly believe in the mission of instilling in our youth the spirit of service that was so evident amongst the NCAA student-athletes.