The Sunshine State Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee participated in their annual community service project on Sunday, January 17. Student-athletes and SAAC advisors from conference institutions volunteered at the Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee, Fla., with Lynn University boasting 16 student-athletes.
Continuing a conference-wide community service project which started in 2008, a group of 102 student-athletes and administrators from Barry, Eckerd, Florida Southern, Florida Tech, Lynn, Nova Southeastern, Saint Leo and University of Tampa traveled to Orlando to work together with one common goal: to unite and provide service to the community.
"My experience at Give Kids the World was very inspiring," said Jaime Walker, a softball student-athlete at Saint Leo University. "To learn about all of the hard work and love that is put into a week vacation to make a child's wish come true and to let the families feel normal is incredible. The families are able to leave with memories that will last them a lifetime, and even though we made only a small contribution to this organization, I am grateful to have been a part of it."
Give Kids the World Village (GKTW) is a 70-acre, non-profit resort in Kissimmee for children with life-threatening illnesses. The resort is complete with over 100 villa accommodations, entertainment attractions, whimsical venues and fun, specifically designed for children with special needs. GKTW provides accommodations at its resort, donated attraction tickets, meals and more for a week-long, cost-free fantasy vacation. With the help of many generous individuals, corporations and partnering wish-granting organizations, GKTW has welcomed more than 93,000 families from all 50 states and over 65 countries since its opening in 1989.
The 2007-08 academic year was the inaugural year of the SSC SAAC E.L.I.T.E. (Experience and Leadership Ignites Teamwork and Excellence) Program. Through this program, the SSC SAAC E.L.I.T.E decided to join together for community service. Last year, 40 student-athletes and advisors represented six institutions at the project. To date, the SSC SAAC has logged 912 volunteer hours at the Give Kids the World Village in the past three years.
"Having the opportunity to provide a service for the organization and the families at the village was an honor," said Amanda Goelz, a softball student-athlete at Barry University. "It was a great experience interacting with other teams within the conference and uniting for a common cause."
The group of volunteers was divided into two groups for the day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The student-athletes spread fertilizer throughout the village and swept sand into the brick walkway that runs through the center of the village. One small group of female student-athletes had an unexpected opportunity to play the role of princesses and share tea and make-up with a few young girls staying in the village.
In addition to the service project during the day, four institutions volunteered for a night shift from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Volunteer activities included serving dinner in the Gingerbread House, as well as working at the carousel, castle, spa, Kathy's Kitchen, Amberville and the Hula Hut. During the night shift, volunteers were able to interact more closely with the families visiting the village.
"I love to see students from all of the conference schools come together to help make a difference, and that's what is so special about this trip," said Sara Quatrocky, Lynn's Director of Student-Athlete Services and SSC SAAC advisor. "It has been a great SSC tradition that I hope continues for many years to come."
Lynn's student-athletes in attendance were women's basketball players Cara Dolci and Marquis Lee, women's soccer players Kelsey Butler, Mindy DeCara, Natalie Feller, Cealey Godwin, Rio Hanlan, Breanna Heising, Stevie Jones and Melissa Ortiz, men's golfers Chris Goldan and Marcus Williams, men's soccer player Scott Gordon, men's basketball player Michael Woo and volleyball players Kara Bailey and Haley Pratt.
GKTW partners with over 250 wish organizations to fulfill a child's wish to Central Florida, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation. NCAA Division II has been raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation since 2003. In 2008-09, the Sunshine State Conference placed second in the country, raising more than $19,600 for the organization.
"It was a pleasure to see so many student-athletes give time from their holiday weekend in order to participate in this cause," SSC Commissioner Jay Jones said. "I truly appreciate the efforts of the students and the administrators within our conference that made this event a success. The Give Kids the World Village is a special place, and it's very rewarding to be able to assist them with the work that needed to be done."