“It’s not just about what we’re giving to them; it’s what our student athletes are receiving in return.” That’s how Mary Williams, Georgian Court University associate athletic director, characterizes the efforts of the GCU Lions, the 200+ student athletes at the university, who provided support to eight local families this holiday season.
“It helps our student athletes realize that just having the opportunity of college and playing their sport makes them blessed, and there are those in need whom they can help,” she says.
The university has 14 athletics teams, all of which perform community service. Overall, the Lions’ program emphasizes the empowerment of student-athletes to achieve “ethical leadership skills so that they enjoy success both in and beyond their athletic experience.”
Helping local youngsters celebrate the holiday is consistent with the athletes’ commitment to teamwork—even beyond campus borders.
This is the third consecutive Christmas season the GCU Lions have sponsored families selected by the St. Vincent DePaul Society at St. Martha’s Parish in Point Pleasant Beach. Throughout the year, the Society provides financial help to families in Point Pleasant Beach and neighboring Point Pleasant Borough. During the holidays, the Society identifies families who qualify for special assistance.
The goal of the St. Vincent DePaul Society of St. Martha’s program is to help families become self-sustaining and self-sufficient. In addition to the holiday gifts, the Society helps families with payments for such expenses as utilities, rent, and medical and prescription payments.
Student-Athletes Fulfill Holiday Wishes
“Once we have chosen the families, we call the families and ask them if they’d like to participate. If they say yes, we ask them to provide us with a wish list,” explains Noreen Birne, former president and current volunteer at the St. Vincent DePaul Conference at St. Martha’s Parish.
The GCU athletes received the wish lists for eight families, and went shopping. The lists, Ms. Williams says, varied from “winter jackets, boots, and toys to gift cards for older siblings.” There is no formal fundraising effort. The athletes, Williams explains, “donate the money,” although they can ask friends and relatives to contribute to the cause.”
The Lions’ effort, according to Ms. Birne, was “amazing. It was really wonderful.”