Despite their already busy academic schedules and demanding practices, athletes strive to donate their time to
Every sport at Eastern plans and executes community service opportunities throughout the course of the year. Even the coaches get involved with different volunteering opportunities, most of which include public speaking at government and community venues.
“We take pride not only in what our student athletes do on the courts and the field and in the classroom, but what they
do in the community,” said Pamela Parks, associate athletic director.
From volunteering with Special Olympics to building houses with Habitat for Humanity, athletes have plenty to take pride in as well.
Basketball player Courtney Nolen’s favorite community service event was Habitat for Humanity.
“To see the final product and know someone was going to live there was really rewarding,” Nolan said.
For football player Zach Johnson, the polar bear plunge holds the most personal significance. Johnson described this community service event as a Special Olympics fundraiser in which participants ran and dove into Medical Lake during the winter.
“There was snow and they had to break through the ice,” Johnson said. “We had ten guys that went out in our jerseys.
This fundraiser brought $1,000 to Special Olympics.
Nolen has a memory of her own from her work with Special Olympics. Her favorite part is when Special Olympics athletes remember her from previous years.
“Sometimes they’ll remember you and come up and give you a hug and ask you how you’ve been,” Nolen said.
Being able to hand out a medal or ribbon is equally rewarding for Nolen.
“I really love doing volunteer work and seeing someone achieve a goal that they’ve worked hard for,” Nolen said.
Johnson views volunteer work as a personal responsibility. Growing up, his family volunteered together and his parents always stressed the importance of helping out the less fortunate. “It’s important to give back and try to help out,” he said.
Johnson believes student athletes hold an ideal position in terms of ability to reach out to the community.
“I feel like we have a platform. People kind of look up to us,” Johnson said. “It comes with the territory, so there’s a responsibility to do good in the community.”
Yet there is still a present urge to do more. “I think the only thing that’s lacking is partnerships
with students on campus,” said Parks.
She would like to see different on-campus organizations teaming up with athletic teams in order to reach out and
impact more people.
Johnson agrees that volunteering involvement could be improved. “We need to do more. Personally, I should have done more in my career here,” he said.
However, Johnson’s message for continuing athletes is this: “Even though we’re considered a small college, we still are able to have a big impact.”Parks also recognizes the importance of community service for student athletes. “It’s one of the important core values we have in the athletic department to have the student athletes give back,” Parks said.
Volunteering can add to a student athlete’s already busy schedule.
“Certainly not all our athletes are on a scholarship. Of the 325 student athletes we have, less than half are on any kind of athletic scholarship. They have to work as well as do athletics. To do that and to do community service as well is a lot,” Parks said.
But for Nolen, it is all worth it. “I would love to help out in any way I can. I just love making other people happy,” said Nolen.
Johnson agrees. “We met a couple of the Special Olympic athletes and they thanked us and gave us an award [for the polar bear plunge]. How happy they are to see you really hits home.”