Dec. 15, 2017

George Washington Carver

By Monica Watkins

Achiever Freelance Writer

Student athletes are known for producing on the court and field, as well as inside the classroom. But rarely do we hear about the work they do outside of school.

From helping out at the Monumental Marathon to volunteering at peewee sports practices, IPS athletic teams are making a significant contribution to the local community. Teams have been able to volunteer at places such as the Center for Leadership Development (CLD), the Joseph Maley Foundation, local churches, and even other schools.

These students also give back to others, including their peers, during the time of year when most youths are looking to receive rather than give — the holidays.

Middle school students on William Penn’s cheer squad and boys basketball team recently shopped for Christmas presents for peers who otherwise wouldn’t find anything under their Christmas tree this year.

Kids in front of bus

Athletic Director Edmond Gooch, who also serves and the school’s behavior specialist, said 10 students had $20 each to shop at stores at the mall in Plainfield for three to five gifts for students ages 12-14. The excursion was part of the school’s Christmas Assistance Program, which identifies students/families in need for the holiday.

Students purchased everything from earbuds to sporting equipment to beauty products and more. At first, William Penn School 49 seventh-grader Joshelle H. and her schoolmates weren’t sure how they would purchase that many gifts with only $20, but they quickly got into a groove.

Shopping at Five Below — where everything is $5 or less — helped. But Gooch also saw it as an easy way to turn the experience into a hands-on math lesson.

“They struggled at first because they wanted to go get anything that they saw, so they had to do division to figure out how much each gift would cost if they each got four gifts,” said Gooch. “All of the students purchased four gifts and some purchased more because they were able to budget their money well.”

This, however, wasn’t Joshelle’s first time giving back.

“I do community service sometimes with my after program and sometimes I give to the homeless by giving them money and food and stuff like that,” said the 13-year-old.

Gooch said William Penn has opportunities for student athletes to perform community service at least 4 times a year. “We’re trying to make sure our student athletes are good on the field and in the classroom, but we’re also trying to take it a step further by reaching out to the community and by making them get involved in the community.”

While the holidays are a great time to give back, these students keep the practice going year-round.

Shortridge Senior Lindsay Maxwell said her individual volunteer work throughout her high school career is busy, but worthwhile.

“I volunteer in lots of places. I have packed bags and handed them out to the homeless; I used to work in my church’s nursery; and I sometimes help my athletic director with things she needs,” said Maxwell.

Athletes performing community service have shown what it is like to be dedicated, caring and helpful citizens. Even organizations see the dedication and hard work these athletes put forth.

Courtney Basso, events and communications director for the Joseph Maley Foundation, described the impact of having student-athletes apart of their program.

“Oh my gosh, it’s amazing! All of our programs are geared toward children, but the fact that we have dedicated high school students, building relationships and being committed to us is amazing,” said Basso. “They are enthusiastic and it spreads from peer to peer; it’s powerful.”

Toys for Tots presents

At George Washington Carver Montessori School 87, it’s not just athletes who give back. This year, as in the past three years, the entire school community participates in the annual Toys for Tots program, run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve. The national program distributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy gifts for Christmas.

This is the fourth year the school has participated in Toys for Tots — using grant money, as well as donations of money and new toys from students and staff.

While School 87 students contribute to the program, it’s the school’s athletes who shopped for some of the presents this year. Students had $125 each to purchase gifts for youths of all ages.

“The past two years we’ve chosen student athletes because we can fulfill the requirement for athletes to perform community service projects,” said Julianna Cooper, a middle school teacher. “This year we just had eighth-graders to go on the shopping trip (to Walmart).”

Cooper said she was pleased to see the students comparing prices and trying to decide if particular items were actually worth the money before deciding to buy. Some students also pooled their money to purchase more items.

The school recently donated 10 overflowing, large boxes of toys to Toys for Tots. Mark Nardo, principal of School 87, is pleased with how his school pulled through for the program and the kids it serves.

“Even though we’re 80 percent free and reduced lunch, one of the important things is for kids to start thinking about other people,” said Nardo.

The projects our athletes help with not only contribute to communities — both local and national — but some of them also contribute to IPS teams as well. Through community service, athletes have raised money for their teams, been shown possible career paths, and have been exposed to real life experiences that have taught them what it truly means to give back.

“(Community service) teaches our student athletes, who are often put on a pedestal, that there’s more to life than what they want and what they feel they need,” said Anthony Henderson, head football coach at Arsenal Technical High School. “It shows our kids that there are often people who are less fortunate than them and that those people are often in need of assistance in life.”