Finding Inspiration Through Service

By Caitlin Graveson '11

Student-athlete Lyndsey Parker '09 worked on Soles–4–Souls shoe drive.

Saint Mary's student-athletes don't just compete in intercollegiate sports, they spend time in local communities in a wide variety of service projects, from reading to children to collecting food and clothing for needy people. Each athletic team participates in or plans one community service event each semester. This push for service comes from the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which includes two representatives from each Division I team.

While the SAAC helps the Athletic Department address the needs of student-athletes, co-presidents Ashley Dernbach, women's soccer, and Megan Burton, women's volleyball, have directed the committee to become a place of peer inspiration and support.

"Athletes have a powerful voice in the community and are privileged here at Saint Mary's, so it's only fair to give back to the community," Dernbach says.

"We not only serve the Lamorinda area, we also go to underprivileged places," Burton says. "Through SAAC we help the community out."

The committee, which was created two years ago, does not require the teams to serve, but strongly recommends that they do. Members brainstorm ideas at meetings, but ultimately the teams plan and carry out events.

Events in recent years have included canned food and clothing drives, breast cancer walks and gardening projects like Moraga the Beautiful. Each team is also required to have a booth at the Carnival 4 Kids, a campus-wide event which brings elementary school students from underserved schools to SMC for a day of fun that also is an opportunity to promote higher education to children and to let them have a positive relationship with college students.

In addition, the women's volleyball team has volunteered at the Monument Crisis Center in Concord and the men's basketball team has volunteered their time to read to local second and third grade students.

Some athletic service events involve the entire student body. Last November through February the Athletic Department hosted the Soles-4-Souls shoe drive. The West Coast Conference–wide effort encouraged students to donate old shoes to be distributed to those in need. Athletic teams led the drive at Saint Mary's, encouraging others to donate.

"Each sports program gets athletic shoes, so it's good to give back," Burton says.

The community service initiative furthers the College's relationship with the area.

"It's a way for the community to associate with the athletes and to build bonds. It's a win-win," says Rich Davi, assistant director of media relations.

Burton and Dernbach want to push the SAAC to shape the community service focus even more.

"It's a work in progress," Dernbach says. "What we are doing is awesome, but there is always room for more."